CARACAS: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will sign a series of economic and aid accords with his Bolivian counterpart tomorrow, as he crisscrosses Latin America to meet allies and counter President George W. Bush’s visit to the region.
Chavez, who this afternoon visited flood-ravaged areas of Bolivia’s northeastern Beni state, pledged to boost aid and energy cooperation, and follow through on an agreement made yesterday to incorporate Bolivia into Argentina’s and Venezuela’s new Bank of the South.
“This is the solution we need, not the crumbs of the empire,” Chavez told crowds gathered to greet him in the Andean town of Trinidad, where floods have left thousands homeless. “This is the integral road for our peoples’ development: the road has to be the road of socialism, socialism of the 21st century.”
Chavez’s tour, which began yesterday with meetings and a so- called anti-imperialist rally that drew an estimated 30,000 in Buenos Aires, coincides with the U.S. president’s own five- country trip across Latin America, widely seen as an effort to contain Chavez’s rising influence.
Still, Venezuelan aid to the region -- in cash, credit and subsidized oil -- dwarfs the $1.6 billion U.S. package that Bush this week emphasized.
Chavez, a close ally of Bolivian President Evo Morales, has sent $17 million in disaster relief aid, including 180 tons of tools, food and medicine, as well as helicopters, tractors and water purifying equipment, since weeks of heavy rain flooded the land-locked country, displacing tens of thousands of families last month.
Chavez today suggested that Venezuela and Cuba tap cash from a multimillion dollar fund belonging to his Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, known by its Spanish acronym ALBA, to replace Bolivian roads, schools, crops and livestock lost to rising floodwaters.
The ALBA is a regional aid and trade initiative Chavez designed to counter the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas.
“Never as Bolivians will we forget this great solidarity at such a difficult time,” Morales, who was elected in 2005 with Chavez’s tacit support, said today. “During my campaign, they said, ‘If Evo is president, we’re never going to get any help.’ Now we see: to the contrary!”
Bank of the South
Chavez and Morales also plan to sign tomorrow an agreement joining Bolivia to the Bank of the South, a credit initiative formed by Venezuela and Argentina to promote regional integration and temper their nations’ reliance on multilateral banks.
Argentine President Nestor Kirchner officially approved Bolivia’s participation in the bank in one of 11 accords he and Chavez signed in Buenos Aires, Venezuelan state media said.
Once the accords are signed, Chavez plans to travel to Managua, where he will meet Nicaraguan President and ally Daniel Ortega tomorrow evening.
“A new people’s battle to liberate us and pursue the goal of ending dependence and building unity has begun,” Chavez said today. “The revolution is multiplying, and that’s what the empire is afraid of.”