July 22, 2006

Cumbre in Córdoba


Guess who’s coming to dinner?

The Spanish word "cumbre" means get together or meeting. Argentina hosted a cumbre for Mercosur (The Southern American Common Market) in Córdoba, Argentina’s second city. For those of you who might have seen the film or read the book “Motorcycle Diaries”, by Che Guevara, you might remember the scene when he says goodbye to his rich girlfriend who stuffs a few dollars in his pockets. Well last night a gentleman in green fatigues arrived in Córdoba, a guest at the Mercosur cumbre. This gentleman knew Mr. Guevara rather well. He recently banned the use of those same dollars in his home country.

Enter stage left: Fidel Castro.

So why, one might ask, is Señor Castro visiting a Mercosur meeting in Argentina? Cuba is not even an associate member of Mercosur. I decided to investigate from Buenos Aires...

I started with a hunch that it must have something to do with Castro’s friend, and head of the third largest economy in Latin America, President Hugo Chavez Frías. President Chávez flew in from Caracas accompanied by the Argentine ambassador to Venezuela; Alicia Castro. Also relevant was the presence of that other unconventional dresser at Latin American trade meetings, indigenous President of Bolivia, Evo Morales Ayma. Presidents Chavéz and Morales both signed a trade treaty in Havana Cuba April this year with President Castro, called the People’s Trade Agreement. The treaty forms part of the nebulous Chávez plan for a Bolivarian South America, (ALBA), and Fidel’s plans for the survival of his isolated Caribbean economy. The People’s Trade Agreement is mooted as the first multilateral trade accord aimed at improving people’s lives rather than investors’ returns. The first statute declares neoliberalism a failure. The treaty favors national companies for government contracts. None of this makes it popular in Washington D.C. nor in Brussels.

The Córdoba cumbre is Venezuela's first as a full Mercosur member. Venezuela recently quit the Andean Community group, (CAN), as it considered the unilateral trade agreements that Peru and Colombia had signed with the USA, incompatible with it's own membership. ALBA and Mercosur on the other hand, must be somewhat compatible, as evidenced by Venezuela’s membership of both. What can be in store for the more conventional Mercosur treaty? Does President Chávez have plans to revive it with some oxygen from the Caribbean?

Speculation aside, certain topics were revealed to be on the table this week in Córdoba. While less than revolutionary they were far from insignificant. Apart from two small squabbles from Paraguay and Uruguay and a trade agreement with Pakistan and Cuba, there were two very significant agreements in Córdoba.

Mercosur has scheduled the existence of their own Development Bank and their own Parliament. The Parliament will be in existence in Montevideo by November. The South American Development Bank, a proposal mooted by those buddies-in-bonds, Argentina and Venezuela, has been offered a home by Argentine President Kirchner. An astute politician like Kirchner must be aware of France’s aborted attempt to become the home of the European Central Bank. That French proposal was treated with incredulity by Germany who now host the ECB. A Development bank is not a Central bank but Mercosur has no Central Bank, so where should it's most important bank be situated? If the European or US model is relevant, then the bank should be closest to the centre of the area's largest economy. Brazil’s absence from the initiative on South American Development Bank is disquieting. One wonders if such a critical part of an integration infrastructure could possibly be effective without the participation of Mercosur's largest economy?

While the rest of the world focused on the war in the Middle East, cameras were flashing in Córdoba too. The photo-op of the cumbre does not go to the home contender, Mr. Kirchner, who cut his head stepping onto a bus, nor even to the ever-smiling Uruguayan President, Tabaré. Grumpy President Duarte of Paraguay did not even get a look in, nor did handsome Brazilian President, Mr. Luiz de Silva. Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet looked particularly smart in a recent hair-do and ever-so-bright-red lipstick but she did not make the running. Even Fidel Castro, surely the world’s best-known President, was pipped at the post by that fabulous showman, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The photo-op supreme went to President Chavez photographed in the driving seat of a black 1950's Cadillac. Not just any Cadillac but the one used by none other than legendary Argentine President, Juan Péron.

Posted by Tony Phillips at 04:58 AM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2006

ALCA == FTAA

Posted by Tony Phillips at 02:42 AM | Comments (0)