Saturday, April 29, 2006

Bolivia Cuba Venezuela in trade talks

Saturday, April 29, 2006 · Last updated 3:34 a.m. PT

Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela in trade talks

HAVANA -- Bolivian President Evo Morales joined Fidel Castro of Cuba and
Hugo Chavez of Venezuela in Havana for Saturday's endorsement of a
socialist trade initiative aimed at providing an alternative to
U.S.-backed free trade efforts in Latin America.

Morales on Saturday planned to officially include his Andean nation in
the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas - a pact that leftists
Castro and Chavez signed a year ago.

So far, only Venezuela and Cuba are signatories to the pact known by its
Spanish acronym as ALBA, which also translates to mean "dawn." It also
been referred to as the "people's trade agreement."

The pact calls for shared trade and cooperation agreements among Latin
American nations in lieu of Washington's unsuccessful Free Trade Area of
the Americas, or FTAA, which Chavez and Castro said was a U.S. attempt
to "annex" the region.

Saturday's ceremony will mark a deepening political and economic
alliance among communist Cuba and left-leaning Venezuela and Bolivia as
the three countries work toward their own idea for regional integration
without U.S. influence.

Castro warmly greeted Morales in the afternoon, then both met Chavez in
the evening.

By late Friday evening, Cuban authorities had released no details about
Saturday's signing ceremony, including when and where it would be held.

The trade pact is named for the 19th century South American
revolutionary Simon Bolivar, who led independence wars in the present
day nations of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.

The agreement will allow Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela to trade some
products with zero tariffs and strengthen already close ties among the
three nations, whose leaders are known for their strong opposition to
U.S. policy.

"We don't want to be rich, but we do want to live well, with dignity, as
brothers, so there is no misery, so there is no poverty, so people are
not excluded - that is among our fundamental objectives," Chavez said of
the trade pact in Caracas on Friday, before leaving for Havana.

Chavez and Morales have warned in recent days that their countries could
withdraw from the Andean Community if fellow trade-bloc members
Colombia, Peru and Ecuador go through with free-trade pacts with the
United States.

Chavez said in his Caracas speech Friday that Venezuela and Cuba would
happily buy all the soybeans that Bolivia produces. Colombia -
previously a key soybean market for Bolivia - recently signed a free
trade pact with the United States and can now get soybeans at much lower
prices, the Venezuelan president said.

Since a U.S.-backed FTAA fell apart last year, Washington has signed
nine free trade agreements with Latin American countries. Ecuador is
currently in negotiations.

"Listen, as long as the free trade pact (with the United States)
threatens the small and medium-sized soy producers in Bolivia, ALBA will
save them," Chavez said. "We'll take them by the hand and say, 'Come
with us, we'll buy your soy beans, look at the difference.' "

Before leaving La Paz for Havana on Friday, Bolivian Foreign Minister
David Choquehuanca said his government hoped that new commerce with Cuba
and Venezuela would make up for any lost trade with the United States
and the Andean Community.

ALBA isn't just about trade. Heavily political in nature, it also calls
for cooperation programs among nations, such as the Operation Miracle
program Cuba and Venezuela devised to offer free eye surgery to needy
people from other Latin American nations.

Associated Press writer Chris Toothaker in Caracas contributed to this

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