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LATIN AMERICA: Cuba and Venezuela strengthen solidarity by Stuart Munckton

From Green Left Weekly, January 19, 2005.
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In Havana on December 14, Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez signed a new, far-reaching economic agreement between the two nations.

Both countries believe that the agreement fits within the framework of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), the alternative Latin American trading bloc that Venezuela has been promoting in counter position to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), which the United States is attempting to force on the continent.

The Cuba-Venezuela agreement is the first attempt to make the principles of ALBA, which challenge US domination of the continent, a reality.

The two countries also signed a joint declaration condemning the FTAA as a tool to strengthen US imperialism.

Chavez, whose government aims to eradicate poverty and politically empower the poor majority, was in Cuba to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his first visit to the island. Chavez visited Cuba in 1994, just after he finished a two-year prison sentence for leading a failed attempt to overthrow the corrupt Venezuelan regime of the time.

There is a lot of interest and support for Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution within Cuba, and Cuba provides more than 10,000 doctors at no charge to Venezuela to bring health care to Venezuela’s poor for the first time ever.

This is indicated by Chavez’s reception in Cuba, where he was greeted as a hero, with headlines such as “He returned a giant” and his visit was marked by the publication of a pamphlet entitled Our Chavez that detailed the successes of the Bolivarian revolution.

The agreement stipulates that both countries draw up strategic economic plans aiming at the rational use of resources through complementary production to the benefit of both countries.

This includes a promise to share technological developments in both countries. Control over access to technology via patents is one of the most significant ways one country retains an economic advantage over another nation. This aspect of the agreement represents a significant step away from competition and towards co-operation.

Venezuela and Cuba agreed to the immediate lifting of any non-tariff barriers on exchange of goods and services between the two nations. In a significant move, Cuba has agreed to allow Venezuelan state-owned companies to operate 100%-owned investment ventures inside Cuba. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba has encouraged foreign investment but has insisted that the Cuban state retain 51% controlling interest in any such ventures. This agreement is a show of confidence in the Venezuelan state companies not to act to the detriment of the Cuban peple.

According to the text of the agreement, Cuba also “offers 2000 scholarships per year to young Venezuelans so they can pursue their post-secondary education in any area that may be of interest to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, including that of scientific research”.

Under the agreement, Cuba “places at the disposal of the [Venezuelan] Bolivarian University the support of more than 15,000 medical professionals involved in the Into the Neighbourhoods Mission [Venezuelan government-funded social program providing health care to the poor] so that they may train as many general practitioners and health care specialists as Venezuela may require”. In response, Venezuela has agreed to provide payment to Cuba for the medical professionals working in Venezuela, who previously operated on a voluntary basis, surviving on a basic stipend from the Venezuelan government.

Venezuela, for its part, guarantees under the agreement to set the maximum price for the oil they sell to Cuba at US$27 per barrel (the current market price is $44 per barrel). In return Cuba guarantees a minimum price for the oil they purchase. Venezuela is also offering scholarships for Cubans to study Venezuela’s energy sector. Venezuela is also abolishing all tariffs for Cuban goods entering Venezuela.

The agreement stands to be highly beneficial for both countries in particular areas where each requires assistance. For instance, access to technology and skills from the Venezuelan energy sector could prove vital for Cuba, particularly since the recent discovery of sizable oil reserves.

Venezuela will particularly benefit from health and education assistance, and the environmentally sustainable farming developed in Cuba. Venezuela is attempting to move away from importing 70% of its food to producing enough to be self-sustaining.

The agreement signifies the deepening of solidarity between the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions. It is a model for non exploitative, co-operative trade and offers an alternative to the rest of Latin American countries to the neoliberal recipe being shoved down their throats by US imperialism.

From Green Left Weekly, January 19, 2005.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.


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