Beautiful Margarita Island, off Venezuela's Caribbean coast, was the site of a historic meeting of heads of state and other high-level representatives of more than 60 South American and African countries on the weekend of Sept. 26-27. The conclave raises the possibility of a new and powerful bloc of nations who can sharply reduce their economic dependence on trade and aid from the major capitalist powers.
The meeting, essentially convoked by the leaders of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the African Union and hosted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was titled the Second Africa-South American Summit. The first summit took place in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2006.
The idea of an integrated system of African and Latin American countries has been inspired in part by the development of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, which is a left-leaning trade and political bloc consisting of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Antigua, St. Vincent and, under president Manuel Zelaya, Honduras.
ALBA has not only undertaken tremendous initiatives in economic integration for development among its own member countries, but has also become a magnet for other countries in Latin America who find that relating to ALBA is a useful counterweight to the heavy hand of U.S. domination in the region. So around the "core" of ALBA countries, there is a wider bloc of countries whose governments are not so far to the left but who are eager to work with ALBA to create more political and economic space for themselves: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Partly due to development help that Cuba and Venezuela have been providing in Africa, and partly due to the exiting trade relationships between African countries and some of the South American ones, especially Brazil and Argentina, the idea was planted of working across the Atlantic Ocean to integrate the economies of Africa and South America. Some projects are already under way; for example, Venezuela is going to be working with South Africa to develop the latter country's oil refining capacity. Those who remember the apartheid days, and the international effort to cut off oil supplies, will recall that South Africa is self-sufficient in many things, but has no oil and little refining. So it is not surprising that one of the major leaders at the Margarita Island summit was South African President Jacob Zuma.
Although the politics of oil were central to the meeting, the draft of the final declaration covered a much broader range of topics, including:
- The launching of the Bank of the South (BANCOSUR), with initial capitalization of $20 billion from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. This entity, which has been on the drawing boards for several years, is aimed at providing an alternative source of development financing to the IMF.
- The demand for reform of the United Nations Security Council to eliminate the stranglehold a handful of major powers have through their permanent membership. Attendees at the summit include many who feel that Africa, Asia (except China) and Latin America are locked out of the real UN power structure.
- Initiatives to meet the UN's Millennium Development Goals, to fight terrorism, drug and human trafficking, the arms race, piracy, "racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all forms of intolerance," and to advance the rights of women, migrants, indigenous people, the elderly and disabled.
- Initiatives to guarantee the access of all to food and water, and to labor rights.
- Working via the Global System of Trade Preferences Among Developing Countries (GSTP), a coordinated struggle for a more equitable system of international trade in which products of poorer countries are not locked out of the markets of the richer countries.
- Struggle to prevent the structural crisis of world finance from being "solved" on the backs of the inhabitants of the poorer countries.
- New initiatives to protect the environment of the two continents.
An organizational structure was set up, with a permanent office on Margarita Island. The next summit will be in Libya in 2011.
Heads of state and other attendees left in an optimistic mood. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa expressed the consensus: "We need a second independence that implies sovereignty, justice and liberty."
Photo: AP/Ariana Cubillos