Venezuela reaches out to Africa, Caribbean

On Sept. 30 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez talked about Africa. Interviewed on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now,” he said, “Yesterday I met with the president of Mozambique. … The life expectancy in Mozambique is 38 years old and going down, because AIDS is causing havoc in the population. It’s terrible, it’s a tragedy.”

“We have designed an agenda for Africa in Venezuela,” said Chavez, who plans to tour Africa early in 2006.

Chavez’s government has announced the opening of 18 embassies there, each serving two or three adjoining nations. Until now, Venezuela has maintained embassies only in Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa and the northern oil-producing nations.

Traveling in Africa in October, Reinaldo Bolivar, deputy foreign minister for Africa, told reporters, “We want a new diplomatic map … in order to cover the entire continent.” He said, “We’ll be the third country in the region in terms of presence in Africa, after Brazil and Cuba. …We are also seeking political exchange and common positions in the framework of the United Nations.”

African states make up 28 percent of the 191 member states of the United Nations. Venezuela has recently gained observer status with the African Union and will be setting up an office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, site of the AU’s headquarters.

Venezuela sees cooperation along cultural and educational lines as preliminary to developing economic, trade and technological exchanges with African nations. Twelve African groups took part in a cultural festival held in Caracas, the nation’s capital, Nov. 13-20. A Venezuela-Africa Friendship House and an African heritage center have been established there. Venezuelan universities are offering new courses in African politics, history and culture.

Mali, a major cotton producer, will soon be sending textile experts to Venezuela to upgrade the nation’s textile capabilities. Plans are under way for a new medical school in Southern Africa, a joint project of Venezuela and Cuba. Jesus Garcia, representing the Afro-America Foundation, a nongovernmental organization, commented, “Venezuela, like other Latin American countries, owes a spiritual debt to Africa. Thousands of slaves from the Wolof ethnic group of Senegal or the Mina from the equatorial coast came to this country.”

Observers suggest that alliances between oil rich Venezuela and African nations may evolve into a new power bloc. Africa harbors 25 percent of the world’s known oil reserves.

At the same time, Venezuela is reaching out to the Caribbean and, not least, to Caribbean people of African descent. Not only does much of the African Diaspora live on the islands, but grim Caribbean economic prospects, vulnerability to natural disasters and the spread of HIV/AIDS invite comparisons with the African continent.

Venezuela has created Petrocaribe, a project that will, according to an agreement signed on Sept. 6, enable 14 members of the Caricom group of nations to buy Venezuelan oil under preferential terms. The agreement did not include Haiti, because Caricom rejects Haiti’s interim government. Venezuela apparently plans to make low-priced oil available to Haiti under separate arrangements.

The Petrocaribe agreement takes place within the framework of the Bolivarian Alternative for the America’s (ALBA), Venezuela and Cuba’s plan for Latin American unity in the service of regional independence and social justice.

Venezuela’s overtures to Africa and the Caribbean run parallel to other outreach projects directed at South America. Under Petrosur, nations there too will be able to buy low-priced oil. And Venezuela has recently joined Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay in Mercosur, the South American common market agreement. Venezuela seems to be assuming a leadership role in bringing nations of the global south together to fashion a new world founded on multi-polar power relationships.

Africa has a secure place in these aspirations. President Chavez told Amy Goodman: “When we were children, we were told that we have a motherland, and that motherland was Spain. However, we have discovered … that we have several motherlands. And one of the greatest motherlands of all is no doubt Africa. We love Africa. And every day we are much more aware of the roots we have in Africa.”