The first week of this month, in the north Argentinean city of Puerto Iguazú, Venezuela became the newest associate of the South American Common Market (Mercosur), a significant step in the purpose of Latin American integration.

“Venezuela joins Mercosur at a moment of deep changes, moving towards a new type of integration, not towards a neo-liberal integration that was advocated until some time ago.”, said president Chávez. In order to make its membership effective, the world’s fourth largest oil exporter will sign a free trade agreement at the headquarters of the Latin American Integration Association (Aladi), in Montevideo,Uruguay, next August 7th.

The associated countries, like Bolivia, Chile and Peru, must hold free commercial relations with the group’s founding countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay), but have no right either to vote on economic matters or to influence on political and/or institutional matters concerning Mercosur.

In the Venezuelan case, the association, which took five years to materialize, could render good political and economic results. Among the first good effects, was the support that the government received from the group for the upcoming referendum, including a petition from Chilean president Ricardo Lagos for the opposition to respect the outcome of the consultation, whichever it might be.

For Chávez, Mercosur is becoming “the epicenter of a new political, social, economic and productive integration scheme. It is our mission to really unite to free ourselves from poverty”, said the Venezuelan president.

Argentinean president Nestor Kirchner followed the same line. He said that this organization was becoming the “main instrument to lessen external vulnerability and to take advantage of globalization, in a way that allows us to reduce poverty and social exclusion”

Brazilian president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva wore a big smile. In a long and successful meeting between both presidents and their respective ambassadors, they had analyzed this topic as well as the need for greater integration of northern and northeastern Brazil with Venezuela. And the topic of a binational refinery came up again.

Brazil had already announced an increase in its production of oil platforms in order to supply Venezuela, thus sparing the latter from importing them from the United States and other great powers. Furthermore, the business rounds will be held this semester and in the first semester of 2005.

Chávez held interviews with almost all the attending presidents: Lagos, Vicente Fox, who claimed Mexico’s admission in Mercosur, for which it should first of all, meet the demands of a group that sees this step with much caution, since many experts regard the current Aztec government as a spokesman of the big U.S. corporations.

The Paraguayan president, Nicanor Duarte, also praised Chávez’ government and his foreign policy, integrationist of the peoples, and pointed out, as did Chilean president Lagos, that Venezuela is under watch. “Whoever has intended to isolate it from our brother nations has failed again. There stands the evidence of a serious international policy. It is important to acknowledge it, we are again walking along the course we had lost.”, he expressed.

At the end of the meeting, Kirchner invited Chávez to Ensenada, near the city of La Plata, 60 kilometers from Buenos Aires, where a thousand workers of the Río Santiago shipyard were expecting him, wearing their coats and scarves, challenging an almost freezing temperature, and with looks of hope on their faces.

There, integration began to take real shape: Venezuela will have its tankers repaired in Río Santiago, and possibly, in the near future, will have oil tankers built.

Thus was started an initiative that can generate over 6,000 jobs in a factory that at this moment barely employs part of the workers that remain after the privatizations and the dismantling of Argentina’s productive capacity. “Let’s hope we can reach that agreement” , the Argentinean president pointed out. The subscription of this and other associations is expected for July 23rd, in the binational grand business round in the island of Margarita, in Venezuela.

The creation of Petrosur, agreed in a Chávez-Kirchner meeting last July 8th in Puerto Iguazú, will also be signed in this event. Initially, the new enterprise will integrate Petróleos de Venezuela S.A.(Pdvsa) and Energía Argentina Sociedad Anónima (Enarsa).

The incorporation of the state owned oil companies, Petrobras (Brazil), Ecopetrol (Colombia), and PetroEcuador, which would expand the new corporation in the context of the creation of a mega-Petroamérica, will be defined in a future encounter with the Energy ministers of Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador.

Chávez referred to Petrosur as a South American “energy ring”, which his country leads thanks to its oil production potential, but that can grow stronger with the incorporation of other countries, he said. Chávez mentioned to the Brazilian authorities, as well as to the shipyard workers in the Buenos Aires province, that Venezuela imports accessories, goods, and equipment for its oil industry worth nearly 4 billion $ a year, “funds that could perfectly stay within South America”, and thus generate resources for Argentina and Brazil, as well as jobs for thousands of unemployed.

Besides the oil agreement, a Venezuelan-Argentinean alliance to integrate a television network in the south is being considered. This project was proposed in the last G-15 (“group of the fifteen countries”) meeting in Caracas. “It’s a step towards communicational freedom. We must break the hegemony of the great world television networks. The consolidation of a South American television network is vital to inform our people about our realities”, said Chávez.
“Venezuela is in Mercosur already”, were Chávez’ words full of emotion and satisfaction. “Now we can say that the great day for South America is forthcoming”.

Five years went by with negotiations at a halt because of the 2002 coup d’état and the 2002-2003 oil strike. Throughout this period, there were also political changes in Argentina and Brazil. And it is just now, when the “conditions are ripe” and “favorable”, that Venezuela is incorporated. Today, new winds are blowing from Latin America; good airs ( “buenos aires” in Spanish) are blowing in this continent, “Mercosur shall become an instrument to fight against poverty, against inequality”.