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Venezuela and Uruguay signed a series of strategic bilateral agreements in energy and telecommunications today, following the inauguration of Uruguay’s new president Tabaré Vasquez, which Venezuela’s President Chavez attended.

The energy agreements that were signed would have Venezuela provide Uruguay with oil at discounted prices. The two countries also signed the “Declaration of Montevideo,” which seeks Uruguayan participation in Venezuela’s regional oil initiative known as “Petrosur.” At present, Petrosur includes Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, and Argentinean ENARSA.

The two countries also signed a telecommunications agreement, bringing Uruguay into Venezuela’s other main regional plan: a South American news network designed to counter the dominance of CNN en Español. The new channel, which will be called “Telesur,” also includes Brazil and Argentina. According to Telsur director Aram Aharonian-a Uruguayan journalist who has long resided in Venezuela-the new channel will be South America’s “first counter-hegemonic telecommunications project.” In signing on to Telesur, says Aharonian, “Uruguay is expressing a commitment to the democratization of communication and information in South America.” Uruguay will be participating with a 10% share in the TV channel and the right to name one member to the channel’s board of directors.

According to Gorgias Brignone, President of the Venezuelan-Uruguayan Center in Caracas, these agreements “are a prime example of regional cooperation that is mutually beneficial, honest, and fair.” Good economic and political relations between the two countries could give Venezuela added support in its promotion of regional integration, says Brignone.

According to Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez, the agreements signed by Venezuela and Uruguay “reaffirm the growing political will of Latin American countries to consolidate the integration and development of our countries.”

Brignone agrees, arguing that Venezuela is a “vanguard” in a new model of regional cooperation based on solidarity rather than competition. Venezuela is working within existing regional organizations such as the South American Common Market (Mercosur), and the Community of Andean Nations (CAN), as well as bilateral channels to promote regional integration, aimed at fortifying Latin American countries in their dealings with the United States and the European Union.

When it comes to trade with Latin America, the US and the EU are “the same horse with different mounts,” says Brignone, referring to trade policies pursued by both bodies in their dealings with the region. Though he argues that the current correlation of forces in Uruguay will not permit a complete break with the past, Brignone believes that Venezuelan encouragement could keep Uruguay to the left of countries such as Brazil or Chile, where left-wing governments have pursued relatively orthodox free-market policies.

Inauguration set the stage for signing of agreements

Broad Front leader Tabaré Vasquez was inaugurated as Uruguayan President, yesterday, in a swearing-in ceremony that was well-attended both by foreign heads of state and ecstatic Uruguayans eager to usher in hoped-for socio-economic changes.

An estimated 600 world leaders attended, including Presidents Luis Ignacio da Silva of Brazil, Ricardo Lagos of Chile, Nestor Kirchner of Argentina and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Cuban leader Fidel Castro cancelled at the last minute for health reasons. The United States delegation was headed by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. Vasquez’s assumption of the Uruguayan Presidency breaks with the country’s 174-year history of shared power by the two traditional parties. Since Uruguay’s independence in August 1825 (from Brazil after the country was annexed in 1821), the two traditional parties: the Blancos and Colorados traded power, interrupted only by military coups.

The most recent coup in 1973 brought in a decade-long dictatorship, and sparked a major wave of migration. In 1985 Uruguay was returned to civilian rule, alternating once again between Blancos and Colorados until last October, when the Broad Front made history, beating the runner-up Blancos with 52% to their 35%. Economic recession over the past decade has been widely credited for the Broad Front’s paradigm-breaking victory.

Vasquez’ first measures as President were to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, cut-off in 2002 by former-President Jorge Batlle, and to announce a US$100-million social emergency plan to help Uruguay’s poor. Though traditionally one of Latin America’s most stable economies, Uruguay plunged into recession in recent years, leaving two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line.