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Venezuela has been an associate member since July 2004 and applied to become a full member three months ago. Other Mercosur associate members are Chile and Bolivia.

Mercosur’s four principal members unanimously approved Venezuela’s request to become a full member. Reinaldo Gargano, Uruguay’s foreign minister, made the announcement during a press conference in Salamanca, Spain, where leaders from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal are gathered for the 15th Ibero-American Summit. Venezuela’s inclusion in Mercosur, “will give a new dimension to Mercosur, as it will reach from the Caribbean to Tierra del Fuego [Chile], and makes it possible that the Community of Andean Nations [CAN] and Mercosur unite in a single free trade association with formidable power in the world,” said Gargano.

Venezuela is currently a member of CAN and occupies its rotating presidency since July of this year. CAN also includes Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

The number of agreements to form regional trade associations and agreements have increased dramatically in the past year. A few weeks ago South American leaders agreed to form the Community of South American Nations (CSN), which would aim to eventually supplant CAN and Mercosur and would include all nations of South America. Also, an agreement to bring CAN and Mercosur closer together was signed in December 2004.

Venezuela has described these initiatives as part of its effort to form what President Chavez calls the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, ALBA, which would integrate Latin American countries politically, economically, and socially and is designed to thwart the U.S. government’s efforts to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). According to Chavez, ALBA is based on solidarity between nations, not free trade, as is the case with the FTAA.

The FTAA was originally scheduled to take effect in 2005, but negotiations for its implementation have been on hold since the FTAA summit held in Miami in November 2003, when Venezuela, Brazil, and Caribbean nations objected to its implementation.