Chavez, Bolivia's Morales seal alliance with raft of accords
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By Javier Aliaga.
La Paz, Jan 23 (EFE).- President Evo Morales marked his first day in office Monday by signing eight accords with Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, including a barter deal under which oil-rich Caracas will provide diesel fuel to Bolivia in exchange for foodstuffs.
The ceremony took place at the presidential palace after Morales swore-in his Cabinet, and prior to the opening of the La Paz office of Venezuelan state-run oil company PDVSA.
Besides putting their signatures to eight agreements covering areas such as energy, agriculture, science and technology, health and education, the two leftists affirmed an alliance to defend their respective nations' independence "from any aggression."
Chavez, who traveled to La Paz for Morales' inauguration Sunday, hailed the accords as the start of a new push toward regional integration and efforts to create an economic model compatible with the realities of Latin America, as opposed to the free-market prescriptions emanating from Washington.
After 180 years full "of poverty, domination, exploitation and colonialism," the Venezuelan said, the region is ready to carry forward the legacy of men such as Simon Bolivar, Antonio Jose de Sucre, and Marshal Andres de Santa Cruz - all leaders of the struggle for independence from Spain - and iconic guerrilla Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
Morales agreed that Bolivians and Venezuelans have the obligation to complete the work of those historic figures.
"I am convinced, president, that with your political decision to support us, we will strengthen democracy and we are going to liberate the countries of the Americas," the Bolivian told Chavez.
He thanked his visitor for the economic backing implied by the accords signed Monday, the most important of which calls for Caracas to supply Bolivia with up to 200,000 barrels per month of gasoil, a type of diesel fuel.
Though the annual value of the deal could range as high as $150 million, Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said that Bolivia can pay for the fuel with foodstuffs, including soy, the main agricultural export of Bolivia's restive eastern provinces.
Bolivia has been spending roughly $100 million a year to ensure adequate supplies of gasoil to power the tractors and combines of soy growers in the east, which also holds most of the country's vast reserves of natural gas and has become increasingly estranged from La Paz in recent years.
In addition to the barter arrangement, Venezuela committed to purchasing 20,000 tons of chicken and an extra 200,000 tons of soy every year over and above what it is already buying.
The new PDVSA office in La Paz is supposed to provide technical assistance to Bolivia's much smaller state oil company, YPFB, as the latter undertakes a major overhaul in preparation for taking a commanding role in the development of the Andean nation's natural gas.
At present, multinationals hold concessions to extract Bolivia's gas, but Morales vows to nationalize the industry, though without expropriation or seizing assets.
Having said repeatedly that Bolivia "needs partners, not bosses," Morales may adopt the strategy pursued in Venezuela by Chavez, who is in the process of compelling foreign firms to accept new contracts that make PDVSA a majority partner in every venture.
Meanwhile, Chavez told university students and professors here that what he describes as the U.S. empire is nearing its end.
"The empire has entered the phase of desperation, like a vampire who sees dawn approaching and realizes that he still has not sucked enough blood," the outspoken populist said Monday after receiving an honorary degree from San Andres University in La Paz.
Referring to U.S. talk of international action against Iran in response to that nation's alleged aim to develop nuclear weapons, the Venezuelan said that Washington has Tehran in its sights "because (the Iranians) were capable of freeing themselves from imperialism" and recovering control of their natural resources.
"The United States invaded Iraq for oil; it doesn't care about democracy or life. They are desperate because their reserves of gas and oil are running out," Chavez said.
He went on to accuse the Bush administration of planning to invade oil-rich Venezuela for the same reason, but said that "capitalism and its ideologues" should realize an attack on his country would only accelerate the process of their own destruction.
"There is no other path than socialism to save the world," the Venezuelan leader said. "Imperialism will end up being a paper tiger, and we, tigers of steel."
Chavez, a former army colonel first elected in late 1998, is a friend and admirer of Cuba's Fidel Castro who is using his country's oil wealth to undermine U.S. influence in Latin America.
Diplomatic relations between Caracas and Washington have become embittered with mutual accusations that brand the U.S. government under George W. Bush as "imperialist and interventionist," while Chavez is slammed for his "totalitarian ambitions." EFE
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