INTEGRATION AGREEMENTS DANIEL ORTEGA’S INTERVENTION DURING THE FIFTH SUMMIT OF PETROCARIBE, HELD IN MARACAIBO, VENEZUELA, ON 13th JULY 2008
Firstly, I would like to salute the Bolivarian peoples and comrade President Hugo Chavez.
I think that perhaps the Venezuelan peoples do not grasp the scope of the work taking place in their country. Venezuela has become the main element contributing to the struggle for stability and governability in our nations.
The problem we are faced with is undoubtedly much more profound and complex. In the 60’s, oil prices were set at $2 per barrel; in the 70’s they rose to $4-$5, in the 80’s they became $10 per barrel; but in which conditions were our countries and our peoples? At that time, oil wasn’t the main issue; the main issue was external debt.
Fidel started the struggle against external debt, as it was no more than an imposition forced by global capitalism on our nations.
The great challenge we face, is precisely to change that model. It would not make sense if the Venezuelan peoples continued to support that imposed model. We would be then slaves of the free market model.
When we talk about free market, everyone knows that there is nothing free about it. Those who force upon us the free market have their barriers, conditions, they impose their rules and administrate our economies, selling them to global capitalism. This is why we are positive, convinced that we are under a dictatorship, under the tyranny of global capitalism.
When President Hugo Chavez proposed Europe to make a minimal contribution, they kept silence, because that would put at risk the hegemonic position they have forced upon mankind, along with the United States. I believe that the Venezuelan initiative, their Bolivarian Revolution, PETROCARIBE, the ALBA, is what will define the guidelines for the construction of a truly alternative project.
We must develop an alternative project, otherwise we will continue to be enslaved to a model that has no qualms about spending thousands of millions in warfare, but does not respond to true emergencies; a model that has established ‘preventative wars’ and military actions as a norm, yet not interested in preventing disasters in social or economic areas.
Simply stated, for this model it is convenient that a large part of the world’s population lives in poverty, immersed in misery, unemployed -because having a market teeming with cheap labour is convenient to them. We are suffering this situation.
Where are they taking tax free areas to? Whose interests serve tax free areas? We have indeed been invaded by a tax free area, and why are they there for? Is it to help us develop, is it to help us progress? No; they just jump from country to country, in search of the cheapest possible labour.
They become wealthy at the expense of our misery, and force us to compete, in the middle of our misery, so that all we can offer is ‘come here, I have the cheapest labour’; while someone in Asia claims the same.
In Nicaragua tax free areas were presented as the alternative that would generate employment in the country, that was back in the 90’s. The tax free area was Nicaragua’s only salvation; it would generate employment, development, and all this was going to reach the rural areas too...but the buried the agricultural sector! They told us that importing was better and cheaper than producing.
So that is what tax free areas do to our countries. Today we have in Nicaragua tax free areas that were previously in Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador or Guatemala. They transfered them to Nicaragua because that is where Central America’s cheapest labour is. On top of that, they also demanded special working conditions: the no-application of labour laws. Part of that tax free zone is now being transfered to Asia.
There is another tax free area being imposed to Nicaragua; this one comes from the United States -the biggest contradiction! North American workers complaining and central American workers arguing: a clash between workers, simply due to the rules of capital.
We have had enriching experiences while trying to construct an alternative model; each country has its own characteristics, idiosyncrasies and so on. It was only last night that we were in a town bordering with Honduras, the town of Jalapa.
Jalapa is in a region called Teotecacinte. Both Jalapa and Teotecacinte became very well known between 1979 and 1990, because of the combats that took place daily. This territory surrounds Honduras, forming a peninsula, they are engulfed by Hondurean territory.
This fact was used to help the imperialist yankee strategy against the Revolution, using the Hondurean bases of El Aguacate and Palmerola, which are now under Hondurean sovereignty, as we had the pleasure to observe during our last visit to Honduras.
The north Americans used these bases to launch attacks against our most vulnerable positions, being as they were enclosed by Hondurean territory; the troops sent by the United States could easily enter Nicaragua, and then escape.
Their strategy was to seize Teotecacinte, reach Jalapa and establish a provisional government and their troops right there, in Nicaraguan territory. They never succeeded! the people resisted their constant shelling during years, they are heroic communities, and we visited them last night.
What are the current problems of these communities? They mentioned issues having to do with financing. These are agricultural areas; in fact, they are some of the most fertile lands in the country, capable of producing seeds, corn, beans, coffee, first class land. And what the communities requested: fertilizers, funding, agricultural tools.
We tried to establish a different model in Nicaragua, that was our first experience in this respect, a different, alternative, socialist model; a model that departed from the principles of a multy-party system, a plural economy and non-alignment.
During that period, we were unconditionally supported by the Soviet Union and the countries of the socialist block. The campaign launched by the United States claimed that Nicaragua was becoming a base for the Soviet Union and the socialist block in the continent; they said Cuba was already one, and now there was Nicaragua.
In all honesty, neither the Soviet Union, nor its leaders, nor Cuba, nor Fidel conditioned their support and cooperation with us. They never said “in order for us to help Nicaragua, the political or economic conditions to be fulfilled are these...” They never put conditions!
The socialist block practiced what today is called fair trade. In exchange for our products, they gave us agricultural tools, fertilizers, raw materials, iron, steel. Our products were sold at a preferential rate, and we were offered long term loans to acquire their products.
The agricultural tools were the cheapest in Central America; they were so cheap that many of them ended up in Honduras, as they too could afford to buy them.
That was a socialist community who offered their cooperation in all areas unconditionally! For the yankees that is difficult to believe, as it is for the Europeans, because they are used to condition cooperation. To them it was impossible, inconceivable, that the Soviet Union, the socialist block or Cuba offered unconditional cooperation.
I remember how all soviet leaders I dealt with -Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko- advised us that we were not ready to establish a socialist system similar to the one they had with Eastern Europe.
Fidel told us the same thing, but to the yankees, to the Europeans, it was inconceivable that we could have a project, that the conditions were adequate, that there was a commitment. It was our decision to construct a socialist model in accordance with our culture and our historical progress.
That was our first experience of fair trade...fair trade was what the Soviet Union practiced with African and Latin American peoples, with developing countries.
To us, the cooperation offered by the Soviet Union, the countries of the socialist block and Cuba was invaluable. Their support helped us resist during many years; without it, perhaps we would have suffered a counter-revolution, as it happened in Chile.
When neoliberalism arrived in the 90’s, the socialist block collapsed, and with it, Cuba, who entered in a ‘special period’. Despite the hardships, Cuba never refused to continue with the programs of cooperation they had with us. Cuba practiced socialism, solidarity and Christianity. Later, Venezuela emerged with tremendous strength, firmness and dignity, proposing unity within an alternative model - that is what the ALBA stands for!
And I would say that PETROCARIBE is also part of the ALBA, part of the decision to work within the logic of fair trade.
During our meeting in Mexico, I urged Latin Americans and Central Americans to think; and speaking of Central America, I mentioned the historical links, not only between Mexico and our countries, but between us and Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia...historically, the links have been stronger with Venezuela and Mexico than with Colombia.
Because, although it is true that Colombia is taking part in these encounters, the Agreement of San Jose -signed when oil prices were nowhere near $148 per barrel- was an agreement born out of the Venezuelan and Mexican initiatives to help our countries. Oil prices were “cheap”, but not for us -what does this mean? that the problem is not oil prices. The problem is the model used.
Oil prices are the result of the execution of a capitalist model, of free market and speculation. The theatre played at stock markets is, simply, the pivotal centre of capitalist and free market philosophy. To them is normal that people go hungry, it is normal that people are unemployed; what is not logical to them is that there may be growth without hunger...growth belongs exclusively to them!
When oil prices were $2 per barrel, in the 60’s, or when they were $5 per barrel in the 80’s, when the Revolution triumphed, during that period, between 1960 and 1979, illiteracy in Nicaragua continued to grow...what use was a $2 barrel to Nicaragua? What use was it to the people?
There was economic growth in Nicaragua, exports grew, there are even some who yearn for the Somoza era. It was imposed by the yankees, yet they claim it was Nicaragua’s golden age, an age where exports grew, there was no inflation, the macro economy cruised along...but at what expense? At the expense of hunger and the unemployment of the population.
I believe that this is the only space that allows us to stay away from the free market. As I said in Mexico, let’s stop taking about free market, let’s talk about fair markets, that take into account the asymmetries existing in our countries. What the Europeans now call their association with Central America is nothing more than a free market mechanism; a free market peppered with conditioning policies by the way. This is what Europeans suggest.
While we do not reject dialogue with Europe, because there is dialogue, we Central Americans have closed ranks. What do we say to Europe? Asymmetries need to be taken into account. They demand, they impose a Customs Union to countries with extremely fragile economies, like Nicaragua and Honduras, two of the world’s poorest countries.
With asymmetries like these, how can there be a Customs Union, when there is no compensatory fund? If Guatemala and Costa Rica cannot contribute towards a compensatory fund, and they are relatively developed economies, then El Salvador will not do it either; we could all contribute towards a compensatory fund, yet it would be insufficient to offset the disparities existing among Central American economies...let alone if we consider Central America against Europe or the United States!
The Free Trade Agreement with the United States is a matter of ‘take it or disappear’,there is no alternative! and Europe is now saying the same, because they have said: ‘you will have our cooperation until 2013, after that, either you accept the agreement, or you will disappear’. Why? Because otherwise we will be left without support, in accordance with the laws of the so called ‘free market’.
We now have a historic opportunity; in this respect, the role played by Venezuela is admirable, because presently there is no other country in the world with a project based on the principles of complementarity, fair trade, solidarity…there isn’t a similar project anywhere else! We can only see it here.
I believe this is an opportunity to begin constructing our own space, a Latin American and Caribbean space; it is also an opportunity to get closer to Brazil and Argentina, like President Chavez says, so that they can also become aware of our project and practice the type of trade we advocate, along with complementary cooperation and solidarity, which are the only things that will bring about stability and help us fight hunger and poverty in our countries.
I must present my apologies for arriving once the meeting had started. I have not been able to listen to other interventions, but as I told you, I was in Teotecacinte, in Jalapa, a town near the border with Honduras.
Teotecacinte is the second largest town in the Jalapa region. From 1979 onwards, during the war, the yankees had their military bases in Honduras, and they launched attacks from every corner, every day. Fidel used to tell me “you have a Giron every day”, because we were attacked daily. Their plan was to seize Teotecacinte, move on to Jalapa, establish a provisional government and set up their troops, which were already at Palmerola base in Honduras.
During that time, President Manuel Zelaya was a member of Parliament. He protested against the bases they had in Honduras. Once he was even attacked at one of those bases, I believe it was at Aguacate, they threatened with killing him, because he had denounced them.
We were in Jalapa at midnight. I was planning to travel by helicopter, but there was a downpour, so it was not possible, and we had to travel overland. It takes 5 or 6 hours, because one must stop along the way, with all the people coming out on the streets and they roads. They are there at midnight, sitting by the fire, in the middle of the rain, waiting with a red and black flag, the farmers...and what do they ask for? Schools.
That is what neoliberalism did not give them during the past 16 years; in fact, they took it away from them! The Revolution gave them schools, thanks to the socialist block cooperation, thanks to the fair trade we had with them. They also ask for medical attention, which the Revolution gave to them, and neoliberalism stole.
They ask for agricultural tools; the Revolution flooded Nicaragua with agricultural tools, and I was telling Mel that a good part of those tools ended up in Honduras, because they were the cheapest in Central America. They also request financing.
People want to work, and they have fertile land, where we can easily start an operation like the one we are discussing. We have discussed another thing with Central Americans: we import powdered milk, when we could easily set up a processing plant here in Nicaragua, because we do have the milk we need...a million liters every day! but we have no way to process them, and we need to improve road transport.
If we set up processing plants that belong to PETROCARIBE, to this community, we could have powdered milk available to all members at fair prices, instead of importing it. Nicaragua imports powdered milk, Central America imports powdered milk; this way we would have enough powdered milk to sell it to free trade markets too.
It is not within our possibilities to disappear from that market; it is not in our hands to get away from the Treaties, but it is in our hands to construct an alternative that can free us from the dependence circle; to break free from the ultimatum they have given us.
In that combat area we remembered the time of victory, because it was there that the different territories of our country began to be liberated, up until the occupation of Managua; we recalled also the struggle for peace; peace which was only possible through dialogue and negotiation.
At that time, Guatemala was under the leadership of President Vinicio Cerezo, who actively took part in this process; President Oscar Arias in Costa Rica did the same; Honduras decided to pay no heed to Reagan’s prohibition to start a dialogue with us, and became part of the peace process. They realized that the war in Nicaragua was expanding to the region; that yankees were causing that, in the same way they are doing it today in Colombia.
Colombia is a focal point of instability in Latin America, especially affecting neighboring countries and Central America, because we are being accused that the weapons come through Central America -despite of the fact that they come from the United States, where weapons are sold like candy- The center of instability is in Colombia, where there is a revolutionary war and where there has not been the capacity and the intelligence to find a political, negotiated solution; rather, a solution has been imposed by force.
We have recently witnessed Ingrid Betancourt’s liberation, in an operation that, undoubtedly, makes any negotiation in the short term impossible. We are obviously happy for all those who have been released, but at the same time, we have three girls in Nicaragua, two Colombian and one Mexican, 22, 24 and 26 years old, seriously wounded. Two of them remain hospitalised, because they have not recovered from their injuries, and they have basically lost their legs.
They are in a terrible situation, victims of a terrorist attack carried out by the Colombian government, in cooperation with the yankee army, when they attacked a peace camp in Ecuadorian territory.
Colombia has two major problems that have spread to the region. One is drug trafficking. We know that the main market is the United States, and while the market is there, drug trafficking will continue to corrupt our region, Central America.
During the meeting in Mexico, which President Uribe attended, I mentioned how the United States had decided that North Korea was no longer a terrorist state, in the same way they decided some time ago that Lybia was no longer terrorist. The United States, the biggest terrorist on earth, decides who is terrorist and who is not...not long ago, they decided that Mandela was not a terrorist anymore, Mandela, who is 90 years old!
What caused the cease of tensions with the Popular and Democratic Republic of Korea. which was putting at risk regional and global peace? It was dialogue and negotiation. If the yankees had insisted on repeating: they are terrorists, they are terrorists and we will get rid of them by force...who knows in which situation we would be now! But dialogue and negotiation took place.
This is why I said during the meeting in Mexico, that the conflict in Colombia can only be solved by dialogue and negotiation. Colombia, who actively participated in the Nicaraguan peace process….what an irony! Colombia, amidst an internal conflict, contributing to peace in Nicaragua with the Contadora Group, actively involved.
What is our position after Colombia presented a proposal of resolution to the Organization of American States? We think that is not the way forward; the solution must pass through negotiation, dialogue, to be able to liberate all those who have been kidnapped on both sides.
Because there are hostages on both sides...suddenly, it looks as if all hostages were held by the FARC, and none by the Colombian army! As if the only casualties have been caused by the FARC and not by the army. This is the image being portrayed.
Moreover, when it comes to the FARC, I cannot accept the word ‘hostage’ applying someone in the military, police, or army. A policeman, a member of the Colombian army, goes to combat against the guerrilla, and when he is captured, he is a war prisoner, not a hostage. The only hostages are civilians.
How can we solve this conflict that affects every one of us, that creates tensions seemingly impossible to appease? The problem must be dealt with in Colombia, as they are the ones causing instability and tension in neighboring countries.
This is what we wanted to express today; we also wanted to ratify what we said in Mexico in our communique, we support the government of Bolivia, President Evo Morales, who is facing a campaign of destabilization, which continues to overthrow President Morales.
These are the issues I wanted to mention. And once again, I wish to acknowledge the generous attitude of solidarity shown by the Venezuelan people, by the Bolivarian Revolution, by comrade President Hugo Chavez.
Venezuelan brothers, Venezuelan people, you must know that you are providing these countries, these leaders who represent their peoples and who are today gathered at PETROCARIBE, with the greatest contribution anyone could offer. Thank you, Venezuelan people; thank you, brother President.
(Translation for Portal ALBA by Damaris Garzón)