On a diplomatic tour through Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited Libya, Algeria, and Syria this week to concretize bilateral economic and political accords and strengthen relationships among countries of the Global South.
After commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Libyan revolution alongside the leader of the revolution, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Chavez expressed his support for unity and anti-imperialism on the African continent in a speech before a special summit of the African Union in Tripoli, Libya.”Africa should never again allow countries to come from across the seas to impose certain political, economic, and social systems. Africa should be of the Africans, and only by way of unity will Africa be free and great,” said Chávez.
Chavez also met with the presidents of Niger, Mauritania, and Mali during the summit. He compared the African Union’s disapproval of the U.S.’s military operations on the African continent through AFRICOM to the rejection of the increased U.S. military presence in Colombia by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) during a summit in Argentina last weekend.
In Algeria, Chavez and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika drew up what they called a “work map” for bilateral cooperation. Chavez invited Algeria, which is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries along with Venezuela and Libya, to form a mixed enterprise with the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA to exploit Venezuela’s vast Orinoco Oil Belt.
“The oil in the [Orinoco Oil Belt] is heavy, and Algeria’s is light. There we have potential to produce mixtures and improve our oil,” said Chavez, adding that cooperation in the production of natural gas, petrochemicals, the fishing industry, and tourism were also on the agenda.
On his tour, Chavez also promoted the South America-Africa Summit, which is scheduled to take place on September 25 to 27 on the Venezuelan resort Margarita Island. So far, fifty-four African heads of state have confirmed their attendance.
In the week leading up to the summit, Venezuela’s ministries of education, culture, women and gender equality, and foreign relations will host thousands of diplomats, university students and professors, politicians and cultural workers from the African continent at the III Cultural Festival of the Peoples of Africa. The festival’s purpose is for the peoples of both continents “to recognize themselves as part of the same origin, the same struggle for life, liberty, and self-determination,” according to the event organizers.
Chavez was greeted by a large crowd upon his arrival in the Syrian province of Swaida. The Syrian government named a street after Venezuela in honor of Chavez’s visit.
In a speech before the crowd, Chavez referred to the people of Syria as “architects of resistance” to imperialism, and reiterated the need for Global South countries to unite.
“We should fight to create consciousness that is free from imperialist doctrine… fight to defeat backwardness, poverty, misery… to convert our countries into true powers through the consciousness of the people,” said the Venezuelan president.
Chavez also strongly criticized Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories. This policy, and most recently Venezuela’s severance of diplomatic ties with Israel to protest Israel’s bombing of Gaza earlier this year, has garnered strong support for Venezuela among many countries in the Middle East.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad met with Chavez, who was accompanied by Foreign Relations Minister Nicolas Maduro and Commerce Minister Eduardo Saman, to lay out plans for a joint oil refinery that is to be completed in 2013, as well as a mixed enterprise to produce canned olives and olive oil.
In addition, Chavez proposed the installment of a branch of the Caracas-based Latin American news network Telesur in Syria, “so they can watch the news from the Latin American world.” He offered the support of Venezuela’s national telecommunications company CANTV to improve Syria’s telecommunications services.
The Venezuelan leader will now head to Iran, Belarus, and Russia, countries with which Venezuela has already signed an array of energy cooperation accords, and finish off his tour in Spain, where he will meet with Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.