Chávez urges allies to withdraw reserves from US banks
Wants leaders to invest funds in Latin America
CARACAS - President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela urged his Latin American allies yesterday to begin withdrawing billions of dollars in international reserves from US banks, warning of a looming US economic crisis.
Chávez made the suggestion as he hosted a summit aimed at boosting Latin American integration and rolling back US influence.
"We should start to bring our reserves here," he said. "Why does that money have to be in the north? . . . You can't put all your eggs in one basket."
To help pool resources within the region, Chávez and other leaders launched a new development bank at the summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Nations of Our America, or ALBA.
The left-leaning regional trade alliance first proposed by Chávez is intended to offer an alternative, socialist path to integration while snubbing US-backed free-trade deals.
Chávez noted that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Colombia in recent days, saying "that has to do with this summit."
"The empire doesn't accept alternatives," Chávez told the gathering, attended by the presidents of Bolivia and Nicaragua and Cuba's vice president, Carlos Lage.
Chávez warned that US "imperialism is entering into a crisis that can affect all of us" and said Latin America "will save itself alone."
Rice left Colombia on Friday after a trip aimed at reviving a free trade deal that has stalled in the US Congress. While there, she sidestepped an opportunity to respond to Chávez, who the same day accused that country and the United States of plotting "military aggression" against Venezuela.
Yesterday, President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua joined Chávez in his criticism of US-style capitalism, saying "the dictatorship of global capitalism . . . has lost control." Three days earlier, Ortega had shouted "Long live the US government" as he inaugurated an American-financed section of highway in his country.
The ALBA Bank is "being born with the aim of boosting development in our countries," Venezuela's finance minister, Rafael Isea, said yesterday as he and other officials gathered at the bank's Caracas office for a ceremony.
Isea has said the bank will be started with $1 billion to $1.5 billion.
Chávez welcomed the Caribbean island of Dominica into the ALBA - an acronym that means "dawn" in Spanish - joining Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Cuba. Attending as observers were the prime ministers of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, along with officials from Ecuador, Honduras, Haiti, and St. Kitts and Nevis.
Chávez said a new fund created by Venezuela and Iran to support projects in third countries would have links to the ALBA Bank.
In her 24-hour visit to Medellin, Colombia's second-largest city, Rice and nine Democratic legislators met with union leaders who complained that the Uribe government has not done enough to halt violence, including killings, that discourages labor organizing.
More than 700 trade unionists have been killed in Colombia since 2001, according to the government. The annual number of unionists slain has fallen sharply since Uribe took office in 2002, but the 25 killed in 2007 was still more than in any other country in the world. Only a small fraction of the killings have been solved.
Rice acknowledged that Colombia is still wracked by violence stemming from over four decades of armed conflict, but said it deserves continued US support as a staunch ally and caretaker in the war on drugs.
She also said that failing to pass the trade deal would hurt the US image in Latin America, where many leaders - cheered by Chávez - have grown weary of the pro-market reforms favored by Washington.
In accusing his neighboring country of plotting with the United States to attack his country, Chávez said Friday that Colombia was "acting as a pawn of the US empire." He cited intelligence reports but did not offer evidence to support his assertion.
Venezuela and Colombia have been locked in a diplomatic crisis since November, when President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia ended Chávez's mediation role with Colombia's leftist rebels in seeking a hostages-for-prisoners swap.
Chávez warned Colombia not to attempt a "provocation," saying it would prompt Venezuela to cut off all oil exports. "In that scenario, write it down: the price of oil would reach $300, because there wouldn't be oil for anyone," he said.
Chávez has repeatedly accused Washington of plotting to oust or kill him, though it was the first time he has accused Colombia's US-allied government in such strident terms.
The US Embassy did not respond to the statement. The Colombian government also has not responded.