Political differences have dominated a gathering of South American trade partners. At the Mercosur summit in Rio de Janeiro, leftist leaders called for a shift of the trade bloc’s focus, away from free market and towards addressing the needs of the continent’s millions of poor.
The host, Brazil’s centre-left President Lula da Silva, is urging a more cautious approach to diminishing the division between South America’s rich and poor.
While Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez said he wants to rebuild the trade bloc in line with his vision of what he calls “21st century socialism.”
He told reporters: “We came here first and foremost to make proposals, and to continue our discussions about, and to approve, agreements, programmes and projects, which will strengthen real integration, the integration of South America. But we are also here to contribute to something that we consider an absolute necessity – reforming Mercosur.”
Mercosur, which was created 16 years ago, is supposed to be a free trade zone – like the European Union – but it has a long history of disputes and failure to synchronise policies. And even after this summit, major political differences remain on how the region’s economy should evolve.