Source AP ©

Venezuela to become member of Andean Community trade bloc

Venezuela may return to the Andean Community because leftist leaders in Bolivia and Ecuador who have resisted free trade deals with the United States could help to transform the regional economic bloc.

Hugo Chavez, who pulled Venezuela out of the five-nation bloc in 2006 after Peru and Colombia signed trade pacts with Washington, said on his weekly broadcast program that he was studying "the possible path toward a new Andean Community."

The Venezuelan leader did not elaborate. But he insisted the bloc, which goes by the Spanish initials CAN, should become "Bolivarian" - a reference to his anti-U.S. political movement named after 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar.

"Changes in the CAN are necessary," he said.

Presidents Evo Morales and Rafael Correa of Bolivia and Ecuador, both CAN member nations, have joined Chavez in his outspoken criticism of Washington's economic policies in Latin America. But Colombia and Peru, as well as associate bloc member Chile, have supported open-market policies.

Many labor and leftist groups fear free trade will hurt the region's poor by confronting them with competition from cheaper U.S. products. Supporters say the deals will benefit the region by expanding export markets and giving local consumers cheaper food and other goods.

Chavez has championed his Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which counts Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua as signatories, as an alternative to U.S. free trade pacts.

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