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Author`s name Michael Simpson

May 25: South American Start Up Toward Full Integration

By that date major regional leaders will meet in Buenos Aires for the sworn in ceremony of the new Argentine President
Then, they will discuss the basis of a regional deal to expand the Mercosur and strengthen political ties.

Sources in Buenos Aires confirmed to PRAVDA.Ru that if the anti-Menem mood prevails in the runoff for presidency and Nestor Kirchner wins the elections, May 25's sworn in ceremony could become a sort of Latin American summit to fuel region's political and economical integration. As this correspondent could know, the presidents of Brazil, Venezuela and Chile, among others, have already confirmed their visit to Buenos Aires, as Mexico's Fox and Fidel Castro's positive answers are underway.

Nestor Kirchner, the best-positioned candidate to become President of Argentina in May 18 runoff, insisted on developing closer political ties between Latin American nations. "Our future lays on the political integration of Latin America, not in the automatic alignment to the USA", said Kirchner before leaving Argentina for a one day visit to Brazil's Lula in Brasilia. The Gov. of Santa Cruz Province stands for very good chances to defeat former President Carlos Menem in the race for presidency.

Kirchner's visit to Lula is not accidental. Since Lula became President of Brazil at the beginning of the year, his administration launched a diplomatic offensive to rebuild Mercosur. Therefore, Brazil reoriented country's previous foreign policy toward a new approach to its main partner within the block, Argentina. Lula, backed by Argentina President Eduardo Duhalde, found a warm welcome to his ideas. Now, Brazil sees in Kirchner a continuation of Duhalde's position and an opportunity to advance to a full integration between both countries. However, Mercosur's plans look more ambitious: it is the intention of the block to expand Mercosur by obtaining Chile and Bolivia full memberships and, at least, a free trade agreement with Venezuela.
Last Brazilian movements confirm the above: Lula recently met Chavez in Recife, northern Brazil, and got what he wanted. Hugo Chavez ratified Venezuela's intentions to join Mercosur, and both heads of State renewed negotiations to establish wide-ranging partnerships between state-owned oil firms Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) and Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA). Chбvez's visit to Brazil was his third since Lula took office on Jan. 1, but was the first meeting specifically used to deeply discuss business and politics.

On the other hand, Argentina and Brazil advanced last week, toward the creation of a common currency. "It is a long way", admitted both parts, but the similar macroeconomic picture both nations currently show, allow a more optimistic view.

Naturally, Mercosur strengthening and South American political integration weakens US role in Latin America. In fact, it is a big headache for Washington's plans to reach a quick understanding on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement, fueled by the White House. Moreover, last South American movements may delay or even call off the incoming negotiations, as the region will be in a better position to discuss with the U.S.  Probably, this is the main reason why, according to the same sources, the US Embassy in Buenos Aires is desperately looking for a strategy to push forward weakened Menem's candidature. The Argentine ex-president has a historical pro-US approach on foreign policy and could be very helpful to frustrate Latin American integration plans.

If Kirchner is elected President of Argentina, Lula will be in better position to expand Merosur. The White House knows that and fears that its allies in South America, Colombia and Peru, will be forced to approach their neighbors not to be isolated in their own continent.

According to official statistics, the Mercosur agreement, signed by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay is today the fourth largest world's economy, behind NAFTA, the European Union and Japan. In an attempt to displace Japan from the third place, Brazil and Argentina will move to secure Chile, Bolivia and Venezuela agreement to join in full the club of the Southern Cross.

Photo (Telam): Argentine presidential candidate Nestor Kirchner (left) meets Brazil's President Lula in Brasilia. On Friday, Kirchner will fly to Santiago to meet Chile's Head of State, Ricardo Lagos.