Effect of presence on continent of universal opportunities
The President of Belarus spent the whole of last week in Latin America, with an intense schedule, encompassing three official visits: to the Republic of Cuba, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the Republic of Ecuador
By Kirill Dovlatov
Mr. Lukashenko’s stay in each country featured meetings and negotiations between heads of state, as well as with heads of ministries and our large enterprises. Every minute was scheduled tightly, with the Belarusian delegation also including the First Deputy Prime Minister, Vladimir Semashko. Clearly, the trip was inspired by more than diplomatic courtesy. Latin America is showing great potential for expansion of collaboration.
The ceremonial meeting of the President in Cuba was held in Havana’s Palace of the Republic. Beforehand, the Belarusian delegation, headed by Mr. Semashko, negotiated with Cuban colleagues, while being welcomed by the Cuban Vice President of the Council of Ministers, Ricardo Cabrisas. He noted that Cuba has adopted a programme of economic development until 2016 and that co-operation with Belarus harmoniously fits into this strategy.
During negotiations, prospects for collaboration in diverse areas were discussed, with several documents signed. An agreement on co-operation was concluded between our governments regarding quarantine and plant protection, as were joint memorandums between the Belarusian Industry Ministry and the Cuban ministries for Agriculture, Metallurgy Industry and Machine Building. A similar document was concluded by our health ministries and our head of the State Committee for Science and Technology signed an agreement with the Cuban Ministry for Sciences, Technology and the Environment.
Mr. Lukashenko arrived at Revolution Square, laying a wreath at the Island of Freedom’s Jose Marti Memorial. He also wrote in the book of honorary guests: ‘I’m delighted by this historical site, which is dedicated to a wonderful son of Cuba — the poet, philosopher and great humanist Jose Marti. The energy, dynamism and freedom-loving spirit of the heroic Cuban nation is felt here especially brightly! I wish you all peace, health and prosperity’.
The Palace of the Republic hosted a solemn ceremony for the official meeting. Together with Raul Castro Ruz, the President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers of Cuba, Mr. Lukashenko walked along the formation of the guard of honour and top level negotiations then took place, with the heads of state warmly greeting each other.
The President of Belarus emphasised that his visit coincides with the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. Over these years, Belarusian-Cuban interaction has reached a level of strategic partnership. The Belarusian President asserted that the expansion of multi-faceted relations with Cuba is a top priority within the Belarusian state’s foreign policy.
The visit by the President of Belarus to Havana had been long promoted by the local media, with the same situation observed in Venezuela; banners depicting portraits of Hugo Chavez and Alexander Lukashenko hung in Caracas’ streets and TV channels gave full of reports on co-operation between our states. Even the severe faces of security agents in the hotel brightened on seeing our delegation — whether the minister, plant director, Foreign Ministry employee or journalist. The President of Venezuela’s security was also very amiable, helping us around the official residence: Miraflores Palace.
Mr. Chavez waited for Mr. Lukashenko at the porch, looking at the television cameras and being unable to restrain a smile, being a very sociable person (a trait he shares with the President of Belarus). It’s no accident that the word ‘friend’ is often heard when they chat; this time, the word ‘brother’ was used more often.
Mr. Chavez took a microphone from its stand and spoke warmly about relations with our country, stopping only when the Belarusian President’s delegation arrived. The warm embraces of the heads of our two states weren’t merely for show; they were evidently glad to see each other.
The military orchestra played the national anthem of Belarus and the guard of honour froze. Surprisingly, the solemn music was sung live by the men’s military choir (no lip-synching, as you might expect). Throwing a glance at the main porch and judging by the movement of lips, it seemed that even the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Rafael Chavez, was singing our anthem. He then sang his own anthem, soundlessly moving his lips in a touching manner.
I’ve long noticed that, when presidents Lukashenko and Chavez meet, formalities fade into the background. The President of Venezuela explained this emotionally and simply, saying, “Over the last year, we’ve built a strategic union of Belarus and Venezuela. We have a brotherhood. Welcome to Venezuela! Welcome to Latin America!”
The President of Venezuela noted that he had a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin on the eve of the visit, telling Mr. Putin that he had chosen well in going to Minsk for his first official visit on being elected to the post of president of Russia. Venezuela is clearly keen on closer co-operation with all post-Soviet countries, which mirrors Belarus’ interest in Latin America.
Mr. Chavez noted our opportunities for development and the presidents continued to chat, ignoring formal diplomatic protocols. After a short conversation, they went into the residence, from where a live television broadcast was launched, beginning with the two presidents’ initial greeting and ending with their tete-a-tete. Mr. Chavez took on the role of host for the multi-hour TV programme.
He noted that this was the third visit by Alexander Lukashenko to his country, with initial conversations about intentions developing into definite agreements on co-operation. Now, we are at the stage of assessing results and making further plans. A TV bridge allowed connection with all key sites, including the factory making Belarusian MAZ vehicles in Barinas city, captured from a charming bird’s eye view. Employees chatted with those in Caracas, saying how pleased they are with results. Belarusian MAZ vehicles are leaving the workshop, while our MTZ tractors are assembled nearby. Moreover, a joint venture is to be launched manufacturing construction equipment.
The next TV link showed a new residential district, constructed with help from our builders. Hundreds of people have already received their keys for their new flats, while thousands will soon be able to move in. The next link showed a factory producing construction materials while another revealed a Caracas district, where Belarusian specialists have helped lay gas lines, sharing their knowledge and skills with the Venezuelans. A better quality of life is being created with our assistance and many plans are yet to be fulfilled.
The visit resulted in the signing of over twenty joint documents, foreseeing more housing construction, production facilities and infrastructure. The two sides agreed on the building of a heat power station, also involving China (our strategic partner) and a second line is to be launched at our construction materials plant, to meet growing demand. Meanwhile, a new gas pipeline is to be laid between the cities of Barquisimeto and Barinas. More ideas were discussed, with Mr. Lukashenko suggesting that Belarusian furniture and household appliances could be made directly in Venezuela — to furnish the new flats (rather than importing from Belarus). Mr. Chavez appeared very interested in the proposal.
Addressing Mr. Chavez, President Lukashenko noted sincerely, “Anyone who knows me well will vouch for my lack of flattering ways. I’d like to let you know that, were it not for you, we wouldn’t have implemented these projects and enjoyed such success. Probably, Belarus wouldn’t have a presence in Venezuela. I don’t exaggerate.”
Mr. Lukashenko delicately tackled the forthcoming Venezuelan Presidential elections, at which the nation will make its choice. He commented, “Most Venezuelans support what we’re doing with Mr. Chavez. However, some doubt the intentions of our collaboration, as may be natural in these times of politics. However, I’d like to repeat that Belarus is here as a brother — at the request of your president-patriot. He is my friend and the friend of the Belarusian nation. You should know that whatever is said, our country will do whatever is asked by my friend Chavez. I’m convinced that, within a few years, we’ll be talking about more serious projects — despite our enemies. No one will stop us on this path. This is my short answer to those who doubt us.”
The presidents bid farewell, agreeing to meet again within a few years. By then, new projects will be underway in industry, agriculture and power engineering. Meanwhile, new countries are joining these large-scale endeavours and bilateral collaboration is acquiring a more global scale.
The Belarusian President next flew to Ecuador, and immediately after landing in the capital of Ecuador — Quito the delegation went to Plaza Grande Square — to the Heroes of Independence Monument: symbolic to Ecuadorians. The site has a long and complicated history, linked to Ecuador’s independence. There, President Lukashenko laid a wreath.
The decree to build the monument was issued by President Caamano in 1888. However, even ten years later, nothing had been done. In 1898, a special common fund was created, to which all the municipalities of the country sent one percent of their income for 5 years. The monument was built in Italy, requiring a complex journey to Quito, where it was unveiled in 1906.
Even five years ago, the idea of Belarusian-Ecuadorian co-operation would have seemed strange to many, since we are located so far apart. Last year’s $47m turnover is a drop in the ocean — rather as the Pacific washes the west coast of Ecuador. However, it is more than has been achieved in the past, despite our countries clearly showing potential for growth. We are certainly in a position to complement one another.
Back in 2006, turnover with Venezuela stood at a mere $6m, with few prospects for immediate growth. By 2011, rapid development had been seen, with trade rising over 200-fold! Our trade and investments over the past two years are estimated to be worth nearly $1.5bn. It is clear that we are enjoying more than simple trade. Building plants in Venezuela have been provided with Belarusian technologies and expertise, rather than just products. What can be more valuable?
The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, and the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa Delgado, are determined to promote bilateral relations, as confirmed during their meeting in Quito. Discussing the economic element of our relations, Mr. Lukashenko mentioned that we have a true opportunity to raise trade volumes, which he believes to currently be ‘rather small, taking into account the potential of our countries’. He added, “We have no closed topics and are ready to carry out any wish, if we can, relating to science, new technologies and certain areas of economic organisation. We’ll show you everything you are interested in and, if it is profitable, we can share our experience with Ecuador.”
Mr. Lukashenko noted that Mr. Chavez first introduced him to the leaders of nearby countries in Latin American and that this visit to Ecuador was taking place under his protection. Caracas holds status and significance in Latin America.
What binds Belarus and Ecuador? We are incrementally building our political superstructure of partnership, with both states pursuing independent dialogue within the world arena and seeking out constructive-minded countries. We also share a socially-oriented domestic policy. Although high-level visits haven’t been evident until today, we have liaised within a multilateral format and understand each other well, offering mutual support of initiatives and promoting candidates to UN elected bodies.
In turn, the President of Ecuador is convinced that Mr. Lukashenko’s visit will strengthen friendly relations between our two countries. He noted, “We’re happy that you chose to visit Ecuador during your trip through Latin America. We know that Belarus is a much-developed country, with high technologies, occupying a solid position in the world.” He stressed that Ecuador is eager to acquire contemporary technologies in Belarus’ possession. “We’re aware that your state is highly-developed in science, technologies and industry. We need new technologies, so we’d like to see Belarus’ suggestions regarding sci-tech co-operation.”
Rafael Correa Delgado believes that Ecuador also has something to offer Belarusian specialists. He tells us, “We have the largest natural laboratory in the world: the Amazon Basin. Belarusian specialists are welcome to come and conduct scientific research here.” He added that a sci-tech research university is being created in the country and considers that Belarus could help greatly with this. “Everything is ready for our joint work. We would like this visit to become a new starting point in relations between our two states. How can we help each other economically? We are ready to offer Ecuador highly desirable competitive industrial goods and services, at reasonable prices: quarry, agricultural and road construction machinery, tractors, trucks, buses, mineral fertilisers, chemical fibres, machine tools, tyres, optics and electronics. Belarusian specialists are also ready to help set up telecommunications and computer systems, with joint ventures encouraged. Joint mineral extraction is a promising sphere, as proven in Venezuela. Without doubt, there are great advantages in importing our technologies.
During the visit, documents were signed in the above mentioned spheres. Now, action is required.