Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused Europe on Tuesday of taking a page from Washington by adopting a barbaric immigration policy, in stark contrast to moves by South American nations to enable passport-free travel across most of the continent.
New European Union rules on expelling illegal immigrants amount to a virtual "wall in the Atlantic," Chavez said at a summit of the Mercosur trade bloc, which passed a resolution condemning the EU measure.
"We need a strong stance ... in defense of the dignity of our people," Chavez said to the gathered leaders of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Chile. "'Civilized' Europe has legalized barbarism."
While the United States and Europe tighten their borders, the South American trade group is encouraging the freer movement of people through 10 nations.
Passport-free travel already is allowed among Mercosur's full member states of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The new travel zone includes associate Mercosur members as well, covering all of South America but the Guyanas.
The EU rules standardize how illegal immigrants are treated, allowing undocumented migrants to be held for a year and a half in jail before being deported, and banning violators from re-entering Europe for as long as five years.
'Wall of shame'
Chavez compared the EU rules to the "wall of shame" the United States is building along its border with Mexico, and urged a coordinated response.
"Truly we cannot remain quiet. We cannot limit ourselves to just protesting as we have. It is necessary to seek a common stance" against both EU and U.S. immigration policies, Chavez said.
Other leaders nodded in agreement and joined in criticizing the European measure.
"Emigrating is not tourism," said Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez, who talked of being the grandson of poor European immigrants. "It hurts us deeply that there is no respect for the human rights of Latin American immigrants, who had to leave and seek elsewhere what they don't have in their own lands — just like their grandparents did."
Chavez proposes agriculture, energy alliances
The Mercosur meeting also focused on the global food and energy crisis, noting that member nations have the potential to thrive, since its members include major energy and food exporters.
Brazil is the world's largest producer of sugar and of cane sugar ethanol, and second in soy. Argentina, also an important soy grower, is the world's No. 2 in corn and No. 4 in wheat.
"The situation of food and energy prices presents the region with an enormous opportunity if we can take advantage of it with solidarity and regional integration," said President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, which hosted the summit.
Chavez proposed an emergency fund to promote agricultural development, offering to commit $1 for each barrel of oil Venezuela exports as long as oil prices remain above $100 a barrel. At that rate, Venezuela's annual contribution could be $920 million, he said.
Chavez also invited South American leaders to create their own version of OPEC, to be called Petrosur.