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Venezuelan president urges trade cooperation to strengthen emerging nations

STANFORD -- The United States should lead the way in opening markets, reducing trade barriers and helping to establish strong regional trade groups, Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez told a Stanford University audience May 6.

"We do not want aid, we want trade; we don't want privilege, we want the elimination of trade barriers," Perez said during a speech capping his first visit to the Stanford campus.

Venezuela has changed from a country suffering from inflation and an economy that was overly controlled by the government to a more competitive economy that is attracting increasing international investment. In 1990, Venezuela recorded the highest real growth in gross national product in Latin America, said Perez.

"Artificial curbs, taxes and quotas are a threat," he told an overflow audience in Bishop Auditorium at the Business School. Perez also called for greater regional cooperation to develop international trade. With the growth of huge geographical trade areas such as Western Europe's free market, Japan and Southeast Asia, and the pending trade agreement among Canada, Mexico and the United States, Perez said, nations in the Western Hemisphere will have to draw together economically to compete successfully.

Perez cited Venezuela's trade agreements with Mexico and Colombia and the free trade Andean pact that will go into effect Dec. 31, 1991. The pact includes Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela.

Perez was invited to Stanford by the Stanford Business School and the Hoover Institution. During his visit, he met with researchers and faculty members as well as students.

At the university's Center for Latin American Studies, Perez announced the establishment of an academic exchange program between Venezuela and Stanford. The three-pronged program creates a fellowship fund for Venezuelan students who have been accepted into master's degree programs at Stanford; a program to support field research in Venezuela for graduate students and Stanford faculty, and support for Venezuelan scholars visiting at Stanford.

The program is supported by Fundacion Gran Mariscal de Ayachucho, a Venezuelan foundation supporting educational programs, and by Stanford.

During a morning meeting with scholars, Perez said the rest of the world must abandon the image that Latin America is controlled by unstable, military-backed governments. The image has been one of Latin American dictatorships with fleeting attempts at democracy that ended with a coup.

"The latest movements toward democratization have not been produced by armed violence, but by the strength of civilian societies," said Perez. He pointed to Argentina and Brazil where citizens' demands for democratic elections replaced military governments.

In addition to calling for trade agreements to bring nations together, Perez called for strong international organizations to lessen the threat of countries seizing power unilaterally, such as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

After the invasion, said Perez, Venezuela proposed that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries take a strong stand on oil prices and production to lessen the effects of the invasion. "By unanimous vote, we (the other OPEC nations) voted to increase production to fill the void left by Kuwait." Now Perez said, oil exporting countries are planning to meet again not to fix prices but to create a framework to stabilize prices to benefit both consumers and producers.

During his first term as president, 1974-79, Perez nationalized Venezuela's oil companies. Elected to a second term 10 years later, Perez has had to deal with inflation and other consequences of a nation heavily dependent on oil.

Terry Karl, director of the Center for Latin American Studies, asked Perez how he saw the challenge of having been president during an oil boom and also a bust.

"I am not sorry for what I did in nationalizing oil," Perez told the meeting of Stanford scholars. He said Venezuela's role as an oil producer had been underestimated by other nations. Having been president during both a boom and a bust, Perez said he found "having resources to handle is definitely much nicer."



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