(Updates with Chavez comments starting in the fifth paragraph, Ecuadorian proposals from sixth.)
Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Uruguay today for a meeting of a regional trade bloc, his first trip abroad since declaring victory over an undisclosed cancer.
“Now I feel in the right condition to go,” Chavez said in a four-hour speech during a Cabinet meeting broadcast on state television last night. The Venezuelan leader hadn’t left the country since returning from medical exams in Cuba on Oct. 20 and declaring himself cured of cancer.
The trip will help dispel speculation about his health that resurfaced after Chavez, 57, canceled a trip to Argentina and Brazil on Dec. 9. He missed Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s inauguration and a meeting with former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Sao Paulo. Since then, he has spoken publicly for a total of 19 hours to quash the speculation over his health.
Chavez today criticized the refusal of Paraguay’s parliament to ratify Venezuela’s entry into the Mercosur trade bloc. The other full members of Mercosur -- Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay -- have already approved its incorporation.
“Venezuela has been a powerful engine for Latin American unity,” Chavez said from Uruguay in comments carried by state television.
Pacific and the Caribbean
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, an ally of Chavez, is also pushing for his Andean nation to join Mercosur as a full member in the “near future.”
Mercosur will create a commission to report on the country’s entry, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he and Correa are participating in a summit of the trade bloc’s leaders.
“It would be important to strengthen Mercosur with another country member, and for Ecuador to gain access” to a bigger market, Correa told reporters today. “It’s in Mercosur’s interests to have a member with a coast on the Pacific Ocean.”
Chavez is attempting to attract Mercosur with the offer of access to the Caribbean.
“Mercosur is lacking a lot of things, one of them is an exit to the Caribbean Sea,” he told reporters at the airport. “We can open Mercosur’s chest to the Caribbean, we can link the River Plate river with the Orinoco.”
Chavez, who was diagnosed with an undisclosed type of cancer in June and had a baseball-size tumor removed in Cuba, has expressed solidarity with Brazil’s Lula, who is receiving treatment for throat cancer.
He has said he expects to hold a summit of Latin American leaders who have defeated cancer along with Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo and current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
The presidents will also discuss Brazil’s proposal to add 100 new imports to a list of 100 products that can be charged a 35 percent import tariff to enter Mercosur nations, Finance Minister Guido Mantega said in Montevideo late yesterday.
The tariff will protect industries in the region from cheaper imports, Mantega told reporters.
--Editors: Philip Sanders, Robert Jameson
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