In startling back-to-back news conferences in Caracas and La Paz, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Wednesday that they plan to merge their two countries into one nation by the end of 2011. The plan – which would establish the new Republic of Bolizuela – came as a shock in both capitals.
“This new nation will complete the dream of our great liberator, Simon Bolivar, a dream born nearly two centuries ago,” proclaimed President Chavez. “We are two great peoples coming together to create one grand republic that will win the notice of the world.” A beaming President Morales added, “Brothers and sisters of Bolivia, never again will our nation be dismissed as powerless and poor. We will now take our rightful place among the great nations.”
The announcement immediately set off a firestorm of criticism and political threats from Chavez and Morales opponents. In Bolivia former President Jorge Quiroga, a prominent opposition leader, denounced the move. “This is precisely the end of Bolivian sovereignty that I have been warning about since Evo took office. Santa Cruz Governor Ruben Costas told reporters there, “We will become the subjects of Venezuela and the dictator Chavez on the same day that they discover cattle on the moon – never!”
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley reacted cautiously to the Bolizuela announcement at his morning news briefing. “Certainly the U.S. recognizes that both Bolivia and Venezuela are sovereign nations and are free to enter into any agreements that they choose.” He added, “This obviously has strategic ramifications in the region and we hope the governments of these two countries will fully consult with their people and avoid the obvious confrontations the move will set off.”
Crowley also noted one benefit of the move for the U.S. “The good news is that this should render moot the question of when the U.S. and Bolivia will exchange ambassadors once again. The current U.S. ambassador to Caracas and the Venezuelan Ambassador to Washington should be able to handle affairs for Bolivia as well, so we see some cost savings there, always welcome as the President sets out to tackle the deficit.”
House GOP leader John Boehner was less enthusiastic about the Venezuela/Bolivia merger, telling the Associated Press, “Great, two flippin’ nut cases in one shell, just what the U.S. needs in our backyard. This is one more example of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of tin dictators run amok.”
Richard DeLong, a Latin American expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said the voluntary merger of two existing countries without contiguous borders was not without precedent. He specifically cited the short-lived 1958 merger of Egypt and Syria into what became the United Arab Republic. “Actually, we see a trend in nation mergers globally right now, just as with corporate mergers, and for the same reason. These are political marriages based on the value of combining complimentary assets. We see this, of course, in the steady integration of Europe and in the preliminary merger discussions underway between Singapore and Malawi.”
In the case of Bolivia and Venezuela, various analysts were quick to point out some of the advantages that the marriage of nations would bring, especially in terms of energy resources, sea access, and prospects in international soccer competition.
“This a powerful merger in terms of emerging energy markets,” observed Elizabeth Condit, a writer with the industry publication Energy Today. “Venezuela is a dominant player right now in the gas and oil market. Bolivia is going to become a serious player soon in the lithium market. So this combines the energy present and future in one nation and from a market position it is a very shrewd move. I do think the branding is off, though. Bolizuela? Who can say it right?”
Morales was quick to declare the benefit of finally gaining access to the sea, lost when Bolivia’s last stretch of coast was seized by Chile in 1879. “Never again will we be a landlocked nation, dependent on others for our access to the ocean!” Morales also announced that the new state airline, BoA, will begin offering free flights between Bolivia and Bahia Guanta, the Venezuelan seaport. The airline announced that girls under eight-years-old making the flight would receive a complimentary Little Mermaid tiara.
Jérôme Champagne, Director of International Relations for the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) told LeMonde in Paris that he sees huge advantages ahead for the two countries in international soccer. “I think that the coaches will want to divide their teams into two squads, one that plays in competition at low altitudes, where the Venezuelans bring a distinct advantage and a second squad for high altitude competition, where the Bolivian players are almost unmatchable. We think it is a very exciting prospect and I also like the new country name as well. It translates very nicely into French.”
A source in the Bolivian government, who agreed to speak to the Democracy Center off the record, explained that the secret negotiations that led to Wednesday’s announcement were often difficult.
“The Presidency was obviously one difficult matter. We agreed in the end on a plan for a rotating presidency. On weeks that begin with an even numbered date President Chavez will be responsible for domestic matters and Evo will take charge of foreign concerns, such as saying bad things about the United States. On odd numbered weeks they will reverse those responsibilities.” This issue was apparently settled only this past Monday with a compromise that authorizes President Chavez to say bad things about the United States on any day he wishes.
Another key sticking point, said the source, was development of a new common currency. The two governments settled early on a new tender that will be named ‘the Huvo’ and which will be adorned with formal portraits of the two presidents.
“Understandably, however, both of the Presidents wanted their portrait to appear on the left side of the new bills, so finally it was agreed that the images of would rotate each year,” the source explained. It was learned that President Chavez won the right to begin in the left position in the first year through an arm wrestling competition between the two leaders that, according to the source, went two for three.
The capital of the new country will be located in Cochabamba. Venezuelan sources reported that President Chavez developed a taste for the local plate, Pique Macho, during last year’s ALBA summit and felt that was reason enough to locate the new capital there. Morales, eager to escape the cold climate of La Paz, agreed.
One remaining stumbling block appears to be the final selection of a national bird. The Presidents announced that they are assembling a bi-national team of geneticists, aided by Cuban experts, to undertake the crossbreeding of the two current national birds – Venezuela’s peacock and Bolivia’s condor. “Our aim,” said a spokeswoman for the panel, “is to create a bird that will simultaneously dress really well, but also have the speed and stamina to escape attacks by eagle
s dropping bird shit from above on the Bolizuelan Concock.”
For the full New York Times report on the proposed Venezuela/Bolivia merger, read here.