In accordance with objective conditions favorable to integration and union (see “The dream renewed” 3/6/2014), Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez proposed in December 2001 the formation of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA for its initials in Spanish), as an alternative to the U.S. proposed FTAA. The ALBA proposal was formalized with the signing of an agreement between Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro on December 14, 2004. A Joint Declaration presented ALBA as an alternative to FTAA, maintaining that the US proposal no longer was viable, principally because of opposition from Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil (see “The fall of FTAA” 3/7/2014). The declaration maintained that integration in Latin America historically “has served as a mechanism for deepening dependency and foreign domination,” and it described FTAA as “the most recent expression of the appetite for domination of the region.” It proposed an alternative form of integration based on cooperation and solidarity: “Only an integration based on cooperation, solidarity, and the common will to advance together with one accord toward the highest levels of development can satisfy the needs and desires of the Latin American and Caribbean countries, and at the same preserve their independence, sovereignty, and identity.”
The Joint Declaration proclaimed that ALBA seeks social justice and popular democracy: “ALBA has as its objective the transformation of Latin American societies, making them more just, cultured, participatory, and characterized by solidarity. It therefore is conceived as an integral process that assures the elimination of social inequalities and promotes the quality of life and an effective participation of the peoples in the shaping of their own destiny.”
And the declaration maintained that just and sustainable development is one of the principles of ALBA, and this implies an active role of the state: “Commerce and investment ought not be ends in themselves, but instruments for attaining a just and sustainable development, since the true Latin American and Caribbean integration cannot be a blind product of the market, nor simply a strategy to amplify external markets or stimulate commerce. To attain a just and sustainable development, effective participation of the State as regulator and coordinator of economic activity is required.”
From 2001 to 2005, commercial exchange between Cuba and Venezuela grew from 973 million to 2.4 billion dollars. Nearly 200 commercial contracts were signed, in which the principal products were constructions materials, metals, domestic hardware, and foods. The commerce had mutually beneficial terms: the Venezuelan products were exempt from Cuban duties, and Cuba received favorable terms of credit for the purchase of petroleum and other Venezuelan products.
On the April 29, 2006, Bolivia was incorporated into ALBA with the signing of a joint agreement involving Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia. Bolivian President Evo Morales affirmed the Bolivarian concept of attaining development through the unity and cooperation of the region: “The true integration among the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean is an indispensable condition for sustainable development, security, and food sovereignty, for the satisfactions of the needs of our peoples. Only united action of the Latin American and Caribbean countries, based on the principals of cooperation, complementation, and mutual aid and solidarity, will permit us to preserve independence, sovereignty, and identity.”
The agreements with Bolivia included the elimination of customs duties by Cuba and Venezuela for imports from Bolivia, the payment for Cuban goods and services with Bolivian products and the national currency of Bolivia, and Venezuelan support for energy production in Bolivia. The agreements also included the formation of seven Venezuelan-Cuban joint ventures in petroleum, naval construction, banking, sea transport, railroads, postal services, and insurance. The agreement also approved 199 joint venture projects in: information and communication; science, technology, and environment; the sugar industry; housing; tourism; energy; transportation; construction; hydraulic resources; agriculture; fishing; light industry; and food.
The ALBA cooperation includes Cuban medical missions in Venezuela and Bolivia. By 2006, more than 23,000 Cuban health workers had lent services in Venezuela, while more than 16,000 Venezuelan students were studying medicine in Cuba. As of 2006, 113 Diagnostic Centers, 171 Rehabilitation Centers, and five High-Technology Diagnostic Centers had been constructed in Venezuela, with another 300 such units under construction. In the case of Bolivia, 7000 Bolivians had recovered their sight has a result of services lent by Cuban doctors with specialization in ophthalmology. Agreements were made for the construction of 6 ophthalmologic centers in Bolivia, and 5000 scholarships were made available for Bolivians to study in medical science programs in Cuba.
ALBA also has included literacy campaigns in Venezuela and Bolivia. The program in Venezuela began with Cuban support on July 1, 2003. On October 28, 2006, Venezuela was declared by UNESCO to be an illiteracy-free territory. The program in Bolivia, with Cuban and Venezuelan collaborators, was announced on March 20, 2006.
On May 21, the First Fair of Commerce was held, in which the three ALBA members plus Brazil and Argentina participated. Brazil and Argentina, although not members of ALBA, have been increasing commercial relations with the countries of ALBA. Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela have the three largest economies of South America.
In 2007, Nicaragua entered ALBA, and Ecuador announced its intention to do so. In 2008, Dominica and Honduras entered ALBA, but Honduras suspended its participation following the 2009 coup d’état. In 2009, Antigua and Barbuda, Ecuador, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines became members.
The Ecuadorian economist René Baéz observes: “A fundamental premise of ALBA is its understanding of integration as a process for improving the conditions of life of the peoples. It has a focus diametrically opposed to that of conventional agreements—like the Association of Free Commerce of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Central American Common Market, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or Andean Community of Nations at present—that are designed with a cost-benefit logic and, taken by themselves, function in the interests of regional and extra-regional monopoly capital. Among the characteristics of ALBA worth emphasizing are: compensatory commerce, a form of exchange that does not require the expenditure of currency; a setting of the price of goods distinct from the prices determined by the world market; advice and aid in regard to energy; and the providing of services of health and education to the impoverished strata, including third countries (poor strata in the United States are benefiting from these programs)” (Báez 2006:184-85).
Báez, René. 2006. “Monroísmo y bolivarianismo confrontan en los Andes” in Contexto Latinoamericano: Revista de Análisis Político, No. 1 (Sept.-Dec.), Pp. 180-90.
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