ALBA - The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America
Realising the dream of Jose Marti and Simon Bolivar, By Ken Cole
“No nation in Latin America is weak - because each forms part of a family of 200 million brothers, who suffer the same miseries, who harbor the same sentiments, who have the same energy, who dream about the same future and who count upon the solidarity of all honest men and women throughout the world.”
Fidel Castro 1962
On 13 December 1994, some four years before being inaugurated as the fifty-sixth President of Venezuela in February 1999, Hugo Chávez met Fidel Castro, President of Cuba, for the first time, in Havana.
It was un encuentro [a meeting] which was to be prophetic. Chávez spoke with passion and depth about the program of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and prophesized the realization of Simón Bolívar’s and José Marti’s dream of a union of Latin America.
So was born La Alternativa Bolivariana para las Americas y el Caribeño (the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean) - or ALBA.
In the Spanish lexicon the word alba translates as “dawn of the day”, and Fidel and Hugo had a vision of an alternative future for Latin America based upon communal association, consensus and solidarity.
However, US President George H. Bush had a different regional design in mind for the Americas. The inauguration of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) between Mexico, Canada and the United States, in December 1994, marked the first step in his June 1990 “Enterprise for the Americas” initiative.
And between 9-11 December, at the First Summit of the Americas of the Organization of American States held in Miami, negotiations began on the ultimate stage: the establishment of a “competitive, free market from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego” - La Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas [ALCA] (The Free Trade Area of the Americas).
The ALCA proposal came to public
attention in 2001. The Summit of the Americas in Quebec City was targeted by massive anti-corporate and anti-globalization protests; subsequent negotiations in Miami in 2003 were the focus of similar demonstrations.
However, with the disadvantaged of the world increasingly uniting within international mass movements, struggling against market liberalization; Third World governments’ rejection of the deregulation of global markets at the Doha round of negotiations within the World Trade Organization; and regional opposition to the ALCA proposal within the Alianza Social Continental (Hemispheric Social Alliance) of trade unions, social movements and indigenous, environmental and citizen organizations; it became politically impossible for Latin American government representatives to reach agreement on the ALCA proposal at the 5th Summit of the Americas at Mar del Plata (Argentina) in November 2005.
“In the future, we will speak of US-Latin American relations in terms of the era before Mar del Plata, and the era after it,” remarked President Hugo Chávez in his weekly televised talk show, Aló Presidente.
ALBA, as an alterative regional initiative, began to take substance on 14 December 2004, when the first declaration and agreement made under the framework of ALBA was signed between Cuba and Venezuela.
Subsequently, Bolivia joined in 2006, Nicaragua 2007, Dominica 2008, Honduras 2008 (although after the coup of June 2009 which deposed democratically elected President Manual Zelaya, the United States backed right-wing regime of Roberto Micheletti withdrew from ALBA), and St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ecuador, and Antigua and Barbuda, 2009.
At the 4th Extraordinary Summit in June 2009, convened to receive St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ecuador, and Antigua and Barbuda, into the ALBA fold, the name was altered to the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), reflecting that this process of unification was no longer a political ambition but “...a geopolitical, regional, platform of economic power ... embracing eighty million people, with an annual product of six hundred million dollars and reserves of gas, petroleum, water and fertile land...’ (Hugo Chavez).
In the globalised world of the twenty-first century there are currently three comprehensive regional initiatives intended to advance and protect Latin American prerogatives - CELAC, UNASUR and ALBA - albeit that these hemispheric, elemental, prerogatives and strategic imperatives, are variously conceived.
Most recently, CELAC - La Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y del Caribe (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) was established in February 2011, and includes every state in the Americas except: the USA; Canada; Caicos, Turks, Montserrat, Virgin Islands, Leeward Islands; Puerto Rico, St. Croix; Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guyana; (the last three groups of nations, still colonial territories, are respectively administered by the British, United States and French governments).
The concern is to preserve national sovereignty and domestic political and legal, institutions, in the light of the continued deprecation, of the rule of international law by US governments.
In spite of US President Barrack Obama’s promise to set a new tone of respect and work towards a “peaceful, prosperous, and democratic hemisphere” with the US being a “friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity”: recent US inexpiable, political actions in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Haiti and Honduras; a renewed capacity to “execute expedient warfare” throughout the Americas (from military bases in Colombia); and the reintroduction of the US navy 4th fleet to patrol the seas off of Latin America and the Caribbean; suggests that United States’, imperialist ambitions, remain unabated.
UNASUR - La Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations) is a combination of Mercado Común del Sur (Southern Common Market) which included Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia, and, the Andean Community of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, additionally including Chile, Guyana, Surinam and Venezuela.
Modeled on the European Union, UNASUR, unlike CELAC, is an initiative in economic integration.
The intention is to adapt existing institutions of regional integration to the remorseless, implacable, inclusivity, of international competitive markets. The problem is perceived to be the management of globalization to expiate United States “unfair” economic competition.
Finally ALBA - the dawning of an alternative future for Latin America - focuses on regional, domestic, communal needs and social opportunities, effecting economic equality and social inclusion through a political union.
Fidel Castro, in a speech delivered in the Aula Magna [Main Hall] of the University of Havana following the December 1994 encuentro with Hugo Chávez, addressed the threat to the Americas of the United States’ initiative to establish La Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas: “Like never before we need the ideas of Bolívar and Martí ... in this unipolar world our people are threatened by being devoured by the [US] empire ... destroying our independence and popular sovereignty ... the imperialist strategy is very clear ... to impose a political and economic regime which is convenient to the United States ... [nothing] will remain in Latin American hands ... [But] if we put the ideas of Bolívar and Marti into practice it will lead to an end to injustice, the end of exploitation ... [This] can be called many things ... socialism ... bolivarianism ... the thought of Marti ... Christianity”.
The political vision of ALBA, the struggle against poverty and social exclusion, addresses inequalities and asymmetries between nations, emphasizing equal exchange and compensating less technologically advanced economies so as to avoid international debt and national peonage.
Social and technical knowledge is to be shared, and the means of information and mass communication freed from private monopolies, to neutralize the xenophobic bias of news reporting.
Rural campesinos, protected from the effects of ruinous subsidies provided to agricultural producers in the more advanced economies of the world, will encourage sustainability and food self-sufficiency.
And privatisation, which has ineluctably placed social services beyond social control, will be abrogated to create an institutional and intellectual infrastructure for national and regional participative democratic governance.
As a prelude to building a comprehensive “Alliance for the Peoples of Our America”, in a magnanimous attempt to embrace cosmopolitan needs beyond the eight member states of ALBA, institutional components of the Alliance additionally apply to: Argentina, The Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Colombia, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Paraguay, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Uruguay.
To cooperatively source energy in Latin America, PETROSUR, coordinates: the marketing of fuels; the construction of storage facilities, terminals, refinery capacity; the pooling of technical knowledge, material assistance and the exploration for reserves. Initiated with an agreement between Venezuela and Argentina in October 2004, in May 2005 Brazil joined, and the institution was further extended to the Caribbean - PETROCARIBE - in September.
And to achieve self-sufficiency in hydrocarbon development amongst the Andean nations, PETROANDINA, was inaugurated in August 2007.
In June 2004 Presidents Chávez and Kirchener (Argentina) signed an agreement of cooperation between state television channels to counter United States hegemony in television transmission: TELESUR was created.
This network became a reality in June 2005, as a joint venture between Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay and Bolivia. Based in Caracas, transmission began on 31 October 2005, and by 2006 the network could be viewed in 20 countries; by February 2007, 65 million people in Latin America and 5.5 million world-wide, could receive transmissions from TELESUR.
GASDUCTO DEL SUR is a proposal for a Latin American gas pipeline to create a regional energy network, distributing the natural gas reserves of Bolivia and Venezuela.
In March 2007 representatives from Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Brazil (Uruguay also subsequently joined) met to discuss the structure of the BANCO DE LA ALTERNATIVA BOLIVARIANA PARA LAS AMÉRICAS.
The Bank of ALBA, as part of a vision for human well-being is a political institution as much as a financial entity. The Bank’s mandate is the financing of projects for regional integration, infrastructural development, social, educational and cultural initiatives, and to work to eliminate economic asymmetries between Latin American nations.
This is distinct from the “Bank of the South”, a constituent institution of UNASUR, which lends to the private sector.
The Bank of ALBA became operational in June 2007, with offices in Caracas (Venezuela) and Buenos Aires (Argentina). Following the lead of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, the invitation was for all Latin American countries to join.
Other institutions within the ambit of ALBA include: the Universidad del Sur (University of the South); Banco de Alimientos (Bank of Food), Empresa Grannacional de Exportaciones e Importanciones del ALBA (Regional Enterprise for Exports and Imports of ALBA); Fondo Económico de Cooperación y de Inversiones Productivas de ALBA (Economic Fund of Cooperation and Productive Investment for ALBA); Operación Milagro (Operation Miracle) which has restored the sight of over one and a half million people; education initiatives, including applying the Cuban literacy programme Yo Si Puedo (Yes I Can) to enable hundreds of thousands of poor people to reach literacy; and the follow-up, Yo Si Puedo Seguir (Yes I Can Continue), a post-literacy education programme further enhancing human potentials; the Fondo Cultural del ALBA (Cultural Fund of ALBA), an initiative intended to culturally decolonize Latin American peoples through the distribution of books, movies, crafts, fine arts, and the promotion of local/indigenous cultural production, promoting development which respects diversity and promotes solidarity.
However, perhaps the most politically significant policy initiative is the introduction of the SUCRE as a regional, trading, unit of account.
Within ALBA, relations between sovereign nations need to address endogenous development: diverse local needs and the cultural idiosyncrasies of individuals’ well-being.
Domestic productive resources, local production processes, social needs, and ultimately individuals’ particular ambitions and sensibilities, must feature in the calculus of international trade.
Human beings’ potentials - the matrix of an evolving economic, financial, judicial, cultural and political architecture, including individuals’ emerging consciousness - meld and synchronize human values with the rate of exchange of traded commodities, to create the feeling of social justice.
To this end, at the Third Extraordinary ALBA Summit in November 2008, approved an ALBA Peoples Trade Agreement, establishing an integrated economic and monetary zone based upon the SUCRE - Sistema Unificado de Compensación y Regulación Económica (Unique System for Regional Compensation).
Although ALBA nations trade by exchanging goods for SUCREs, the rate at which each nation buys SUCREs is proportionate to their relative economic development and particular social/national needs. The value of national currencies (vis-vis the SUCRE) rises for debtor countries (imports exceed exports) and falls for creditor countries (exports exceed imports), to equalize the balance of trade.
A lack of such reciprocity has been a problem for the post-Second World War system of international trade regulations, the “Bretton Woods System”, in which the US$ has been the international unit of account.
Under these regulations, only poor, debtor countries have had to economically adjust, and devalue, to rectify trade imbalances (the Structural Adjustment conditions of the IMF and World Bank which were applied to, and ravaged, every country in Latin America, except Cuba, in the “debt crisis” of the 1980s and 1990s).
And more recently, within the European Union, the value of the EURO is incapable of accommodating the differential productivity and efficiency and of the German and Greek economies, in particular, (and the other economies of Southern Europe in general), leading to the technical bankruptcy of poorer nation states and financial bale-outs, with ruinous conditions, from European Financial Authorities and the IMF.
All trade is a social relation of value (as measured, endogenously, by the use of productive resources to fulfil human requirements), which is reflected in market prices (which vary, exogenously, and speculatively, with the global
supply and demand for commodities).
That is, trade, ultimately for human need, is typically distorted by the exploitative machinations of international commodity exchange.
“Fair”, “just” and “equal” exchange, has to be politically regulated and not subject to the anarchic fluctuation of market forces.
Whether or not other Latin American governments accede to ALBA, to be included in the dawning of this new era of “communal association, consensus and solidarity”, are ultimately internal, political decisions, within nation states, dependent upon the juxtaposition of domestic social forces and the politics of class interest.
In this context, ALBA remains ’a geo-economic, geo-political, social, cultural and ideological space that is in construction...’ (Hugo Chávez).