[News] Latin America - ALBA: Creating a Regional Alternative to Neo-liberalism?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Feb 15 11:20:44 EST 2008

ALBA: Creating a Regional Alternative to Neo-liberalism?

February 13th 2008, by Shawn Hattingh

Latin America was the first place where the US imposed the most 
callous economic system ever seen: neo-liberal capitalism. Starting 
in Chile in 1973, the US used its power, along with its control over 
the IMF and the World Bank, to force governments across Latin America 
to adopt neo-liberal economic policies. This has seen Latin American 
countries embrace trade liberalization, financial liberalization, 
privatization, and labor market flexibility. Of course, US 
multinationals benefited from this. They have snapped up ex-state 
owned assets throughout Latin America at bargain basement prices. 
With the reduction of tariffs and the advent of "free" trade, US 
multinationals have also flooded Latin America with cheap exports. 
This has seen US multinationals making massive profits. The people of 
Latin America have paid for this. Since the advent of neo-liberalism, 
inequality in Latin America has grown, and millions of people have 
lost their jobs along with their access to healthcare and education.1

Recently, however, a wind of change has been blowing across Latin 
America. Starting with anti-IMF riots in Caracas in 1989, and the 
rise of the Zapatistas in the early 1990s, people in Latin America 
have started resisting neo-liberalism and US domination. Within the 
last few years, a number of progressive leaders -- for example, 
Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, and Correa in Ecuador -- 
have come to power on the back of this resistance. For these 
governments, breaking with neo-liberalism has been a priority.2 
Perhaps the most important initiative for that has been the creation 
of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). Indeed, ALBA 
is aimed at striking a major blow against US hegemony, the IMF, the 
World Bank, "free" trade, and neo-liberalism in general.

ALBA as an Alternative to "Free" Trade

Since the late 1990s, the US has been trying to secure a regional 
"free" trade agreement with Latin American countries, known as the 
Free Trade Area for the Americas (FTAA). In 2001, under the Chavez 
government's leadership, a number of Latin American states, trade 
unions, and social movements successfully banded together to block 
the FTAA. With this, the US state and its corporate allies' hopes 
were smashed. However, the Chavez government was not satisfied with 
blocking the FTAA -- it wanted to create a viable regional 
alternative to "free" trade. Under Venezuela's leadership, ALBA was 
born in late 2004.

Initially, ALBA consisted of only two member states: Venezuela and 
Cuba. When the benefits of ALBA became evident, however, other states 
joined. At present, there are four full member states of ALBA: 
Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. There are four observer 
states in ALBA -- Ecuador, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, and St. 
Kitts3 -- who will become full members in the near future.4

ALBA rejects neo-liberalism and aims to forge a path away from "free" 
trade. ALBA itself has a wide range of guiding principles and has the 
following objectives:
    * To promote trade and investment between member governments, 
based on cooperation, and with the aim of improving people's lives, 
not making profits.
    * For member states to cooperate to provide free healthcare and 
free education to people across the ALBA states.
    * To integrate the ALBA member's energy sectors to meet people's needs.
    * To create alternative media to counterbalance the US and 
regional neo-liberal media and promote an indigenous Latin American identity.
    * To ensure land redistribution and food security within the 
member states.
    * To develop state-owned corporations.
    * To develop basic industries so that ALBA member states can 
become economically independent.
    * To promote workers' movements, student movements, and social movements.
    * To ensure that projects under ALBA are environmentally friendly

Already, a number of working committees have been established to meet 
the objectives with regard to health, education, culture, investment, 
trade, and finance. In doing so, the member states are working 
together to integrate their economies, so that they will be able to 
complement, rather than compete, with the one another.

In order to achieve these broad objectives, it is important that the 
peoples of the member states are involved in and direct ALBA. ALBA 
encourages popular participation in its planning and functioning. For 
that purpose, it has three councils that oversee its operations. The 
first two councils are the presidential and ministerial councils, 
while the third is made up of social movements. Though this, social 
movements have become directly involved in the planning and 
administration of ALBA. Currently, some of the largest social 
movements in Latin America -- such as the 
<http://www.mst.org.br/mst/home.php>MST and 
<http://viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php>Via Campesina -- 
participate in ALBA through this council. Their ideas about land 
redistribution, free healthcare, free education, and food security 
have become part of ALBA's goals. ALBA not only promotes 
participatory democracy in its own structures, it also commits member 
states to implement participatory democracy within their borders. The 
aim of promoting participatory democracy in ALBA sets it apart from 
the neo-liberal "free" trade agreements that are being foisted upon 
poorer states by the US and the EU. Indeed, ALBA's success hinges on 
its ability to fulfill its aim of participatory democracy.

ALBA has been in existence for only four years, and yet it has 
already recorded a number of successes. Since 2004, Venezuela has 
been exchanging oil for the services of 30,000 Cuban doctors and 
teachers. Under this deal, Cuba has received 1 billion dollars worth 
of subsidized oil a year, which has allowed Cuba to improve its 
economy. For Venezuela, this deal has allowed it to staff the 
thousands of new clinics and schools that it has built. This has seen 
Venezuela eradicating illiteracy and providing free healthcare to 
millions of people.

Cuba and Venezuela have also used ALBA's umbrella to create 5 major 
agricultural projects that are producing soy beans, rice, poultry, 
and dairy products. The goal behind these projects is to guarantee 
food security in both Cuba and Venezuela. In fact, Venezuela has used 
these projects to provide free or subsidized food to millions of 
people. Venezuela has also supplied Cuba with buses to improve its 
public transport system, assisted Cuba with the construction of a 
massive aqueduct to improve its water supply, and has helped Cuba 
revamp its main oil refinery.

Through ALBA, Venezuela and Cuba have also aided Bolivia. In 2006, 
the US stopped buying soy beans from Bolivia. To save Bolivia's soy 
industry, Cuba and Venezuela began importing soy beans from Bolivia 
under ALBA. Cuba has also been assisting Bolivia in expanding its 
public schools and hospitals. Cuba and Venezuela have moreover helped 
Bolivia upgrade its gas sector so that it can become self-sufficient 
in terms of its gas-derived energy needs.

Venezuela and Nicaragua have also implemented agreements of mutual 
assistance around social programs through ALBA. One of the biggest 
projects under this initiative involves Venezuela helping Nicaragua 
build eight centers that are aimed at providing housing and education 
to the country's 47,000 street children.5

Under ALBA, Venezuela supplies oil to St. Kitts, Haiti, and the 
Dominican Republic at discounted prices. These countries can pay off 
their oil bills to Venezuela in agricultural products, such as 
bananas or sugar. Added to this, an ALBA fund has been established by 
Venezuela for them. Money from this fund is used to improve public 
schools, healthcare, and other social services.

One of the major successes of ALBA has been the creation of 
alternative media. Through ALBA, a TV channel, Telesur, was launched 
in 2006 to service the entire Latin American region. Telesur provides 
news programs that are a counterweight to the neo-liberal media. A 
number of ALBA cultural houses, which promote indigenous and black 
heritages, have also been created in the member states. Through this, 
a Latin American identity based on solidarity and the indigenous past 
is being promoted to counter the growing influence of American 
culture and its individualistic values.

Under the ALBA initiative, a regional bank has also been created: the 
Bank of ALBA. The Bank has more than $ 1 billion in capital, which it 
uses to make loans available to member states in order to undertake 
infrastructural, health, education, and social and cultural 
developments. Loans from the Bank of ALBA do not contain any 
conditions and the bank is run on a democratic basis.6

Although ALBA represents a progressive project, it does have a number 
of contradictions. This can be seen in some of the projects planned 
under ALBA. One such project involved the construction of an oil 
pipeline from Venezuela to Argentina to supply cheap oil to 
Argentina. The problem was that the pipeline would have been 
constructed through parts of the Amazon forest and would have 
involved the destruction indigenous people's land. For this reason, a 
Venezuelan social movement, which is aligned with the Zapatistas, 
opposed the project. They pointed out that the construction of the 
oil pipeline violated ALBA's declared respect for indigenous rights 
and the environment. After a long battle with the Venezuelan 
government, the project was put on hold. What this highlights is that 
ALBA and the Bolivarian Revolution are contested terrains. As such, 
it is vitally important for progressive social movements to remain 
powerful and independent. Only through maintaining their independence 
can the social movements confront the government when it undertakes 
initiatives that are not in the interest of people or the environment.

Despite these contradictions, ALBA forms the basis of a move by a 
group of countries to gain economic independence from the US. As 
such, ALBA is a challenge to US imperialism. Perhaps even more 
important, ALBA offers real possibilities for future widespread 
alternatives to the current neo-liberal system. This means that ALBA 
is of great symbolic value. It shows that there is an alternative to 
neo-liberalism, which the governments of the South -- including those 
in Asia and Africa -- could embark upon. Thus, when we are told by 
the US, the EU, the IMF, and the World Bank -- and many of the 
governments in the South -- that there are no alternatives to 
neo-liberalism, we now know that this is a hollow lie. ALBA proves that

1 Foster, J. B. <http://www.monthlyreview.org/0707foster.php>"The 
Latin American Revolt: An Introduction." Monthly Review. Volume 59 Number 3.

2 Chomsky, N. 2005. 
Dangerous Neighbourhood." Kaleej Times.

3 Carlson, C. 2007. 
Alternative for the Americas Bank to Be Established This Year." 

4 Marquez, H. 2007. 
Back Venezuela-driven Alternative Integration." Bilaterals.org.

5 Janicke, K. 2008. 
<http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis//news/3104>"Summit of the 
Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA) Concludes in Venezuela." Venezuelanalysis.com.

6 Janicke, K. 2008. "Summit of the Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA) 
Concludes in Venezuela." Venezuelanalysis.com.

<http://www.ilrigsa.org.za/>Shawn Hattingh works for the 
<http://www.ilrigsa.org.za/>International Labour Research and 
Information Group (ILRIG) in Cape Town.

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