When Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez launched the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (Spanish acronym ALBA ) back in December 2004, such an initiative seemed to be the institutional framework for the agreements Cuba and Venezuela were then developing. It represented a great example of fair trade the World Social Forum had been advocating for several years. Each country supplies what the other lacks: Cuba receives Venezuelan oil - although not at market prices - and in exchange Venezuela receives the only thing Cuba can give: its best personnel in public health, education and sports. Other agreements signed in April 2005 highlighted both countries' positive attitude toward structural and strategic integration in order to fight capitalism and advance towards 21st-century socialism.
One year later, Evo Morales was elected in Bolivia and in April 2006 he joined ALBA. In January 2007, it was Nicaragua's turn when Daniel Ortega was sworn in as president. A meeting held last April in two Venezuelan cities - Barquisimeto and Tintorero, in Lara province - included the participation of both the president of Haiti, René Preval - who signed several agreements with governments already within the FTAA - and Ecuador's Minister of Foreign Affairs, María Fernanda Espinosa. It could be said that these two governments identify with the spirit of ALBA and their joining to it is only a question of time.
Where does ALBA stand and how is it different from other regional integration projects?
The subcontinent's general dividing line is not between a supposedly "good left" and a "bad left." This is a right-wing vision intended to split the progressive movement in the continent in order to co-opt more moderate governments. The fundamental dividing line lies between the countries that have already signed free-trade agreements with the US (Mexico and Chile; Colombia and Peru are well-advanced in the process) - thus jeopardizing both their future and any possibility of managing upcoming events under a radically unequal relationship with the world's largest imperial power - and the countries that favour regional integration.
Among these are ones that, despite this option, maintain the neo-liberal economic model - such as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay - and the ones that have opted out of it - Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador. This is a second front - centred on Mercosul  - and is also contributing to a multipolar world that is weakening the unipolar US hegemony.
This process is happening in Latin America because the subcontinent has been the privileged laboratory of neo-liberal experiments; and the hangover from these experiments is still throbbing. Neo-liberalism was born here; this was where the most extensive neo-liberal experiments were carried out and where the great neo-liberal crises took place in the most intense form - Mexico in 1994, Brazil in 1999, Argentina in 2002.
Latin America became the weakest link in the imperialist chain due to a combination of several factors:
- exhaustion of the neo-liberal model;
- failure and isolation of the Bush Administration's policy on the continent;
- the accumulated strength of resistance, especially by social movements fighting neo-liberalism;
- the appearance of leaders and political forces able to catalyse those factors to promote breaches with the FTAA and fight imperialism.
Hegemonic power in the world currently revolves around three great monopolies:
- the power of weapons;
- the power of money;
- the power of words.
Regional integration processes are working toward creating a multipolar world thereby creating obstacles to US imperial hegemony. The countries that broke with neo-liberalism are now facing the kingdom of money. The initiatives taken by alternative media - among which Telesur is the best-known example  - are working toward the democratisation of the media. No other region in the world currently has such a profile.
After many years of resistance to neo-liberalism by social movements as the main protagonists, and once the neo-liberal model was exhausted, post-neo-liberal governments won the right to initiate a struggle for alternative hegemony. Neo-liberalism still predominates in the subcontinent: suffice to say that the model is currently in force in countries like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay, among others. Successive breaches with it happened in areas where it was less entrenched, less central in the subcontinent, where neo-liberal capitalism was less consolidated: Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador. This model can also be applied to Nicaragua and Haiti, not to mention the country that abandoned capitalism decades ago: Cuba.
A Council of Social Movements integrated with ALBA's structures was created during the meeting held in Venezuela. ALBA also has a Council of Presidents and a Council of Ministers. At a meeting preliminary to the next presidential meeting, forecast for December either in Bolivia or in Cuba, representatives of social movements from each of the subcontinent's countries will discuss this and any other subjects they decide to include in the agenda regarding debates and the construction of a post-neo-liberal Latin America, while defining their specific forms of participation.
By bringing together these countries and their social movements, ALBA has become the new historical focus of Latin America and the Caribbean, around which all progressive forces will think about their identity, aims and forms of action. It presents itself as an exemplary model of "fair trade", solidarity and cooperation. It is an alternative space to free trade and market control, demonstrating its specific nature through exchanges based on needs and possibilities, strengthening itself by ending illiteracy, reinforcing family farming, guaranteeing nutrition and restoring the eyesight of millions of visually-impaired people  - in short, by placing people's needs above market mechanisms and the accumulation of capital.
We live in a period marked by the transition from the capitalist regulator model to the neo-liberal one and from a bipolar to a unipolar world under imperial US hegemony. Latin America is shaping a large part of the world's future in the new century and ALBA is the most advanced space in that struggle.
Emir Sader is Professor of Political Sciences at Sáo Paulo University and Rio de Janeiro University.
Translated from Portuguese into English by Manuel Talens and revised by Simon Coxon.
This translation first appeared on Other News
Notes by the Translator
 ALBA was created to counter the US-backed FTAA (the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or ALCA in its Spanish acronym) and its spelling goes beyond simply substituting a 'C' for a 'B' as "alba" means "dawn" in Spanish.
 Mercosul (in Portuguese) or Mercosur (in Spanish) is the Latin American Southern Common Market.
 Telesur is a pan-Latin American television network based in Caracas, Venezuela. It began broadcasting a limited schedule on 24 July 2005, and began full-time broadcasts on 31 October 2005.
 See "Literature and Operation Miracle", by Belén Gopegui