The Fundamentals of ALBA: Interview with Executive Secretary Amenothep Zambrano

In this interview translated by Venezuelanalysis, activist Nefta Freeman speaks with ALBA Executive Secretary Amenothep Zambrano on ALBA's struggle to end illiteracy, create an alternative currency for trade between ALBA nations, and advance in the consolidation of social justice in the Americas.


NF: This is Netfa Freeman, I’m here in the residence of the Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States. I’m speaking with Amenothep Zambrano, executive secretary of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. Brother Amenothep, if I may ask you to, in your own words, describe in two or three sentences what ALBA is?

AZ: It is solidarity, it is integration, it is unity, it is complementarity, it is cooperation. It is an alliance that promotes equality among our peoples.

NF: There are statistics that say that ALBA countries have eliminated poverty for 11 million people and have gotten 3.5 million people out of illiteracy. How is that statistic distributed amongst the various countries?

AZ: The alliance is made up of eight countries. Four are from the Caribbean: Antigua and Barbados, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Cuba. Three are from South America: Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. There is also one country from Central America, which is Nicaragua. The almost 3.7 million people who have become literate according to UNESCO, is evidence of the fact that Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba for many years already, are free of illiteracy. And currently there are literacy programs underway in Antigua and Barbados, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The ALBA is the only system of integration that proposes to eradicate illiteracy from our countries.

NF: Given that Cuba has made great achievements in overcoming illiteracy and came into ALBA already free of illiteracy, does that affect the statistic, doesn’t it skew the results to have that represented in the statistic?

AZ: Cuba was the first country free of illiteracy not only in the ALBA but in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, it is not included in the statistic. I mention Cuba because it is free of illiteracy but the statistic for the ALBA is the sum of four countries. I mention Cuba to refer to us, as we are now five countries, but the efforts have been in four countries since ALBA was created.

NF: I understand that ALBA has introduced a new currency within the last year. What have been the successes and challenges with introducing this currency, or is it too soon to tell?

AZ: Challenges in everything. The currency has been functioning for a year already. The countries are trading fluidly with this alternative currency. Last year, almost 15 million dollars were traded with this currency. But the whole system, the traditional international financial architecture, tries to impede our advancement. However, we are determined to trade more and more products, to include more economic actors, and to facilitate our trade; and that this lay the foundation for greater industrialization, generation of employment, greater technological sovereignty, greater food sovereignty; things we need for our development.

NF: You mentioned the international financial architecture trying to impede progress. Could you describe some of the ways that has been done?

AZ: Neoliberalism left our region with a single thought structure and an international media matrix. These distort the real intention of these integration mechanisms. They influence countries’ leaders so that they do not vote in favor of such good initiatives as these. It’s been seven years since President Chávez announced that we should have a Bank of the South, and seven years later the bank still has not started operating. And in our region it is a necessity that the savings and surplus of our economy be administered by us, ourselves, and that we invest in the real economy. Without institutions, good ideas are worthless. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank have a lot of influence. They say the institutions that now exist will not work to bring development, and this is false. We need many more institutions to finance our development. Thus, the importance of the ALBA, the SUCRE, and the Bank of ALBA, which now exist. They are here now. Whenever these mechanisms are used it is thanks to the sovereignty and independence of our president. 

NF: Can you tell me more about how ALBA is financed in terms of the contributions of each country? How much does each country contribute, and how is that decided on, particularly since each country is in a different place in terms of its ability, its economic strength, and its resources? So how is that decided in a way that is fair for each country?

AZ: In the ALBA, democracy and decision-making is egalitarian. This is something that we haven’t seen in any of the other financial institution, not the International Monetary Fund, not the World Bank, not the Inter-American Development Bank. The fundamental values of the ALBA bloc are: Solidarity, complementarity, cooperation, equality, and justice. Every government of the eight countries in the alliance is obligated to contribute funds or capital to the Bank of ALBA. Until now, Venezuela and Cuba have contributed capital. The rest of the countries also have a plan for their contributions. We’re talking about Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The projects that are being financed are those which have the greatest possible social impact. Literacy is one project, culture is another, ALBA technology, ALBA forestry, ALBA food, ALBA medicines. These very important projects are not decided upon according to their profitability, but rather according to how much they will help our peoples.

NF: One of the principles of ALBA is fostering economic cooperation in countries, rather than competition. Because companies and business models have been so grounded in capitalism, in what ways are they trying to foster cooperation over competition, by what methods?

AZ: We came to New York for a forum about the eradication of poverty, and we said in front of all of the countries in the United Nations that poverty is not a mistake of the capitalist system; it is the natural consequence of the system. Capital goes one way, and ethics and morality go the other direction. The Millenium Development Goals are not going to be achieved; they said it there in New York. In the ALBA, many of the goals have already been fulfilled. What we are saying in the ALBA is a denouncing of those who do not do things in this way. There cannot be a discourse about social welfare and an economic discourse that damages all social initiatives. There cannot be a rhetoric that says we are going to eradicate poverty, when all the economic initiatives are doing damage to the eradication of poverty. In the ALBA, this contradiction does not exist. ALBA is the ethic of word united with action and the social. The social-centric is what is most important in the ALBA.

NF: This question is particular to people of African descent. ALBA also calls on governments to defend cultural rights. The plight of the people of African descent, to me, is directly related to a disconnect of identity, knowledge of history, and even relationships with people in Africa. The question is, are there plans or any type of methods to address the issues of afro-descendants that connect them directly with Africa or expose them to Africa, a better understanding of Africa and African history, even cultural exchange and relationships with people from Africa on the continent, or anywhere in the African diaspora?

AZ: During the celebration of the bicentennial of our independence, it was evident that all our history was white, eurocentric, and racist. And there is a whole mission for the revival of the struggle of our indigenous and afro-descendent peoples. This goes from elementary school textbooks, from primary school, all the way through university education. The ALBA has already set up an annual summit where all the presidents of the ALBA countries meet with indigenous and afro-descendant authorities. This year is the United Nations’ international year of the afro-american and afro-descendent. It is being proposed that this year there be a summit of afro-descendent and indigenous peoples in Venezuela, like the one that was held last year in Otavalo, Ecuador. All of the mechanisms that can be created will never be enough to generate this connection. There is a lot of work still to be done, but we are doing it. There is a mechanism outside of the ALBA that is called ASA, South America-Africa Summit, which has an executive secretary like myself and it is also working on this union among governments, but which also should impact the afro-descendent social movements of America and the social movements of Africa. Ambassador Pérez, who is Venezuelan, is building that and he needs ideas for a greater America-Africa reunification. So, the mechanisms that you are talking about are being created. There is a huge project being carried out in Haití, which is the first revival of Africa in our region; it was the first revolution and the first independence, and therefore it was that which helped the rest of America become independent.

NF: That made me think of a question I meant to ask before. It might take us back a little bit. What have been the challenges in setting up the administrative infrastructure for ALBA, the challenges and the process?

AZ: Very very strong and difficult obstacles. The ALBA is threatened, assaulted, and persecuted constantly. Coup d’état in Venezuela; coup d’état in Honduras; attempted coup in Ecuador; attempt to divide the Bolivian territory, a blockade for more than 50 years against Cuba. We do not have a favorable environment: Perverse media campaigns against our initiatives, threats to expand United States military bases in the region, technological colonialism, pressure from financial institutions. It has been really very hard to get as far as we have gotten. Despite this, ALBA has set a goal for itself to achieve the second and definitive independence of our peoples; continue providing an answer to the international financial crisis; denounce the aggressions; dismantle the media campaigns against our countries; and weave these processes of change together. And we are obligated to consolidate this union of republics, this united Latin America and Caribbean, as Simon Bolivar wanted. And we are committed to liberation and democracy for our peoples, that a lively and participatory democracy be made; that the people be a political actor that decides the futures of our countries. In the economic sphere, an area of shared development that is not based on competition and does not concentrate capital in few hands, but rather is based on the founding principles of the ALBA. In the social sphere, we are committed to eradicating poverty among our peoples, and we are also committed to saving the planet, the rights of Mother Earth, a struggle that is carried on by President Evo Morales from Bolivia.

NF: Can you tell us what is the purpose of your trip to the U.S.? Why did you come here, and what do you hope to achieve?

AZ: I came with one mission, but I am fulfilling a different one. The Embassy told us about how important and necessary it is, and how interested the progressive groups in the United States are in getting information about the changes underway in Latin America. I was going to speak for ten minutes in the U.N. but that turned into hours talking with the United States people. And the idea is to tell the truth about the great changes and things that the presidents of the ALBA are doing in unity with their peoples, changes being done through democracy, which makes us very proud. And it is important that the North American people know that they are… that we respect them very much in the ALBA, and we feel that they are… that you can also practice these principles that we practice constantly through this type of meeting.

NF: Thank you, Secretary Zambrano, for this interview. Are there any final words, any final message for the progressive movements in the U.S., from the ALBA?

AZ: Well, the work that the progressive movements of the United States do is very important, very important. It is what makes the connection with the rest of the world. Our commitment is to break with this system of capitalist domination and imperial domination. It is one single struggle, and we support you. Thank you very much for all of the support that you have shown to the revolutions in Latin America and the Caribbean.

NF: Thank you very much.


Netfa Freeman, an activist in the internationalist and Pan-African liberation movements, is a radio co-producer/co-host for Voices With Vision on WPFW 89.3 FM in Washington DC, airing Tuesdays from 11am-12pm. He also contributes writing to Black Star News, Black Agenda Report, and Voxunion.com.


Translated by Venezuelanalysis.com