It is important to remember the solitary beginnings of ALBA-TCP. The main goal of the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec was to create the FTAA, and like the majority of hemispheric meetings, the decision to implement a free trade area had already been taken prior to it being “democratically approved”.
The FTAA claimed to create a structure for free trade relations within the framework of the free market, without taking into account economic asymmetries, much less social ones. This aforementioned structure is evident in the 6th point of discussion for business and investment in the summit’s “plan of action”: countries will “ensure that the negotiations for the FTAA conclude before January 2005 at the latest, so that the agreement might be put into effect as soon as possible, no later than December 2005...”
The only vote against the plan came from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela; although the plan was published as having been approved unanimously.
Once they had analysed the kind of injustices that the application of the FTAA would bring to Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba and Venezuela stepped forward and agreed on a plan to put the brakes on this situation. This is where the idea of the ALBA emerged, against the 2001 FTAA, before it was formally established in 2004 in Havana, Cuba.
The next step to stop the advance of the FTAA was taken at the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 2005. The final declaration of this summit read “the necessary conditions to implement a balanced and equal free trade agreement still do not exist, (conditions which ensure) the effective access to markets free of subsidies and distortive business practices, which take into account the needs and sensitivities of all business partners, including in their levels of development and the size of their economies”. This summit represented a definitive break with the FTAA.
Furthermore, Latin America and the Caribbean’s political map had changed since the FTAA was proposed. Cuba and Venezuela were no longer alone. From 2004, the following countries joined the ALBA: Bolivia (2006), Nicaragua (2008), Dominica (2008), Honduras (2008-2010), Ecuador (2009), St. Vincent and the Grenadine Islands (2009) and Antigua and Barbuda (2009). The subcontinent turned to the left, and this turn was met with various destabilisation attempts. An attempt to create war in 2008 in Bolivia, a state coup in Honduras in 2009, a failed state coup in Ecuador in 2012, amongst other international pressures toward the rest of the region.
Whilst the South was negotiating the various political difficulties arising from setting into motion the mechanisms designed to fight for the protection of the people, the “developed world” sunk into an unprecedented economic crisis created by the “invisible hand of the market”. These events are not isolated from the political and theoretical debate on contemporary international relations. When a project like the ALBA-TCP is analysed at an academic level, inevitable questions emerge, such as; is it a scheme aimed at integration? Is it aiming to construct a regional politics or an intra-regional free-trade agreement? Is the ALBA-TCP a formula to confront the negative effects of globalisation, or is it a strategy to enter into this process but from a stronger position?
All these questions have answers, which are still vague and somewhat open to debate, if we analyse the process of ALBA’s creation and consolidation from the perspective of theories on new “postliberal” regionalisms in Latin America and their relationship to globalisation. It is evident that ALBA-TCP was not conceived of as a scheme for regional integration, but rather as a political alliance to put a stop to FTAA which was progressively transformed into a collaborative mechanism which helped to strengthen real cooperation between countries in the regional South.
It is too soon to predict what a final regional integration project in South America would look like, but what we can confirm is that the ALBA has allowed for the creation of new forms of exchange and communication between countries that were once isolated; a first step in exploring a political agenda for integration. In this sense, ALBA-TCP is a formula for resistance to the project of globalisation. It is impossible to deny that globalisation is a concrete reality, but it doesn’t mean that countries have to throw themselves into its choppy seas without a lifejacket; the consolidation of strong regions is needed in order to confront the contradictions of the world system in which we live.
The ALBA-TCP, as Maria del Carmen Almendras Camargo defined it in the celebrations for the alliance’s 7th anniversary in Madrid, February 2012, is a “regional integration bloc made up of 8 countries with a population of 71 million inhabitants and a GDP of 498 billion dollars. It is the second largest trading bloc in the Latin American and Caribbean region after Mercosur, which has enormous human and natural resource potential.”
As ALBA begins to consolidate independently as a definite regional integration scheme, it is mutating and fusing with other integration strategies such as UNASUR and CELAC. On its 7th anniversary there are a whole host of reasons to celebrate; it has demonstrated that it is possible to say NO to the great global powers and design an independent and sovereign politics which can pave the way to a multi-polar world. Like the maestro Simón Rodriguez even said himself, we invent or we err.
Tahina Ojeda Medina is a researcher at the Development and Cooperation Institute at the Complutense University in Madrid ((IUDC-UCM), graduate in International Relations and a lawyer from the Central University of Venezuela, M.S in International Cooperation, Masters in Contemporary Latin American Studies and Doctorate in Political Science at the Complutense University in Madrid.
Translated by Rachael Boothroyd for Venezuelanalysis.com