Mérida, April 29, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— With an eye toward the integration and development of their countries, the leaders of Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Haiti met this weekend in Venezuela for the 5th ALBA Summit. Among the many proposals, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez proposed the extension of the Venezuelan health and education programs to all the nations of ALBA, as well as supplying all of their energy needs.
Hugo Chávez of Venezuela gave the opening remarks at the 5th ALBA Summit on Saturday, in the Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto, in the presence of Evo Morales of Bolivia, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, René Préval of Haiti, and Carlos Lage of Cuba. Also present were delegations representing Ecuador, Uruguay, Dominica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
"ALBA is not an agreement of the elite. ALBA is born from down below, from the grassroots of the population," said Chávez in his opening remarks. "Without the people no union would be possible and that is one of the criticisms that we have always made of other integration efforts."
The idea of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, was first proposed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2001 as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) promoted by the United States government. The initial ALBA agreement was signed in December 2004 between Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, and Bolivia and Nicaragua later joined the agreement. Haiti and Ecuador have also expressed interest in the agreement, but have not yet formally joined.
ALBA fundamentally rejects many of the principles of the free trade agreements promoted by Washington for the region. Instead, the objective of the ALBA agreement is to promote cooperation and collective development of the region with an emphasis on fighting poverty and social exclusion.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega pointed out the difference yesterday between the free trade agreements and ALBA. "The objective is not necessarily to maintain high economic statistics or attract investment, but rather to benefit our populations, so that they have health care, education, jobs, and so they can get out of poverty."
"Integration is cooperation and solidarity," said Cuban Vice-president Carlos Lage. "To think about humans and not in markets means subordinating the economy to politics, and not subordinating politics to business, banks, and trans-nationals," he said.
The purpose of the meeting this weekend was to move forward with the initiative by defining new joint projects and strategies for integration. The first proposal was made by Hugo Chávez when he offered to supply oil to meet the energy needs of all the member countries. Along with the oil supply, Chávez offered to finance 50 percent of the countries' oil costs.
"The time has come for oil to provide for the development of our countries," said Chávez
In addition, the creation of an ALBA fund was announced with the purpose of financing social projects in the agricultural realm such as food production and the promotion of small and medium-sized companies.
Many joint projects are also being discussed including energetic, educational, medical, and mining agreements. Chávez announced today the possibility of three-way agreements between Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela. Some of the possibilities include the creation of joint-companies such as a joint Cuban-Venezuelan stainless steel plant that would have a capacity to produce 500 million tons of stainless steel per year. Another project is a Cuban-Venezuelan company to produce nickel in Cuba at a capacity of 68 tons a year.
With Nicaragua Venezuela is discussing the creation of an aluminum company in the country with the intention of supplying Nicaragua's internal market, as well as exporting to Latin America. And in Bolivia the discussion centers on the extraction of their large reserves of iron, along with the installation of a steel plant and two cement plants.
Exporting Health and Education
In the areas of education and health, President Chávez proposed to incorporate ALBA members and Haiti into the Venezuelan government "missions" that have had so much success in Venezuela. These health and education programs have allowed Venezuela to provide free medical attention to millions of Venezuelans and to eliminate illiteracy in the nation according to the government.
"I'm talking about ALBA Education and ALBA health," said Chávez. "This means something like our missions, but extending them to all of ALBA territory."
The health and education programs that the Chávez government has been developing in Venezuela over the last few were largely adopted from Cuba where they were also very successful, and have also been put into place by the Morales government in Bolivia. Chávez' new proposal would extend these programs to Haiti, Nicaragua, and Ecuador.
Chávez also proposed to the ALBA Summit a "confederation of Republics," as a way to create a structural formation for the ALBA agreement. The idea is to create an institutional structure that will transcend the bilateral agreements and allow for the future growth of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.