First Meeting of ALBA Ministers Concludes in Venezuela

The countries that make up the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) trade block met in Venezuela this Wednesday for a meeting of the ALBA Ministers.

Caracas, June 7, 2007 (— The countries that make up the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) trade block met in Venezuela this Wednesday for a meeting of the ALBA Ministers. The meeting set forth some of the future integration projects, the organizational structure, and the countries agreed on the formation of an ALBA development bank.

The foreign ministers of the member countries of ALBA, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia, held the first meeting of the Council of ALBA Ministers in Caracas yesterday to discuss different economic projects for integration between the countries.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Cuba’s Felipe Perez Roque, David Choquehuanca from Bolivia, and Paul Oquist of Nicaragua held a 5-hour session to develop bilateral agreements for the creation of strategic enterprises, including a joint bank to finance the joint projects.

"That institution will allow an increased capacity for savings and investment in order to support enterprises in their operations and to impulse the market between member countries with the exterior," said Venezuelan vice-minister of Foreign Relations Rodolfo Sanz. "The idea is to integrate work committees in the next 60 days so that they work on the statutes and the financial composition of the future institution."

Sanz informed journalists that the following six basic areas had been focused on: industry, tourism, telecommunications, mining, transportation, and agriculture/food industry. In particular, he said, were the industrial sectors of cement, food, infrastructure, and telecommunications.

The most important thing, according to Sanz, is the creation of "Grand-National Enterprises," which apparently will be joint companies among ALBA countries in strategic areas as an alternative to the transnational corporations of the developed world.

The meeting also discussed energy strategies as well as the creation of a joint enterprise in that sphere. Also on the table is the possibility of construction of centers of investigation for the development of medicines to allow for low cost health treatment, given Cuba’s advances in the creation of vaccines and drugs.

The ALBA joint companies will be made from capital from all the member countries of ALBA and the ALBA bank will be the financial institution involved in supporting these projects.

"This bank is going to support the companies as well as their operations inside ALBA and in the whole world," said Sanz. "We have approved the agreement for the ALBA Bank because there is no economic development if we don’t increase the capacity for savings and, above all, investment," he said.

The ALBA trade block was created a little over two years ago by Venezuela and Cuba as an alternative to the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas (FTAA) promoted by the government of the United States. The governments of Bolivia and Nicaragua later joined the ALBA project, and Ecuador has evaluated the possibility of joining as well.

In the last ALBA Summit, in addition to forming several joint economic agreements, the member countries agreed on the organizational structure of ALBA. The Council of ALBA Ministers forms a part of the structure agreed upon which includes a council of presidents, followed by the council of ministers, and then another council made up of social movements.

Upon closing out the meeting Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez emphasized the importance of the ALBA program as a counterforce to Washington’s Free Trade Agreement for the Americas (FTAA) which he labeled imperialist and hegemonic.

Chavez pointed out that they have received requests from some local governments who want to joint the proposal. However, he recognized that their inclusion should be very carefully evaluated.

"We must go on visualizing a federation or confederation of ALBA states," Chavez said, emphasizing the need to free the region of the old types of integration that there have been in Latin America. Chavez stated that they have to pay special attention to not turn the ALBA integration project into a project "with the same vices of the integration models that we have had since a long time ago. ALBA has to be distinct," he concluded.