ALBA Country Representatives Meet in Venezuela to Deepen Integration

The first meeting of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) Technical Committees took place this week in Caracas to discuss the various integrated projects between the ALBA nations.

Mérida, July 18, 2007 (— The first meeting of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) Technical Committees took place this week in Caracas to discuss the various integrated projects between the ALBA nations. Chavez assured that more countries in the region would soon be joining the structure that currently consists of Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela.

As planned during the 5th ALBA Summit held in Venezuela last April, the Technical Committees of the four member countries met on Monday and Tuesday of this week to discuss and review the details of the cooperative projects planned between the countries. In the Hilton Hotel of Caracas, more than 200 representatives from all four countries divided into 12 groups to discuss cooperation in different areas such as trade, transportation, mining, energy, technology, telecommunications, industry, science, education, health, tourism, finance, and investment.

According to the head representative from Nicaragua, Paul Olquist, the major focus of attention at the meeting is what is known as "grand national" projects, which he considers the "future of union and advance" for the region.

"Our populations have their eyes set on this project, as they depend on the success of this mechanism of integration," said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro at the meeting. "For that reason we have to keep a strict time frame, with concrete goals that allow for the consolidation of projects for the integral development of our countries."

Among the concrete projects that have been announced so far, Venezuela and Cuba are putting together a proposal to form joint companies to produce stainless steel and nickel, both in Venezuela and in Cuba, according to Cuban sources.

Also discussed at the meeting was the creation of what they call an "inter-ALBA market" to create production for both for the member nations, as well as for export on the world market.

"In other words, to create an inter-ALBA market to complement each other economically and productively to be in conditions to go on the world market with quality technology and products," said one Venezuelan minister. He went on to explain that the joint companies should eventually be self-sustaining and should be able to be competitive in certain sectors such as technology, raw materials, and financial capital.

But the integration efforts are not only economic. Also being discussed are joint programs to extend health care and education to all of the countries, as was suggested by President Chavez last April. The alliance between the countries is supposed to be political too, as the ALBA countries are building a joint political structure to establish a permanent organization.

"This is the moment to demonstrate that the projects of political and economic emancipation, conceived and promoted by our leaders, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Daniel Ortega, are viable and we can carry them out," said Maduro.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also spoke about the plans for integration at a speech on Monday assuring that the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas was generating interest in the region and would soon include more nations.

"I have the impression that countries are going to start joining ALBA," he said. "And not only governments of whole countries. There are many local governments, there are many social movements, indigenous movements, workers’ movements, farmers’ movements that are at least asking what ALBA is."

Chavez emphasized the importance of the ALBA project as an alternative project to the free trade projects promoted from Washington that, according to Chavez, have created poverty and misery in the region.

"Misery, my friend, poverty, and there are people who still want to apply to some countries the same dogmas of the International Monetary Fund. Until when, for the love of god?" he said. "How much more can those countries take, dragged through the most shocking misery that I have seen with these eyes."

But Chavez expressed satisfaction that several countries of the region had freed themselves of the International Monetary Fund programs.

"We have problems, weaknesses, insufficiencies, but we have a lot of will and a lot of unity, and, above all, we have broken from the dictates, let’s put it that way, of capitalism, of the imperialist orders of the International Monetary Fund and we don’t depend on the national oligarchies that many times want to control the integration agreements."

The meetings of the Technical Committees this week should produce concrete projects to be further evaluated by the ALBA Political Committee. These projects will then be analyzed at the next ALBA meeting, the meeting of ALBA Ministers in Havana, Cuba on the 3rd and 4th of September.