ALBA Summit in Venezuela Responds to World Food Crisis and Bolivian Crisis

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez convened an extraordinary meeting of member nations of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) in Caracas early Wednesday morning to discuss the world food crisis and the political crisis in eastern Bolivia.
The presidents of (from right to left) Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and the Vice President of Cuba met in Caracas Wednesday morning to formulate a response to the world food crisis and discuss the political crisis in Bolivia. (Marcelo García/MinCI)

Mérida, April 24, 2008 (– Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez convened an extraordinary meeting of member nations of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) in Caracas early Wednesday morning to discuss the world food crisis and the political crisis in eastern Bolivia.

At the meeting, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage, and Chávez signed a series of accords to promote mutual agricultural development, create a joint food distribution network, and create a $100 million ALBA food security fund.

“The food crisis is the greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model,” President Chávez declared.

Highlighting the most recent report by the United Nations World Food Program which called the food crisis a “silent Tsunami” and demanded an internationally coordinated response, Chávez said, “ALBA announces its willingness to assume responsibility, ALBA responds immediately… here we are.”

Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage commented that the crisis is part of an “unjust international economic order” in which “the logic is profit and not the satisfaction of peoples` needs.”

Lage further denounced the fact that the United States spends $500 billion per year on the Iraq War while the U.N. had to plea last month for $500 million donations in order to meet its emergency food quotas.

Social unrest has burgeoned in over thirty countries following an 80% increase in world food prices over the last three years, according to the World Bank. U.S. President George W. Bush authorized $200 million in global emergency food aid April 14th, while Venezuela, which has faced food shortages recently, sent 364 tons of meat, chicken, ham, milk, lentils, olive oil, and vegetables to its neighbor Haiti, which has experienced violent riots over rising food costs.

President Morales affirmed Wednesday that “it is the responsibility of presidents to act in concert to guarantee the food security of our peoples.”

Morales also criticized the diversion of farmland for the production of biofuels, which is widely recognized to have contributed to rising food prices, in a speech at the inauguration of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York Monday.

“If we do not bring an end to the capitalist system, it will be impossible to save the Earth,” Morales concluded.

The agricultural development agreement signed by ALBA nations Wednesday will focus on rice, corn, oil for human consumption, beans, beef, and milk, and the improvement of watering systems. To avoid price speculation by private intermediaries, the heads of state agreed to create a public food distribution network with regulated prices. To fund these projects, the presidents agreed to create a $100 million fund in the Bank of ALBA, which is still in formation.

The four leaders also signed a joint statement Wednesday, expressing solidarity with Bolivia, where there is a secessionist movement led by elite landowners in the natural resource-rich lowland Bolivian provinces of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando.

ALBA countries pledged “unrestricted support for the process of sovereign and democratic changes” in Bolivia, and harshly denounced the separatist movement, calling it a “frank violation of the constitution and Bolivian laws.”

The declaration was read publicly by Vice President Lage and advocated open dialogue to solve the crisis in Bolivia. It rejected foreign interference, but at the same time called on the international community to “act quickly and decisively in solidarity with the people and the government of Bolivia to consolidate political, economic, and social stability in the region.”

Chávez made clear his suspicion that the “empire wants to halt South American integration and they have chosen, now, Bolivia as a target [because] they do not want the grand fatherland of Latin America and the Caribbean to be born.”

In February it was revealed that the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia had pressured Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars to spy on the activity of Cubans and Venezuelans working in Bolivia. A report by Bolivia-based independent journalist Ben Dangl the same month revealed evidence that the U.S. is channeling funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to the secessionist groups.

In New York Monday, Morales said the separatist referendum planned for May 4th was “a bridge point for the Empire here in Bolivia disguised by the euphemism of autonomy.”

Morales also asked for international support to end what he called “slavery” in Bolivia, following recent denunciations by sugar cane laborers on large estates in the Santa Cruz province that over 8,000 children work in the fields without pay.

Chávez, whose administration has redistributed over 2 million hectares (4.94 million acres) of mostly state owned land and some from large estates and increased government financing for agricultural production by 728% over the past three years, proposed Wednesday that Bolivian agricultural development be a priority of ALBA, “with the permission and the pardon of Nicaragua, which is also on the priority list.”

He also said ALBA countries are lucky to have responded so quickly to the present food crisis, but are now “obligated to amplify, make more dynamic and profound” these regional food security initiatives.

ALBA is a fair trade block created by Cuba and Venezuela in 2005 as an alternative to the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas (FTAA) promoted by the U.S. government. Since then, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Dominica have joined the block.