Mérida, August 26, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– Monday, Honduras became the sixth member of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a regional trade group led by Venezuela and based on cooperation rather than free market principles.
“Today, we subscribe to the ALBA, to culture and to dignity, to make Hondurans a free people,” declared Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, an agricultural businessman from the center-left Liberal Party, in Tegucigalpa Monday, during the official ceremony for Honduras’s joining the trade group.
“Honduras and the Honduran people do not have to ask permission of any imperialism to join the ALBA,” Zelaya emphasized, representing a policy shift for the nation that was a staunch ally of the United States during the Cold War and whose primary trading partner is the U.S.
Addressing the crowd of 50,000 unionists, small farmers, Liberal Party officials, businesspersons, indigenous and women’s groups in Tegucigalpa, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said Venezuela would guarantee cheap oil to Honduras for “at least 100 years.”
Chávez also announced that ALBA countries have pledged to donate 100 tractors to Honduras, the third poorest country in the hemisphere, to boost food production and combat the world food crisis. “Honduran producers, prepare yourselves to increase national production,” Chávez declared.
Zelaya has endured fierce criticism from opponents of Venezuela’s efforts to construct alternatives to free trade agreements dominated by the United States.
Chávez said Hondurans who oppose ALBA are “country sellouts, just like the country sellouts everywhere else.”
“I did not come here to meddle in internal affairs, but I am just reflecting, and I cannot explain how a Honduran could be against Honduras joining the ALBA, the path of development, the path of integration,” Chávez told the crowd.
Patricia Isabel Rodas, the head of the central committee of the Honduran Liberal Party, said the ALBA “is the first summit in Honduras and perhaps in the region where the witnesses are not only the top political leaders but also different sectors of the people, who not only endorse the ALBA but also feel that an old historical debt is being paid.”
President Zelaya told Reuters that the lack of support from international financial institutions led him to sign the agreements with Venezuela.
“I have been looking for projects with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, Europe, and I have found very prudent, moderated responses,” Zelaya said. “They do not have emergency funds and this obligates us to move toward new forms of finance like the ALBA.”
“The war between communists and rightists already ended,” Zelaya added. Even so, the president denounced the “disinformation campaign” by major news outlets that “offer themselves to represent those responsible for the poverty.”
Since the trade group formed in 2004, ALBA countries have signed agreements to build joint factories, form a joint bank and emergency food fund, and exchange cheap Venezuelan oil for food, housing, and educational investments.
According to President Chávez, trade between Cuba and Venezuela has increased from $200 million per year to $6.5 billion per year through the ALBA, with a large part of the investments going to a joint oil refinery.
Leaders of four ALBA member countries attended the Honduran ceremony: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, and Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage. Dominica is also a member of ALBA.