ALBA Bloc Grows by Three New Member Countries at Summit

During a summit in Venezuela on Wednesday, the Caribbean and South American integration organization, ALBA, solidified its regional presence by adding Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda as its newest member countries.
The ALBA Summit conference room (ABN)

Merida, June 25th 2009 ( — During a summit in Venezuela on Wednesday, the Caribbean and South American integration organization, ALBA, solidified its regional presence by adding Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda as its newest member countries.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa said the ALBA bloc, which aspires to supplant neoliberal, U.S.-dominated free trade deals with regional unity, must construct a type of integration that goes beyond the economic initiatives that the ALBA and other integration organizations have so far constructed.  

"ALBA is a political project" based on "solidarity, integration, and being the owners of our own destiny," said Correa. "We should not reduce integration to the search for markets."

The final declaration of the summit reflected this broad alliance. "[We recognize] the strengthening of the ALBA and its consolidation as a political, economic, and social alliance in defense of the independence, sovereignty, self-determination, and identity of member countries and the interests and aspirations of the peoples of the South, in the face of attempts at political and economic domination," the declaration states.

In line with the stated principles of "solidarity, cooperation, complementation, and justice," the ALBA countries pledged to support other regional integration initiatives, such as the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) and the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), as long as these do not allow, in Correa's words, "interferences by those who customarily have attempted to safeguard their profits by taking advantage of our natural and cultural goods."

Honduran Foreign Relations Minister Patria Rodas said ALBA nations should increase their political power by forming a "united platform regarding their common problems" when attending summits of international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of American States (OAS). Last April, ALBA countries collectively refused to sign the final declaration of the OAS summit on the grounds that the document "offers no answers to the… global economic crisis" and "unjustifiably excludes Cuba," according to a joint statement.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rallied ALBA nations to call for a restructuring of the UN and OAS. "The UN as it is and the OAS as it is are worthless. They do not serve our peoples… we either restructure them or they will die as institutions," said Chavez.

"The UN has passed many resolutions demanding that the United States end the blockade against Cuba, but it does not end. These organizations only serve the powerful countries to legitimize their aggressions, like with the U.S.'s invasion of Iraq," Chavez elaborated.

The strengthening of the ALBA is a functioning example of a burgeoning "pluripolar world," said Chavez. "The ALBA is no longer a theoretical proposal, but a platform of political, territorial, geopolitical power."

To symbolize this, it was agreed that the acronym ALBA, which means "dawn" in Spanish, will stand for Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, rather than Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, from now on. 

To accelerate the consolidation of the ALBA's initiatives, the member countries formed ministerial commissions in the areas of political, economic, and social programming. The political commission plans to meet on July 27th in Quito, Ecuador.

Bolivian President Evo Morales proposed the formation of a secretary commission to continuously collect and record the proposals, discussions, and decisions that take place among member countries.

In economic initiatives, the nine member countries urged each other to solidify what the final declaration calls an "Economic Complementation Zone" that will include a joint bank, common currency, reserve, and compensation system, all of which were underway before Wednesday's summit.

The bloc has also begun to form a common food production company, and coordinated investments in agricultural production. On Wednesday, US $7 million from the ALBA joint investment fund was earmarked for food security initiatives.

In social programming, Venezuela offered to open the use of its new, Chinese-made satellite, which was launched last November, to facilitate medical, educational, and rural telephone services in ALBA member countries. 

Also, the countries established an education working group to plan the construction of a joint university and to build a network of higher education institutions across the region to conduct research and training for projects that promote the ALBA's core principles. A commission for women's rights was also established.

Lastly, the final declaration included a pledge of support for "the Islamic Revolution of Iran, the institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," and a rejection of "foreign interference and the campaign to discredit" Iran's June 12th elections, which were followed by deadly protests and clashes with state security forces over allegations of fraud committed by the re-elected incumbent, Ahmadinejad. 

Cuba and Venezuela initiated ALBA in 2004 as an alternative to U.S.-backed free trade agreements. The full name of the bloc is ALBA-TCP, with the last part standing for "People's Trade Agreement."

Before Wednesday's summit, the bloc consisted of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Honduras, and Dominica. Officials from Paraguay attended Wednesday's summit as active observers invited to consider membership.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega envisioned that the ALBA would grow in strength and unify the entire region. "We will multiply ourselves in order to promote the integration of all our peoples, in a space of true freedom and democracy," said Ortega. "Long live ALBA, long live Latin American and Caribbean unity."