Eighth ALBA Summit in Havana Marks Achievements & Challenges of Regional Integration

Heads of states and other representatives of member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) met in Havana, Cuba over December 13-14. The summit evaluated the achievements of the anti-imperialist, fair trade bloc since its inception five years ago and future prospects, challenges and opportunities for Latin American and Caribbean integration.
Venezuelen President Chavez and then Cuban President, Fidel Castro sign the founding ALBA agreement in 2004 (AIN Cuba)

Caracas, December 14, 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Heads of states and other representatives of member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) met in Havana, Cuba over December 13-14. The summit evaluated the achievements of the anti-imperialist, fair trade bloc since its inception five years ago and future prospects, challenges and opportunities for Latin American and Caribbean integration. 

Formed in 2004 by the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, ALBA is an alliance for regional integration which focuses on solidarity, social justice and cooperation. 

During his opening remarks to the summit Cuban President Raul Castro highlighted the five years of hard work and the important achievements of the regional bloc. He mentioned the eradication of illiteracy in three member countries of ALBA (Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela), which he described as “a step in the fight that continues to completely eradicate this social scourge in all member countries.” 

He also pointed out  that eyesight had been restored to more than one million people through the ALBA program, Mission Milagro (Mission Miracle), that more than 2000 doctors had graduated through the Latin American School of Medicine and today more than 6653 students are part of the new medical training program that emphasises internationalism and humanism. 

At the meeting in Havana, the leaders also ratified their commitment to continue projects for social development, training, providing free health and education services to previously disadvantaged people, with an emphasis on disabled people. 

The Cuban president said that currently Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia are developing a study of people with disabilities, which he said is a “special project of human value, which seeks to focus directly on finding solutions and improving social integration of such persons.”

Tackling Climate Change

Over several days the participants reached a number of important agreements including a special resolution to take to the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Summit in Denmark, which calls on industrialised countries to pay their “historic climate debt,” to underdeveloped countries as well as a 49% reduction in greenhouse emissions.

Bolivian President Evo Morales argued that the issue of climate change and protection of nature, mother earth, and the environment in general, should be a key banner of struggle “because natural disasters are arriving due to capitalism.”

Peoples Trade Agreement

 A proposed timetable for negotiating a Peoples Trade Agreement (TCP), proposed by Morales at the previous ALBA summit in Cochabamba, Bolivia in October was also adopted. The TCP is an initiative aimed at promoting solidarity or ‘fair trade’ with an emphasis on social development as an alternative to neoliberal free trade agreements. 

Regional Currency

The summit also agreed to the concretisation of the agreement finalised at the Cochabamba meeting to form a regional currency, the SUCRE (Unified System of Reciprocal Compensation Payments). The aim of the project is to provide an alternative to the US dollar to be used in commercial exchanges and ensure monetary sovereignty for member countries of the alliance.

The first transaction using the SUCRE will occur in January 2010 and will involve “the export of rice from a Cuban-Venezuelan joint venture to Cuba,” Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister, Rogelio Sierra, told a press conference.

“To the extent that inter-ALBA trade on the basis of this system [the SUCRE] increases and consolidates…the higher the levels of integration and complementarity of our economies will be,” Sierra continued.

Member countries will make deposits in their local currencies into the Bank of ALBA, with its headquarters located in Caracas, which will then be converted into the SUCRE. Initially the SUCRE will operate as a virtual currency, but will later become “as real as the Euro, to increase our trade and liberate us from the dictatorship of the dollar,” Venezuelan President Chavez said upon arrival in Havana on Friday. 

Scientific cooperation

The creation of a Scientific Centre to establish a network for cooperation in this field with headquarters in Caracas was also one of the subjects discussed, as well as a proposal to open up the Venezuelan College of Basic Sciences to students from other ALBA countries.

The summit also aimed to further strengthen the institutional framework of the regional bloc in order to improve efficiency in its programs and to expand their reach and political effectiveness.

Member countries of ALBA include Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda, Honduras. Patricia Rodas, foreign minister-in-exile, represented the legitimate government of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya,  who was deposed in a U.S. backed military coup on June 28. 

Rejection of U.S. interference in Latin America

The summit also noted the “increased offensive deployed by the government of the United States in Latin America,” and the threat represented by the recently signed deal between Washington and Colombia to install seven military bases in Colombia.

“With this imperial offensive Washington is trying to regain its backyard and stop the advance of progressive forces” Chavez stated, adding that in the face of such an offensive it is necessary to accelerate economic, political and social integration.

The countries were also united in their unequivocal condemnation of the coup in Honduras and the ongoing situation of confinement imposed by the de facto regime on deposed president Manuel Zelaya who has sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. 

The ALBA countries also reiterated their refusal to recognise the elections held by the coup government on November 29. 

“The coup d’etat was not only against Honduras, it was also against Alba,” Chavez denounced during his speech. 

The Bolivian president agreed saying the case of Honduras, was a warning from the [U.S.] empire to other countries not to join ALBA. 

Morales criticised the U.S. military bases in Colombia, stressing that this situation “should become a rallying cry to the people to defend the dignity and sovereignty of all Latin America.” 

Defense cooperation

 In this context the regional alliance also discussed the creation of an ALBA Defence Council. Morales argued that the consolidation of ALBA on all levels and its defence in the face of imperialism is “a permanent necessity.”

The people “must organise themselves, lose their fear and defend not only the sovereignty of our countries, but their dignity, avoiding the presence and installation of imperialist military bases on our territories,” Morales said.

Clash of two models

Raul Castro stressed the importance of ALBA in confronting the capitalist crisis and imperialist domination saying, “what we are experiencing reflects that in Latin America and the Caribbean the confrontation between two historical forces is intensifying.”

“On the one hand there is a politically and economically dependent, elitist and exploitative model, a legacy of colonialism and neocolonialism, subordinated to the interests of the empire.”

And on the other hand, there “is the advance of the revolutionary and progressive political forces that represent the traditionally dispossessed and marginalised classes…committed to the real independence of the peoples of the region with the aspiration to justly distribute the immense wealth of the continent.”