Honduras Withdraws from ALBA, El Salvador Won’t Join Despite FMLN Support

On Tuesday, the Honduran Congress voted to withdraw from the Venezuela-led trade bloc called the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), and on Wednesday, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes announced that his government will not align with the bloc.
Carlos Osorio on Venezuelan state television (VTV)

Mérida, January 15th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Tuesday, the Honduran Congress voted to withdraw from the Venezuela-led trade bloc called the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), and on Wednesday, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes announced that his government will not align with the bloc.

Venezuela and Cuba initiated the now eight-member ALBA group in 2004 to create a mechanism of international trade based on mutual benefit and cooperation rather than profit and the free market. Honduras’s entrance into the bloc in 2008 under the leadership of President Manuel Zelaya is considered to be one of the motivations for the right wing military coup that kidnapped and expelled Zelaya last June.

The Honduran Congress, which is controlled by coup supporters from the centrist Liberal Party and other right wing parties, voted 122 to 5 in favor of the country’s withdrawal. The Congress also granted the status of legislator-for-life to Roberto Michelleti, who led the coup and headed the post-coup regime, rendering Michelleti immune from legal prosecution for the coup and its aftermath.

Michelleti handed over power to another coup supporter and right wing party leader Porfirio Lobo following elections in November that were marked by widespread violent state repression and massive voter abstention, according to international human rights observers. Most countries except for the United States refused to recognize the coup regime as well as the elections.

Rafael Pineda, spokesperson for the coup government, said commercial relations will continue between Honduras and ALBA member countries on a country-by-country basis, and that Honduras will continue to participate in Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program, through which nearly 20 countries receive Venezuelan oil on low, flexible, long-term interest rates.

As a member of ALBA, Honduras received tractors and grants for rural development, and accrued $80 million in debt, which Honduras will pay off over the next quarter century, according to ALBA terms and conditions, according to Vice Finance Minister Hugo Castillo.

Rafael Alegría, a leader of the Honduran resistance which has led ongoing street protests and suffered deadly repression since the coup, said the coup was aimed at restoring Honduras’s role as a client country of multi-national corporations.

“The coup leaders are signing accords that benefit foreign oil companies. President Zelaya had changed the formula for managing the oil. His actions began to benefit the state and the consumers, and now these men are changing everything. They are benefiting Shell and Texaco,” Alegría said in an interview with Radio of the South.

“The coup leaders want to return to the past to benefit the empire and the oligarchy with the natural resources of our country,” Alegría continued. “We call on the international community to listen to us and support us, because the crisis was not provoked by the people, the left, or the resistance, but by a group of coup-mongering politicians who only seek economic advantage for themselves.”

Alegría said the resistance will never recognize the coup regime as legitimate, and will continue struggling both in local communities as well as in the political arena in order to take power and restore democracy.

El Salvador

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes announced this week that his government will not adhere to the ALBA bloc, despite a recent declaration by his left-wing former guerrilla party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), in favor of joining the bloc.

“If the FMLN wants to become part of the ALBA with its mayors, or as a political party it wishes to participate in the efforts that the ALBA governments, parties, and countries carry out, then do it, there’s no problem, but this government is not going to do it,” Funes said.

Funes explained his disagreement with the FMLN, the party which helped him get elected last March as the first left-wing president following more than two decades of right-wing government. “The FMLN has a certain vision about international relations and about the projects it has decided on at the international level, especially on a regional scale,” said Funes. “I do not totally share it.”

Instead, Funes said his administration will focus on building alliances in Central America, where right wing and centrist regimes control the majority of the region’s national governments.

“I have decided to work more toward Central American integration, toward consolidating a regional bloc, toward uniting policies and uniting efforts with the presidents of the region, rather than looking toward other entities such as the ALBA,” Funes said.

Funes added that his plan includes a “greater strategic relationship” with the United States, which is “a government presided over by a Democrat of clear convictions, who has a different vision of the North-South relationship,” referring to U.S. President Barack Obama.

Currently, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Dominica, Antigua and Barbados, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are members of the ALBA alliance.

ALBA Currency

The ALBA bloc’s common currency, an electronic compensation system called the Sucre, will be put into use starting this month, according to Venezuelan Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez. The Sucre will have an initial value of US $1.25, and will only be used by ALBA members for ALBA deals, mediated by the ALBA joint bank that was created last year.

“What we are looking for with the SUCRE is the creation of a mechanism that permits us to have a new financial architecture and break with the dependence on the dollar in commercial exchange operations,” Rodriguez said in a press conference last week.

The SUCRE will be used in the coming months for Venezuelan rice exports to Cuba and asphalt exports to Bolivia, as well as Bolivian wood, food, textile, and artisan craft exports to other ALBA countries, Rodriguez said.