Mérida, 12th January 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared this week that Daniel Ortega’s re-election as Nicaraguan president is a “triumph” for ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas), while announcing plans to develop the regional anti-neoliberal integration bloc in the coming year.
The comments were made as Chavez attended Ortega’s inauguration as Nicaraguan president for a second consecutive term on Tuesday. The leftist politician and Chavez ally was re-elected with almost 63% of the vote in November last year.
“You [the Nicaraguan people] voted for the path of the future, for dignity....a very important new period is beginning, not only for Nicaragua, but for ALBA, for Latin America. It’s ALBA’s triumph,” stated Chavez.
For his part, Ortega spoke of the need to substitute a model of “savage capitalism” with a future determined by the principles of “solidarity, cooperation without conditions, fair exchange and the ending of applying sanctions based on political orders”.
Ortega, leader of the Sandinista movement which overthrew the US-backed Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and the country’s president from 1984 – 1990, was elected as Nicaraguan president in 2006 with 38% support. One of his first moves upon taking office in 2007 was to enter his Sandinista government into the ALBA bloc.
Founded in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba as a regional alternative to the US-proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), ALBA promotes integration among member states based on mutual cooperation and respect for sovereignty. The group now includes 8 member states across Latin America and the Caribbean.
A key mechanism of economic cooperation in the ALBA has been the exchange of discounted Venezuelan oil for agricultural and other goods. Reuters reports that the Nicaraguan opposition accuse Ortega of making Nicaragua dependent on subsidised oil from Venezuela.
David McKnight, a Welsh filmmaker based in Nicaragua, explains that support from ALBA has been important for the development of social programs by the Sandinista government, including housing improvements, agricultural aid to 100,000 farmers, micro-credits to 683,000 women, and scholarships to 120,000 students.
“Ortega's critics dismiss these as handouts but when you talk to people in some of the country's poorest communities, as I have done, it's clear that these programmes are making a real difference to peoples’ lives,” McKnight related to Venezuelanalysis, further emphasising that the programmes are one of the reasons for Ortega’s rising levels of popular support.
“Given the importance of ALBA, Nicaraguans will be watching this year’s presidential elections in Venezuela with more than a keen interest” he added.
Developing ALBA in 2012
Hugo Chavez also announced plans to develop ALBA in 2012, advocating that the ALBA should enter a “new stage” by deepening its structure and unity in the social and politico-economic spheres.
He argues that the regional organisation is “the most advanced integration mechanism that exists in the world; it’s a model that other regions can take into account”.
Particularly, Chávez emphasised the importance of re-launching the ALBA Bank, which finances programs to expand social benefits, and opined that it had received too little financing up until now. “We want to launch it to a higher level so it can make agreements with other banks in the world and obtain resources to fight poverty” he stated.
Finally, Chavez announced the intention of holding a meeting of the presidents of ALBA member countries in the near future to discuss the further development of the organisation.
Video by David McKnight / Tortilla con Sal