Monday, February 11, 2008

Alternativa Bolivariana Para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA): A Summary of the 6th Summit of Member States

My research assistant at Penn State, Augusto I. Molina Roman (Penn State Law 2009), has helped prepare the following summary of the events at the just concluded 6th summit of ALBA that concluded January 27, 2008.

The summary provided in the Boletin ALBA No. 15 is very lofty in its wording and continues the rhetoric behind the ideals that ALBA proposes and the steps it is taking to ensure that it continues to grow in scope and importance as a true alternative for Latin American and Caribbean development and integration. Beyond the colorful language, there are a few substantive things mentioned, among them is included:

1. A political declaration signed by the four member states (Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela) and attended by government representatives from Ecuador, Haiti, Uruguay, Honduras and St. Kitts & Nevis, in which they note the dire economic situation that the U.S. is undergoing and the now greater need for Latin America and the Caribbean to heed the call of ALBA in creating an alternative method by which sustainable and equitable development can occur.

2. One of the articles in the bulletin mentions that, at least in the context of the Petrocaribe initiative, it appears as though Honduras is also a full-fledged member of that ALBA initiative.

3. Without going into details, the first article in the bulletin gives praise to the achievements that ALBA has accomplished in the areas of health, education, and nutrition in Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Haiti.

4. The second article in the bulletin is an official declaration by Dominica of its desire to become a full-fledged member of ALBA.

5. The third article: Acta Fundacional del Banco del ALBA sets the framework for the creation of the Banco de ALBA we had been waiting for since last July. Some notable things about the framework include:

a. The considerations re-iterate the underlying goals and concerns of ALBA and how it is necessary for the member states to have their own source of funding in order to be able to carry out the proposed grand-national projects.
b. The bank itself will be a public, international entity, and is to be treated as its own legal “person.”
c. The bank’s objective is to “promote sustainable economic and social development, reduce poverty, strengthen integration, reduce asymmetries, and to promote a just, dynamic, harmonious and equitable economic exchange among the ALBA member states.
d. The bank will finance programs and projects directed at key sectors of the economy of ALBA nations.
e. The bank will be governed in accordance with the “best” international financial practices to ensure a greater return on the investments, so that these returns can then be reinvested in ALBA nations.
f. As for representation within the bank, each country is to be accorded equal representation under a democratic system.
g. The document is to be presented to the respective legislatures of the member states so that they make take the necessary steps (within 60 days) to ensure that the necessary steps are taken so that the creation of the Banco de ALBA can proceed.

6. The next article of relevance is the one titled “Conceptualizacion de Proyecto y Empresa Grannacional en el Marco del ALBA.”
a. Again, without going into specific details as to what the accomplishments, if any, the proposed grandnational projects agreed to during the V ALBA Summit, the article goes on to express the small steps that have been taken to make the proposed projects a reality. This includes the creation of grandnational “corporations” by ALBA member states that are faced with the task of completing the grandnational projects. I’ve placed the word corporations in parenthesis so as to distinguish the term from what it traditionally and legally meant by that term in the context of U.S. businesses.
b. The article reiterates the goals of ALBA. It then goes on to define what exactly a “grandnational” project is and how these differ from the current state of affairs in the world. To qualify as a grandnational project, the project must be based on the principles and objectives of ALBA and be carried out by at least two ALBA member states. This can range from a simple bilateral project among two member states, to a multinational project encompassing all four member states.
c. A grandnational project is akin to a mega-state in the sense that it requires joint political actions among states that share a similar vision as to their development without having to give up part of their sovereignty or social identity, and without having the need to create a supranational organization to achieve the goal.
d. In fact, the article specifically makes note of the fact that the concept of grandnational “corporations “ is intended to counter the moves that transnational corporations took when they abandoned any allegiance to the nation-states that chartered them in search of capital. Instead, the grandnational “corporations” are intended to be property of the respective ALBA nation-states, and as such will be controlled and managed in accordance with what is best for the welfare of the state and its people.
e. Although the grandnational “corporations” are property of the state, they are expressly given permission to associate and transact with the private sector.

7. The last article in the bulletin: “ALBA Cultural” cites the importance of using the common culture shared by Latin America as a uniting force to help spread the goals and ideals of ALBA throughout the region. It goes on to mention some of the initiatives and projects that have been achieved so far in the area of culture and how more needs to be done in this sector.
a. In particular the member states agreed to incorporate a ALBA-Cultural Strategic Plan for 2008-2010.
b. It has a proposed budget of $20 million dollars over three years to fund the proposed projects and initiatives.

ALBA is a supra national organization constructed to serve a variety of purposes. It is meant to serve as an example of internationla trade relations grounded on a basis of state to state relations in which the public sector is privileged over private market transactions, it is meant to serve as a counterweight to the network of conventional bi lateral and multilateral trade agreements that are said to favor the United States disproportionately, it is meant to provide a political framework for opposition to the principles of contemporary economic globalization. In its own words it suggests that

En consecuencia, urge una propuesta alternativa basada en la solidaridad. Se trata de ayudar a los países más débiles a superar las desventajas que los separan de los países más poderosos del hemisferio. Y esto no solo depende de los cambios en las condiciones de competencias imperantes, sino también de la solidaridad entre los pueblos y sus gobiernos del continente a la hora de corregir estas asimetrías. Solo así un área de libre comercio podrá ser una oportunidad para todos (una alianza ganar-ganar). ("As a consequence. it suggests an alternative framework based on solidarity. It seeks to help the weakest states to overcome their disadvantages that distinguishes these states from the more powerful states of the hemisphere. And this does not depend solely on changes within prevailing competences but also on solodarity between peoples and their governments in this continent to correct these asymmetries. Only within this area of free trade will there be an opportunity for all (a "win-win" alliance).

ALBA, Que es el ALBA?. It will be interesting to see whether ALBA can make good on these promises. As Cuba and Venezuela seek to maintain a zone free of interference by the United States, the ability to surround themselves with other states may make a difference. Whether this alliance can generate more than a bit of breathing space--that is, whether significant affimative and effective alternative programs of trade can actually develop in a manageable way, remains to be seen. Still, the United States ignores this organization at its peril. Even with much of a bite in the trade area, it is already packing quite a punch in the ideological wars in Central and SOuth America. The United States will need to meet this at some point, or face the consequences. And those consequences include the movement of this region both eastward towards the European Union and westward toward China.

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