Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Emine Tahsin on ALBA (The Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America) and the Cuban Economy

Outside of Latin America, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) has been treated as something of a joke. It is the mad product of nondemocratic regimes, the only output of any consequence of which has been photo opportunities. Worse, from the perspective of developed states, it is little more than a reactive stance—a means for generating a propaganda front against the global system of economic organization, and for the usual rants about the United States. I have recently suggested that ALBA is an international force whose strengths ought not to be underestimated by the United States. See, Larry Catá Backer and Augusto Molina, Cuba and the Construction of Alternative Global Trade Systems: ALBA and Free Trade in the Americas, University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Economic Law, Vol. 31(3) (forthcoming 2010).

But ALBA has begun to assert its influence within the Caribbean in increasingly powerful ways. The are also becoming an important force within regional organizations, like the Organization of American States. For doubters, the influential role played by ALBA and its member states in the international reaction to the aborted constitutional coup of Honduras’ former President Zelaya, and his removal by the legislative and executive branches of that country should serve as a reminder that ALBA is starting to be a force to be reckoned with, at least in the Caribbean. On the Honduran Revolutions, see Larry Catá Backer, Reflections on the Declaration of Independence: From a Crisis of U.K. Constitutionalism in the Americas to a Global Constitutional Crisis in Honduras, Law at the End of the Day, July 4, 2009. ALBA’s position and characterization of the events in Honduras quickly became the standard version of reality. “The regional bloc of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) condemned the coup in Honduras that ousted President Manuel Zelaya Sunday. A statement issued after a special meeting of foreign ministers urged the reinstatement of Zelaya, and said the ALBA member countries will not recognize any government or person rising from the coup.” ALBA condemns Honduran coup, Zelaya participates meeting, People’s Daily Online, June 29, 2009. As one commentator suggested:

That said, the international response, seeking to reinstate Zelaya without any mention of his illegal acts, has been highly inadequate. The Organization of American States, led by its secretary-general, Jose Miguel Insulza, has acted like Venezuela’s poodle. At Chavez’s request, Insulza went to Nicaragua, where a summit of the anti-democratic ALBA group became the hemisphere’s political center of gravity following the coup. Insulza and other populist presidents said nothing about Zelaya’s dictatorial conduct leading to last Sunday’s events and simply echoed Venezuela’s self-serving stance. Efforts by other countries, including the United States and many South American governments, to put some nuance into the public statements were neutralized by the spectacle unfolding in Nicaragua, which was widely reported across the Spanish-speaking world. Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Honduras—Zelaya’s Coup, The Independent Institute, July 1, 2009.
Yet, ALBA has been instrumental in staging the events in Honduras to great effect. On the basis of their joint efforts, the imperfect impeachment of former President Zelaya has been reconstituted as a coup and produced significant diplomatic victories for the revolutionary efforts of former President Zelaya amongst foreigners, especially in Europe. Most spectacularly, perhaps, was the recent announcement by the European Union that it would suspend $90 Million in aid to Honduras until Honduras agrees to take Mr. Zelaya back. “The EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement: "In view of the circumstances, I have taken the difficult decision to suspend all budgetary support payments. ‘I strongly appeal to both parties to refrain from any action or declaration which might further escalate tension, thus making the prospect of a solution more difficult.’” EU Suspends $90 million Aid to Honduras, BBC News Online, July 13, 2009. Still, as Sir Ronald Sanders notes, “As Larry Binns, Director of the Council for Hemispheric Affairs based in Washington, has pointed out: ‘By presenting his government as under attack by rightist, anti-constitutional elements intent on overthrowing his presidency, Zelaya has managed to present himself as an emblem of democracy and legitimacy.’ He is far from it.” Ronald Sanders, Coup Provoked, BBC Caribbean.com, July 13, 2009. It is for that reason, if no other, that greater attention ought to be paid to ALBA and its growing importance in the economic and political networks through which the Caribbean region is increasingly ordered.

But ALBA also has begun to have effects on the internal economies of its member states. Dr. Emine Tahsin, of the Istanbul University Faculty of Economics, has written an excellent analysis of the internal workings of ALBA within the Cuban economy. Emine Tahsin, “Looking to the Future: Considering the Role of ALBA in the Cuban Economy,” paper presented at the conference, The Measure of a Revolution: Cuba, 1959-2009, held May 7-9, 2009, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario CANADA.

Tahsin first contextualizes ALBA within its ideological and reactive framework. It is, as she nicely explains, a creature born of the positive and now mature ideology of the Cuban Revolution combined with the reactive anti-Americanism that in some respects has defined Cuba and impelled Cuban activity as much as its ideology. “ALBA was born as an alternative to the US Government’s ‘Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTTAs)’, on the principles of integration to reinforce sovereignty and just social relations, as opposed to liberalization and denationalization. ALBA is simply a reaction to neoliberal policies in search of alternatives. The path of socialist Cuba and Bolivarian revolution of Venezuela are the main driving forces in the emergency of ALBA project. Also the bilateral agreements between Cuba and Venezuela are the main pillars of ALBA integration process.” Tahsin, supra, draft at 2 (citing Alejandro Bendaña, “From Development Assistance to Development Solidarity: the Role of Venezuela and ALBA" (02.02.2009); Osvaldo Martinez, Neo liberalismo ALCA y Libre Comercio, Editorial Ciencias Sociales, Cuba, 2005 and Osvaldo Martinez (edt.), La Integracion en America Latina: De La Retorica A La Realidad, Editorial Ciencias Sociales, Cuba, 2008). She also well summarizes the ideological basis of ALBA, as both key to its difference from standard models of regional trade and integration arrangements, and as an institutionalized nexus of formal opposition to the United States. Tahsin, supra, draft at 4-10. These strands were much in evidence in pronouncements from the ALBA Extraordinary Summit Of the ALBA Final Declaration, April 29, 2009. These, Tahsin summarizes as “-solidarity and complementarity, not competition; a system in harmony with our mother earth and not plundering of human resources; a system of cultural diversity and not cultural destruction and imposition of cultural values and lifestyles alien to the realities of our countries; a system of peace based on social justice and not on imperialist policies and wars; in summary, a system that recovers the human condition of our societies and peoples and does not reduce them to mere consumers or merchandise.” Tahsion, supra, draft at 6.

The heart of the distinction between ALBA and traditional regional trade agreements is ALBA’s focus on development and its emphasis on state control of economic policy in the service of that development. “The main sectors of the economy should be determined by the state instead of market mechanisms. Public goods and basic sectors should belong to the state. Public property rights instead of private property in these sectors are necessary for the complementary principle.” Tahsin, supra, at 9. Thus, the path to greater integration at the level of the worker and peasant is to de emphasize the centrality of the private sector in development. “Endogenous development is defined as a necessity in order to eliminate poverty and over come social exclusion. Due to these the quality of employment should be guaranteed. Oppositely from the FTTAs, ALBA oppose to the diversification of production. . . . Trade and investment should provide economic development rather than specialization. ALBA defends self-sufficiency so that liberalization attempts that destroy this principle is rejected. Instead of markets liberalization and minimizing the role of the state policies, the interest of the socities should be aimed.” Id., and at 7-8. These notions recall an earlier era, one in which de-colonization generated an all embracing ethos of state construction and policy. Fundamental to that ethos was the notion, popular among most states in the 19th and early 20th century, of self sufficiency as the key to independence, and the corollary notion that only equally self sufficient states could attempt integration as equals. Dependence, whether social, religious, cultural or economic was viewed, in this framework, as a symptom of re colonization, and, as such, required resistance. Resistance, for many, could best be measured by a conscious remaking of the social, economic cultural and religious order distinct from that of former colonial powers. And the perversity, of course, was that this vector of political ideology was maturing at just the time that developed states sought to move from systems of mutual sufficiency to networked dependency within a privatized world order. But of course this move could be viewed with nothing but suspicion from a world order sensitive to the political ramifications of dependence within a history of colonization. ALBA, ironically, then, could be understood in this sense as a path toward the maturity of the status of colonizer as a necessary predicate for acquiring the maturity necessary to consider networks of mutual dependence.

Tehsin then suggests the connection between the construction of the Cuban state apparatus and its economic policy, with the construction of ALBA. In a sense, ALBA represents the reconstitution of the Cuban state apparatus on the supra-national level. Tahsin, supra, at 10-16. “Considering ALBA agreements and the related principles it is seen that the experiences of Cuban socialism have been carried out.” Id., at 16. That template, projected throughout the ALBA region has had effects on internal policy. “For the application of social programmes or for the nationalization of private sectors in order to obtain free public services and transfer of income to these areas it is possible to claim that ALBA and therefore Cuban experiment acts as an accelerator.” Id., at 17. At the same time, Tahsin notes the blow back from ALBA states into the Cuban economy. “Cuba have welcomed ALBA under these conditions, looking to the experiences under ALBA integration it is seen that mutually ALBA and Cuba have influences on each other. Briefly considering socio-economic measurements, energy integration, food security, infrastructure and investment and trade relations in ALBA countries these effects are clearly seen.” Id., at 19. The construction or announcement of a variety of programs through bi lateral arrangements (on a sort of inverted ALADI model) points to the ways in which mutual bi lateral integration has begun to reshape both the Cuban economic sector and those of other ALBA states. This is an important and under examined insight. It is one that will require substantially more theoretical and empirical study in the future.

Tahsin concludes:
ALBA have influenced by Cuban experiences also played a role in order to weaken the vulnerabilities of Cuban economy. In the titles of self-sufficiency, providing basic needs, increasing product diversification, ALBA has critical contribution to Cuban economy. ALBA also has a contribution to lessen the burden of the blockade in many ways. Especially externalities created by the energy integration leads not only economic growth but also development of other sub sectors. ALBA might have been seen as an opportunity to develop manufacturing sectors, increasing infra structure and technology use on the basis of equity and complementary. In case of ALBA experience, ideological challenge combining with these factors might have give answers in searching for alternatives economic development models. Id., at 29-30

She is right, of course. And the importance of ALBA has assumed a political as well as economic dimension. For the Americans, especially, top continue to ignore it will likely come to haunt American interests in the future.

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