Saturday, November 06, 2010

ALBA, Latin American Integration, and the Construction of Regional Political Power

States have long arranged themselves vertically; the fundamental ordering principal of political life remains substantially unchanged, with “right, as the world goes, . . . only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer as they must” (Thucydidies, 331).  Modern international politics, and the system of international law that been used instrumentally to institutionalize it (Koskenniemi 2001, 238), is grounded in this foundation of verticality. The state system has, at least since 1945, been formally ordered on the basis of the principle of the equality of states (Alvarez 2006, 1-57).  Yet functionally, the state system is vertically ordered, grounded on a rule of deference by weaker states to more powerful ones, and the deference of all to the great political powers (Menkhaus 2007, 83-93).  This fundamental ordering framework, and its repercussions, has been nicely illustrated in the earlier chapters of this collection.

This vertically arranged functional system is replicated in the forms of organization of the state system at the international level. International institutions from the United Nations Security Council  to the International Monetary Fund are organized around the fundamental principle of deference to power. Leaders of less powerful states, like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, have asserted that “These organisations only serve the powerful countries to legitimise their aggressions, like the US invasion of Iraq” (Suggett 2009). Informal institutions with a soft power leadership role, like those of the G-20 and the Paris Club, are grounded in the same principle.  Even the soft system of transnational constitutionalism that has served as a mechanism for shaping national discretion in the internal construction of domestic legal orders has been shaped by the grand strategies of the Great Powers of the time (Backer 2008).  Soft interventions through transnational institutions also provide a powerful tool of political, social and economic acculturation.  Antony Anghie has suggested the powerful disciplining effect of global efforts to inculcate “good governance” principles in developing states through international organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (Anghie 2004; 245-72).  These involve “far reaching transformations, relating to the promotion of democracy, free markets and the rule of law—. . . . directed at reproducing in the Third World a set of principles and institutions which are seen as having been perfected in the West, and which the non-European world must adopt if it is to make progress and achieve stability” (Anghie 2004, 249).  Yet it was also to work on the great powers themselves as a means of providing a system of behavior limits for great powers dealing with the weaker members of the family of nations (Koskenniemi 2001).

But weaker states had long discovered, that the forms of multilateralism could be used as much for defensive purposes by them as it had been used in the construction of the international system for the benefit of the great powers. Among others, the Non-Aligned Movement is perhaps the most well known of these.  These declare an intention “to change the current system of international relations based on injustice, inequality and oppression. We act on international policy as a global independent factor” (Castro 1979). Yet the Non-Aligned Movement also represents both the potential of collective action by weaker states against the great powers, as well as the inherent weaknesses of these collectives.  “A multilateral trans-national organisation made up of states with differing ideologies and purposes could never create a rational administrative structure to implement its policies that all could accept” (Non-Aligned Movement, NAM Structure and Organization). More importantly, the Non-Aligned Movement suggested the impossibility of freeing smaller states from the influence of the great powers, even when smaller states sought to act in concert.  “The movement divided against itself over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. This division was an indication that the NAM was indeed aligned, and it is possible that an organization of this nature can never be fully non-aligned” (Asian Nuclear Energy 2009). 

Yet the attainment of a measure of political and economic power for small states through collective organization has remained an ideal for states and theorists (Mutua 2000, 38).  This chapter considers one of the most interesting recent efforts to leverage the power of small states through collective action.  In the form of ALBA—the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (Alianza Alternativa para los Pueblos de Nuestra América)—these efforts have produced what may be a viable challenge to the free trade model of globalization (Garcia 2003). ALBA serves as a focus of resistance to the conventional trade model of privatization and globalization that are assumed to be bad for people, especially for those who live in developing states. (Backer 2006).  It is critically grounded on the idea that internationalization must be effected through states rather than individuals and private markets. (Bossi 2005). To this is added a fundamental distrust of private markets—markets that are not strictly controlled and managed by the state. (ALBA 2009).   ALBA thus has been constructed to serve, at least as a matter of theory, as both a system of free trade and as a nexus point for legal and political resistance to economic globalization and legal internationalism sponsored by developed states.  Fernando Bossi, the Secretary of the Bolivarian Peoples’ Congress recently wrote of the ALBA experiment as grounded in the objective of collective independence, the vehicle for which was revolution under the banner of socialism (Bossi 2009).

Following this Introduction, Part II turns to an examination of ALBA. The focus centers on ALBA as the expression of a distinct approach to multilateral organization at once oppositional (e.g., framed in opposition to the interests of the United States), and instrumental (e.g., implemented as a workable alternative to conventional social, economic and political organization). Part III then contextualizes ALBA within the dense network of trade treaties that mark the realities of economic relations in Latin America (Bulmer-Thomas 2003). Thus contextualized, ALBA serves as a nexus for competing pressures within both modern trade theory practice and the construction of multi-state system frameworks in Latin America beyond the orbit of global great powers.

II.  From Colony to Collective

ALBA is offered as a successful model of resistance, and as a means of avoiding the consequences of a vertically ordered state system. Fidel Castro declared: “in this union is our salvation (Bossi 2009). ALBA’s contribution to that objective is best understood as a function of its history and organization, ideological framework (theory) and practical expression (praxis).

A.  History and Organization.

Integration pits the post colonial project of state building against the internationalist project that aims to reduce the sovereign authority of states, both against each other and in their relations with private power. The integration of Latin America and the Caribbean is not a novel idea.  This goal, and the ideals guiding it, traces its roots to early nineteenth century conceptions of Latin American independence.  The framers of ALBA posited a strong connections between their efforts and those that produced the first great wave of Latin American independence movements (ALBA, Antecedentes históricos del ALBA).  ALBA is described as heir to early 19th century proponents of integration, especially Simon Bolívar’s vision for the newly freed states that had fought for their independence from Spanish rule in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.  The expression of these ideas can be found in his “Letter from Jamaica” (Bolivar 1815). The desire of ALBA, to integrate Latin America independent of colonial or neo-colonial powers, draws heavily on this effort to connect its activities to those of the founding generation of Latin American independence (Bossi 2005). ALBA seeks to draw those founders ‘s ideology to those of the revolutionaries of the late nineteenth century (the writings of Jose Martí (1891)) and later in the work of Augusto Cesar Sandino.  (Sandino 1929). 

Modern regional integration in Latin America is commonly traced to the period immediately after the Second World War and the work of the United Nations Commission for Latin America. (United Nations 1950).  In 1994, under the leadership of the United States, a Summit of the Americas was held in Miami to development the capstone to this movement toward hemispheric integration.  The intention was to create by 2005 a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), under which the private markets-based model of economic globalization was to be further institutionalized in the Hemisphere (Philips 2005).  It was in opposition to FTAA that ALBA was born. 

Part of the opposition to FTAA was grounded in a well developed world view that sought to synthesize strong elements of Soviet style Marxist-Leninist theory, post colonial theories, especially those coming out of African liberation movements, nineteenth century ethno nationalism, and 20th century socialist internationalism. Basic to these ideas was the positing of a fundamental opposition between the state and transnational corporations.  The former best represented the popular will (and public good), the latter represented private uncontrolled economic power inimical to the interests individuals, states and society (Venezuela 2006, 5).

Opposition was also grounded in the neo-colonialist consequences of asymmetric bargaining among states. The deleterious consequences for small states inherent in the asymmetries produced by current trade integration formulas was elaborated by Fidel Castro .  Castro focused on the function of modern globalization as a means to preserving asymmetrical trade relations between large and small states.  The focus was on sovereign debt and its consequences (Backer 2006a). Fidel Castro also publicly denounced these same concepts during his address to the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, in which Castro laid out critical points that now form central guiding principles in the formation of ALBA (Castro 1979). Castro reiterated similar concerns about the strangling effects the foreign debt has on small, impoverished countries (Castro 1985; Castro 1999). Castro also emphasized the public side of trade as a fundamental element of globalization and integration (Castro 1985). These ideas served as the ideological basis for what emerged as ALBA.

But ALBA represents a more radical departure from the conventional tactics of hemispheric opposition to perceived overreaching by the United States.  That departure is striking in two respects, first by the framing of ALBA on the basis of a coherent conceptual framework distinct from those espoused by the United States and its allies, and second, by the effort to use that oppositional ideology to construct a collective of states meant to be strong enough to challenge American hegemony in the Western Hemisphere.  While ALBA has failed in its second aim, it has produced a coherent ideology that has proven successful in drawing a number of states into its orbit (and out of the of their traditional patrons).

The idea for ALBA first appeared in 2001 proposals advanced by Hugo Chavez (ALBA Jan 24-26, 2008. It was developed publicly in a series of speeches, and dialogues among Cuba and Venezuela. The idea was to reconstruct and reapply the ideals represented by Bolivar, as understood by the leaders of Cuba and Venezuela. (Bossi 2005). The first concrete steps taken to create ALBA occurred after Hugo Chavez’s electoral success 2004 (ALBA Dec. 14, 2004). ALBA’s initial form was memorialized in a bilateral agreement between Cuba and Venezuela. This agreement provided for the structuring of relations between the two states on principles of solidarity and the exchange of goods and services, at the state-to-state level, in a manner mutually beneficial to the parties.  The formal agreement was executed at a ceremony held Havana, Cuba in December 2004 (ALBA Dec. 14, 2004).

Implementation was started in early 2005 (ALBA 2005). Its source in oppositional politics was memorialized in its initial name—the Bolivarian Alternative.  A variety of additional bilateral accords and joint endeavors were concluded and the ideological basis of the organization confirmed  (ALBA 2005). These have been followed by a large number of agreements, declarations and actions that have been meant to develop the conceptual framework of ALBA, and to construct a number of projects that are supposed to apply those principles in specific sectors and among a variety of shifting groups of ALBA members.  And the organization has grown from the initial bi-lateral arrangement between Cuba and Venezuela to include Nicaragua, Dominica, Ecuador, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  Honduras, a member after 2008, withdrew after the ouster of President Zelaya in a controversial action that has yet to be recognized in the ALBA zone. The addition of these Members changed the agreement in a number of ways but did not affect the fundamental character of the association.

ALBA might perhaps be better understood as a space through which mutual cooperation on the basis of ALBA principles can be effected, rather than as a heavily institutionalized autonomous supranational organization. It is comprised of seven Commissions focusing on distinct functional areas: Political, Social, Economic, Investment and Finance, Energy, Environment and Youth.  Each reports to the Council of ALBA Ministers and Council of ALBA Social Movements, which reports to the Council of ALBA Presidents (ALBA, Organizational structure of ALBA, n.d.). The Commissions are headed by the national Ministers of the respective areas of each of the member nations and together form the Council of ALBA Ministers. Because ALBA seeks to respect the national sovereignty of member nations, all ALBA agreements are subject to acceptance by the national legislative bodies of the member nations (Id.). The Council of Social Movements was established in 2007 to incorporate organized mass movement actors into the ALBA structure (Sader 2007). From 2009, ALBA incorporated a permanent commission to oversee the development of the implementation of ALBA zone commercial activities through the grannacional system described below (Venezuela Feb. 27, 2009).

ALBA’s organizational form has been criticized as insubstantial (Sanders 2009). Yet, this institutional organization reflects the objectives of the organization. The result is substantially less autonomy for the institution at the supra-national level, and more control at the member state level.  The supra national element of ALBA serves more as a pass through and reflection of Member State consensus than as the locus of an autonomous aggregate power reflecting a ceding of sovereignty up to the supra-national level.  It emphasizes the central position of the state in the construction of internationalist frameworks.  This state-centering integration project critically affects the underlying theory of its organization as well as its implementation.

B.  Ideological Framework (Theory).

ALBA’s ideological framework provides the greatest mark of its distinction from other efforts at integration. Integration requires harmonization of an ideological base for action. (Raúl Castro 2009).  ALBA is built on the idea of the inherent potential for Latin America development independent of the United States and Europe.  (Bossi 2005; Punto 3).   But to succeed, that development had to be different from that of the U.S., because the founding members do not seek to follow the same path of warfare, genocide and pillaging that the U.S. took to achieve unity. (Bossi 2005; Punto 2).  ALBA is grounded on an opposition to capitalism as an economic and political ideology. (ALBA April 17, 2009). Early in its formation, ALBA ideology was framed around ten points that defined the ALBA “line” (Bossi 2005): ALBA is a historic project, a heroic creation, supported by the potential inherent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and supported as well by anti-capitalist values.  It is a popular construction and a form of integration that is not born out of mercantile or trade aspects, serves as a political tool and as the program of Latin American and Caribbean revolution, and in this represents a strategic step towards a new stage (Bossi 2005).  

The general conceptual basis of ALBA is more specifically elaborated in the development of three organizational lines.  The first are the four anti-capitalist values of ALBA; the second are the three pillars of ALBA, and third are the goals of ALBA.  ALBA articulates four so-called anti-capitalist values around which ALBA interventions are built.  These include: (1) complementary action based on the strengths that each country may possess; (2) mutual cooperation; (3) solidarity among the member nations; and (4) respect for the national sovereignty of each country. (Bossi 2005; Punto 4). It is not clear whether these are anti-capitalist or anti colonialist values, and more particularly whether the solidarity and action suggested is meant to be reactive—that is deployed against the policies and interests of the United States. (Patterson & Afilalo 2008, 205). Indeed, except for the oppositional stance within which ALBA is situated, it would be difficult to suggest that these values are not as amenable to capitalist systems. 

The difference comes in the form of application of these values—targeting not markets and private activities, but mass social movement programs and state action.  This notion finds expression in the three pillars of ALBA.  These are articulated through the development of a theory of stages of development to which ALBA states are committed: (1) Education to inform others about the necessity for an ALBA; (2) Expanding the distribution of informational material among the masses about the benefits of ALBA and; (3) To mobilize and organize concrete steps that will foster the integration of Latin American people. (Bossi 2005; Punto 9). These pillars, in turn, are elaborated of twelve more pragmatic goals to foster progress through the stages of socio-political development. (Chavez 2005).

In addition to these goals, ALBA also has four major objectives that seek to weave values and implementation.  The first is to promote the integration and development of Latin America through cooperation, solidarity and unity in an effort to place the interests of the people above those of transnational capital (ALBA, ¿Que es ALBA?, n.d.). The second aims to promote integration agreements that develop the industrial and social infrastructures of a nation, and the region, with the goal of eliminating poverty, social exclusion and to assure better living conditions for all the inhabitants of Latin American nations (Id.). The third is to counter neo-liberal policies, particularly the attempt by the U.S. to create a Free Trade of the Americas, which traditionally benefit developed nations at the expense of developing nations (Bossi 2005). The fourth is to use complementary action based on the strengths that each country may possess, mutual cooperation, solidarity and respect for the national sovereignty of each country (Id.).

Together these values, objectives and goals present a unified ideological position.  It serves as a basis for approaching all issues of transnational arrangements.  It privileges the state against private actors.  It suggests a tighter control of individuals and their arrangements by the state, and also suggests that those interests must be subordinated to the needs of the state (as understood by those in control of the apparatus of state governance).  Private markets are incidental to the development of large sectors of state control.  Because neither politics nor economics can be left to the private sector, and because the private sector might well serve as proxy for the interests of those states from where those private activities originate, then state to state arrangements must be the basis of any movement of people, capital, goods or services.  Lastly, the ideological position combines a long tradition of anti colonialism, nationalism with anti-Americanism to produce an ideological system in which states are essential to combat the direct and indirect interventions of the United States (and to a lesser extent the old European colonial powers) in the development of adhering states.  For many states in Latin America this is an intoxicating mix.    It serves to legitimate stronger state control over a private sector that had been relying on the development of global markets to liberate itself from local barriers to development.  It shifts power to direct markets from the private to the public sector.  It provides an avenue for transferring blame to a demonized “other” against which state activity is directed.  It provides a basis for the maintenance of control through the form of democratic mass movements by linking state action to the maintenance of the masses, and by so doing, marginalizing the relationship between the masses and other institutional or civil society elements.  Most importantly, this ideology preserves to states control over the nature and extent of actual arrangements with entities beyond its borders.  Packaged in this form, the ideology of ALBA has become its most critically successful product.

The importance of ALBA’s ideological component is evidenced not merely by the style of its website, but also by efforts to mold popular opinion in other media.  Most potent, potentially, are ALBA TV (n.d.) and substantial efforts to use electronic media to publicize ALBA positions on regional political and economic matters.  These help establish consensus about political “facts” through news reporting and related efforts that shape the way in which people receive and understand information and thus exercise their political will in their home states. Important positions of ALBA, and ALBA’s political programs, are given substantial play. These provide a basis for more effective communication well beyond the ALBA zone. A telling example was ALBA’s substantially successful efforts to delegitimize the current government of Honduras (ALBA, Golpe de estado en Honduras) and less successfully to put pressure on the United States to abandon its military bases in Columbia (ALBA, Fuera Bases).

Yet ALBA’s ideological framework has also changed since its creation. Reflecting the growing plausibility of the organization, its ideology has moved from expression in political revolutionary terms to a revolutionary reorientation of globalization frameworks within which it seeks to participate (Compare Bossi 2005, 2009).  The emphasis after 2009 is still focused on  the determinism—ALBA as a historic and radical project (Bossi 2009)—but now the emphasis is more structural as well.  ALBA is viewed as a unique model, built on the rejection of conventional forms of economic integration and the embrace of endogenous characteristics of the region (id).  There is also a de-emphasis  on the reactive aspects of ALBA.  Instead, newly stressed are ALBA’s pragmatic and positive contributions to integration, with an increasing focus on praxis through grannacionals.  These pragmatic containers of revolutionary insight will serve to both preserve the sovereignty  of ALBA member states but also liberate them from control by the great powers, and principally the United States (id.).  Whether ALBA can deliver remains to be seen.  What ALBA ideology has provided, however, is a conceptual base from which opposition can be even marginally maintained and a basis for unity against a greater power.        

C.  Practical Expression (Praxis)

Conception, ideology and organization can only take a supra-national organization so far.  The real value of an organization beyond its ideological purpose, is measured by its implementation.  ALBA is a young organization.  However, it has begun to elaborate a series of programs to provide a basis for understanding how the Member States intend to translate ideology and concept to reality on the ground. Since ALBA’s inception, a number of projects have been initiated or announced (Regueiro Bello 2007).  These include plans for a fisheries EG, forestry EG, a coffee EG between Venezuela and Dominica, four energy related EG between Venezuela and Bolivia, an ALBA zone Hotels EG, a mining EG between Ecuador and Venezuela, an import-export bank to facilitate trade, an energy EG among Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and, a number of mining and extractive minerals EGs, and a transport EG between Cuba and Venezuela (Backer 2010).  The object is to provide an organizational basis for trade stimulation within the ALBA zone and internationally (Ramírez Cruz et al. 2007, at

ALBA’s most important economic efforts have centered on the establishment of PETROCARIBE, an energy cooperation agreement proposed by Venezuela to Caribbean nations which aims to resolve the asymmetries that said nations have in accessing energy resources. (ALBA, PetroCaribe, Energía para la union, n.d.). Its objective is to contribute to the transformation of Latin American and Caribbean societies into more just, cultured, participatory and solid minded by removing social inequalities, promoting an improved quality of life through the effective participation of the people in the determination of the affairs of their respective states (Id.). The program has produced a number of trade agreements that represent state to state barter relations centered on the provision of Venezuelan petroleum.

One of the most potentially far-reaching projects of ALBA has been its efforts to build an alternative sovereign finance system around the Banco de ALBA (ALBA January 26, 2008).  Its  founders hope that it will serve as the blueprint for the future financial system through which ALBA’s social, cooperative, and grandnnational projects are to be funded. (ALBA January 24-26, 2008). In the area of finance, however, Banco del Sur has emerged as another project that, although not within the framework of ALBA, is also being promoted in an effort to create a wholly South American source of funding and economic solidarity (Cardona 2008).   In addition to serving as the financial center for ALBA, efforts have begun to develop the “sucre” to replace the U.S. dollar as the currency of inter state transactions (ALBA March 3, 2009). The object is to aid efforts at integration in a way that avoids the incidental and perceived detrimental effects of national economies bound by connections to the U.S. dollar (Id.).

Grannacional projects were newly developed and present one of the most interesting features of ALBA applied ideological work. Much of ALBA’s efforts are now channeled through this device.  Grannacionals represent an effort of creating a socialist forms of multinational enterprise (Backer 2010).  However, it is also meant to serve as a new means of organizing state sector activity not traditionally undertaken through commercial enterprises. The conception of grannacional projects is understood as essentially political (ALBA Jan. 27, 2008) and is divided into three components: historical and geopolitical, socio-economic, and ideological.  They are meant to apply to the forms of economic organization of the ALBA zone the political dimensions used to frame ALBA itself (Backer 2010). As a unique form of ideological implementation, the grannacional enterprise is understood as experimental (ALBA Jan. 27, 2008).  

Grannacionales are meant to serve as the great vehicle for state directed development through integration.  They are the embodiment of an ideology that sees economic activity as a means to satisfy public policy rather than as an end in itself (that is as a vehicle to maximize individual welfare). That union is bound up in notions of Marxist economic determinism (Backer 2010):  union will be achieved as the inevitable consequence of global dynamics dominated for the moment by the great industrial powers and blocks of economically hegemonic states. (ALBA Jan. 27, 2008). Even the name of these projects—gran-nacional—is meant to cement the ideological component of the undertaking, suggesting a national grouping cemented through its political-economic relations but which would also respect national peculiarities and sovereignty (id.).

This experimentation manifests in two concrete forms—proyectos grannacionales (PG) and empresas grannacionales (EG).  PG programs include all programs undertaken to benefit the greatest number under the ideological framework and goals of ALBA, approved by ALBA Member States, and whose execution requires the participation of two or more ALBA Member States (Backer 2010). This organization is grounded in ALBA’s normative construction of principles of “just trade” and solidarity commerce, which is sometimes reduced to three principles—barter transactions, non-reciprocity in trade relations, and differential treatment of trade partners to advance national and development objectives (comercio compensado, no-reciprocidad, y trato diferenciado).  (Girvan 2008, 5-9).  

PGs organize productive activities; EGs implement them in an orderly way. (ALBA Jan. 27, 2008). EGs are meant to embody an alternative to the model of the private multinational enterprise, which seeks to maximize the welfare of its shareholders and other important stakeholders (Backer 2010).  EGs are said to invert the traditional maximization model by seeking to maximize the welfare of the objects of economic (or other) activity, embodying what is meant by the ideological focus on “just commercial zone” within the ALBA region.  EGs can be organized under the incorporation rules of any one of the participating ALBA Member States, interest in which is measured through share ownership by participating ALBA Member States. (ALBA Jan. 27, 2008). But they might also  be organized under special legislation, rather than (Telesur Jan. 29, 2010). 

PGs and EGs have been used increasingly to organize state sector economic activity within and across ALBA states.  In states like Cuba with minimal private sector activity of any significance, the use of these vehicles merely suggests a rearranging of the economic sectors affected (Backer 2010).  In other ALBA states, especially Venezuela and Bolivia, the result has been to effect a nationalization of economic sectors by a process of public privatization—that is the use of private sector entities “owned” by the states that also regulate the enterprises operating in that sector.  Typical of the hybridity of objective  inherent in these projects was the creation in 2008 of the ALBA Network of Food Trade and the ALBA Food Security Fund (Cumbre residencial de Managua 2008), which was created to “guarantee food security in the Caribbean, Central, and South American regions” (Suggett 2009).  At the time, Hugo Chavez declared: “‘We are going to create a supranational company, like a transnational company, but in this case with the concept of a great nation, to produce food with the goal of guaranteeing food sovereignty to our people” (Id.).

The principal effect of ALBA has been an increase in state to state trade, especially among the ALBA founders, whose commercial trade increased from $973 million (U.S.) in 2001 to $2.4 billion (U.S.) in 2005.  (Lomas Morales 2006).  The primacy of the state to state activities in defining the scope of the trade relationships between ALBA states was set with the initial agreement, a highlight of which was the agreement to trade Venezuelan petroleum for the services of Cuban doctors to be supplied by the respective states (ALBA December 14, 2004, art. 12 & propuestos). Venezuela, for its part, agreed to similar reciprocal arrangements (Id.).  This form of has served as a template for the widely publicized social justice element of trade among ALBA states (ALBA April 27-28, 2005). One group of programs is focused on education (Lomas Morales 2006). Another group has focused on programs of delivery of medical care (Backer, 2010, Lomas Morales 2006, 3). Still another group of programs are tied to notions of mass social mobilizations in the service of social justice ideals as conceived by the directing states.  One, Mission Vuelvan Caracas, seeks to train and educate the Venezuelan people so that they may work alongside the government in transforming the social and economic landscape of the country (Lomas Morales 2006).

III.  ALBA in its Context

For all of its purported uniqueness, ALBA operates in a regional context richly layered with traditional trade arrangements (Ayllon 1997). Contextualizing ALBA within these traditional forms draws in sharper focus those characteristics that make ALBA unique and influential and suggests that though the ideology of integration may be unique to ALBA, its form is not (Backer & Molina 2010). For this purpose, this section focuses on ALBA’s relationship to MERCOSUR and the ALADI system.   

The traditional models for integration are well represented in Latin America through MERCOSUR. MERCOSUR was established in 1990 among Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay to promote trade among its members. Its history is well known  (Porrata-Doria 2005; 7-21). Through MERCOSUR, these states sought to establish a common market that permits more unimpeded movement of goods, services, modes of production through the elimination of customs duties and non-tariff restrictions on goods of the member states (MERCOSUR 1991). The MERCOSUR framework suggests a level of centralization beyond mere inter governmentalism, that though unrealized to some great extent (Barral 2007).

Yet, Latin American integration has also followed a model of unstructured and organic development, nicely exemplified in the Latin American Association for Integration (Treaty of Montevideo 1980).  ALADI was created in 1980 through the Treaty of Montevideo, has, as a primary objective, the creation of a common Latin American market (ALADI, Tratado de Montevideo 1980). The common market is to be created through the use of preferential tariff treatment among member nations, as well as through the signing of regional and bilateral agreements. “ALADI seems to be primarily a framework within which member states can negotiate and enter into economic integration agreements with each other and a ‘keeper of the flame’ for the ideal of integration in Latin America” (Porrata-Doria 2005, 16). ALADI has set the conceptual stage for the proliferation of a wide variety of arrangements among its members.  It, in a sense, made ALBA possible.

ALBA follows a similar decentralized model, even as it furthers an ideological framework inimical to those of these other entities.  It has developed a similar set of institutions—all tightly dependent on the will of and serving the interests of, the member states.  Divided on functional bases, ALBA is divided into a series of commissions through which common positions might be taken and agreements among ALBA member states concluded.  ALBA is more horizontally constructed than ALADI, but it takes ALADI’s intergovernmentalism one-step farther.  There is no autonomy in the supra-national bodies that constitute ALBA.  The focus remains on state sovereign rights, and tight control of integration.  There is little in the construction of these organizations that suggest any move toward the development of autonomous supra national governance institutions with any sort of independent regulatory power.  These are passive, flow through, organizations.  They are more joint venture than integrative body.

These connections suggest both the singularity of ALBA and its relationship with the now almost ancient tradition of trade integration that has also marked Latin American state-to-state economic relations. That embedding within the great social, political and cultural movements in Latin America suggests a contextual complexity that is worth unpacking.  ALBA implicates the competing pressures of integration and nationalism (Ayllon 1997) and the relationship of both to the maintenance of vertically arranged hierarchies of power among states. The great innovation of ALBA is that partial integration under its model is heavily controlled by states. Yet ALBA remains leery of the use of integration as a doorway for the creation of autonomous supra-national organs.  It seeks to cultivate national power within an integrationist framework powerful enough to stand against the interests of greater powers. The competing pressures of integration and nationalism parallels that between public and private sector actors for control of economic development and policy. ALBA tilts heavily toward a public market model, grounding its development on the presumption that private markets ought to be incidental to and fill in gaps in public market activity.  The engine that drives the economy is the state, even when the state is economically near collapse (Backer September 24, 2010). 

ALBA suggests the difficulties of attempting to overcome patterns of integration within Latin America.  Though ALBA presents a conscious inversion of the dominant private markets model on which contemporary trade and investment agreements are framed, that inversion is grounded precisely in the forms adopted for the implementation of that model and its ultimate integrationist aspirations. The partial trade agreements for which ALADI is famous is nicely mimicked by the current crop of ALBA projects. The intergovernmentalism of ALBA is the hallmark of ALADI. This difficulty highlights the difficulties of mediating state policies between mutual advantage and competition among states.  Borders include those within it and exclude those outside them.  ALBA asymmetrical and episodic approach to commercial and trade arrangements constructs borders within borders under its framework of multiple joint venture arrangements, even as ALBA seeks to present a unified ideological and political front.

Still, there is some value to ideological unity in its own right, even in the context of potentially disastrous economic decisions.  Cuba stands as a reminder of this sort of power.  ALBA stands as a reminder that ideology matters; fundamentals and grounding assumptions about the operation of state and non state actors, and their powers and prerogatives matter. If one can control the ideological basis for the approach to an issue—like trade and investment—one can effectively control the parameters through which the issue is understood and systems constructed.  Indeed, even in the construction of trade arrangements within and outside the ALBA zone, ideology and ideological education may well be the principal aim of ALBA, at least in its initial stages of development (Azicri 2008) and its most important product.

More problematic, perhaps, is ALBA’s unavoidable oppositional orientation. ALBA remains expressed in the negative—as an effort to combat the influence and dominance of the United States. ALBA is deepens Latin America’s conjunction of anti-Americanism and integration, which has had significant application to Latin American-U.S. relations.  (Carrasco 1994).  Oppositional politics, and economic policies, has tended to ill serve its proponents, except perhaps in the short term.  Yet in the absence of opposition, it is not clear that ALBA has much meaning.  Ironically, though, the focus on opposition leaves its object, the United States, still firmly in control of the destiny of the ALBA zone.  Oppositional policies follow, they do not lead.

V.  Conclusion,

ALBA has proven compelling for governments increasingly overwhelmed by new sorts of governance power--private, multinational and governance based. For small states, ALBA provides a way to combine resources to resist both the public power of large states and the private power of large transnational economic enterprises.  It suggests a means to resist exploitation by public and private actors.  Equally important, ALBA now serves as a means of aggregating and institutionalizing responses to and challenges of American power in the Western Hemisphere. (Chavez 2005). ALBA also institutionalizes opposition to the current framework of economic globalization and attempts to challenge the hegemony of the current framework for constituting trade among states (Backer 2006a)—grounded in private economic activity and a passive state regulatory role, the so called Washington Consensus (Stiglitz 2003, 16), based on the assumption that "growth occurs through liberalization, 'freeing up' markets. Privatization, liberalization, and macrostability are supposed to create a climate to attract investment, including from abroad. This investment creates growth" (Id., at 67).

There is little consensus on the nature and value of ALBA, even within the Western Hemispheric community of public and private actors.  Some view ALBA as a great threat to the current system of economic globalization and to the deepening of global constitutionalism. Most prominent among these is the United States, which views it as essentially a site for anti-democratic, human rights violating propaganda combined with an anti-U.S. political agenda. (United States Senate Armed Services Committee 2008).  Others view ALBA as little more than an ideologically curious variation on the large number of partial preference free trade agreements that have proliferated in Latin America since the 1980s under the Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración (ALADI) framework. Still others have suggested that there is little, either institutionally or programmatically that distinguishes ALBA from the machinations of the nation states that comprise its various disconnected programs. (Girvan 2008). ALBA member states, of course, view the enterprise as the greatest innovation in hemispheric integration since the Soviet Revolution of 1917 by combining European Marxism, Latin American nationalist anti-colonialism and the vision of integration that has haunted Latin America since the 19th century wars of liberation. “Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba’s national assembly, has called ALBA the best guarantee for the consolidation of an anti-imperialist front.” (Johnson 2006).  There is a little bit of truth in each of these views.

Integration can also serve as a proxy for strong state interventions under the cover of private markets internationalism and in this way also subvert the post colonial projects of national liberation.  But it can also serve to liberate individuals from the oppression of cliques and ideologies that hijack the apparatus of states by posing supra-national norms against narrow assertions of state power. ALBA presents an ideological and functional alternative and challenge to transnational institutions built on the operating assumptions of economic globalization, and the developing convergence of public and private law. And its potential to provide a public sector variant on private sector globalization should not be underestimated. It is no longer focused on eliminating borders for the production and management of private capital; instead it is focused on using borders as a site for the assertion of public authority to control all aspects of social, political, cultural, and economic activity. Yet it is also deeply embedded in the great web of partial economic associations that characterize economic governance in Latin America. 

ALBA focuses on changing the terms of debate about trade, the role of states, and the place of private economic activity across borders.  In this respect, certainly, ALBA may represent one of Cuba’s greatest triumphs and also its greatest challenge to the normative tenets of the current framework of economic globalization.  But the framework within which ALBA can grow also defines the limits of its influence.  It is not clear that within a deep system of webs of relationships, one variant—a decidedly socialist and state centered one—will change not merely the framework of discussion about trade but also the economic philosophy of more than a few states in Latin America.


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