Building a Better World, South of the Border

This week we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), an anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal alliance of Latin American countries. ALBA, meaning dawn in Spanish, is a cooperative regional organization advancing Latin American integration as an alternative to unbalanced neoliberal trade advocated by Washington.

Latin America today is in stark contrast to the Latin America of even just 15 years ago in its independence from the US empire and in its repudiation of corporate control of their economies. ALBA countries’ successes can be seen both in economic development and in the political and social advances made.

ALBA stands in opposition to corporate neoliberal domination and instead focuses on sustainable development with social justice, the right of Latin America countries to determine their own futures, equality between states, and the construction of a new multi-polar world. The alliance has provided relief to over 70 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean from the predatory and parasitic trade and debt relationships imposed by the US corporate rule.

ALBA has helped to create a second epoch of Latin American unity and independence, aims to free the peoples from poverty and illiteracy, and to build an economic model serving their needs. ALBA fosters regional integration and cooperation, particularly in the fields of health, education, culture and financial integration.

President Chávez proposed ALBA at the Third Summit of Heads of State of South America and the Caribbean in 2001, as a humanistic alternative to President Bush’s supposed “free trade” agreement for the entire region, which was aimed at advancing U.S. corporate domination of the Americas. Chavez stated, ”There will be no independence in Venezuela if there is no integration of the nations of these people of South America and the Caribbean … Only united will we be free, only united can we raise the levels of development that our peoples need in order to live in dignity.”

This was the great goal of Simón Bolívar, the Liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, who foretold that unless the new republics banded together, they would be prey to the then growing power of the United States.

When founded on December 14, 2004 by Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, ALBA consisted of only Venezuela and Cuba. One of the first agreements was the mutually beneficial trade of Venezuelan oil for Cuba health care services. ALBA now includes nine other countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vicente and the Grenadines, and now St. Kitts and Nevis, and Grenada.

In contrast to organizations like the G8 or G20, ALBA’s structure provides a participating role not just to government leaders, but to leaders of the progressive social movements in their countries – hence the word “people” in its title.

ALBA became the forerunner of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which is now displacing the US dominated Organization of American States as the genuine political representative and decider in the region, and of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), aimed at preserving the defense of the region and of resolving conflicts without the interference of the U.S.

What has ALBA achieved?

One key success has been its political impact. It has solidified an anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal bloc in the Americas. Now the Americas show much more political independence from U.S. control than the European Union. ALBA has also stimulated South-South trade and cooperation, while weakening U.S. power in Latin America.

Not only are Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Cuba’s Fidel and Raul Castro, and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro known for their strong anti-U.S. imperialist positions, but the ALBA countries as an anti-imperialist bloc have made strong statements against the U.S. sponsored wars in Syria and Libya, the U.S.-Israel attacks on Gaza, against the U.S. blockade of Cuba, against U.S. police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri, in defense of journalists such as Julian Assange, and demanded UN action against the U.S. for its massive global spying program. Here these countries’ leaders speak for all of humanity.

ALBA has set the example in implementing a plan to meet the needs of the Haitian people after the 2010 earthquake, focusing on their housing, health, food, literacy, clean water and energy needs.

The ALBA countries, through their social programs, have shown that a new world is possible, and is now being built. One historic achievement of their bloc is the eradication of illiteracy by implementing Cuba’s educational programs “Yo Sí Puedo” and “Yo, Sí Puedo Seguir.” Now, not just Cuba, but Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, are all free of illiteracy. So far, 3,800,000 have learned to read and write and 1,175,000 have completed a primary educational level.

ALBA countries provide scholarships for students to study in 89 different fields, with 789 students coming from ALBA countries. Many of the universities are in Venezuela. Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine has graduated over 20,786 (by 2013), 8,398 from ALBA countries, while Venezuela’s Latin American School of Medicine has graduated 2,348 from 42 countries, 1332 of them from ALBA countries – all free of charge.

These educational programs illustrate another asset of ALBA: it has enabled the Latin American countries to more easily learn from and share each others’ beneficial social programs. Now, Bolivia and Ecuador are building free universities in the countryside where none existed previously, based on Chavez’ programs, which were learned from Cuba.

Mision Milagro, an ALBA program begun in 2004, has performed free eye surgery on 3.5 million people, restoring or improving their vision. ALBA also aids those with physical or psychological disabilities, aiding 1.3 million people, including 850,000 provided with prosthesis for their assistance.

ALBA has vastly improved their peoples’ access to medicines, and has largely relied on the 82,000 Cuban doctors on the continent, who work free of charge. ALBA countries’ infant mortality rates have been cut by one-third.

The 12th ALBA Summit agreed “to convert our countries, not into zones of free trade, but in zones free of hunger, illiteracy, misery and marginalization.” Over 11 million people have been raised out of poverty in the last 7 years, with Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela having cut poverty rates in half.

Contrast this with the trend in the U.S. For half a decade the percent of people in poverty has increased every year, from 12.3% in 2006 to 14.5% per cent in 2013. This amounts to 45 million Americans, and these numbers do not include any of the 12 million undocumented residents. In the U.S. the bottom 90% of households are now poorer than in 1987.*

Income inequality in Bolivia and Ecuador under Presidents Evo Morales and Correa has been cut in half. In contrast, in the US, now the richest 400 own more than does half the population.**

The ALBA- PetroCaribe program also serves to reduce poverty. Venezuela sells oil at market prices to participating countries, which pay 50% of the cost upfront, 25% over 20 years at 2% interest, with 25% invested, through joint Venezuela/participating country poverty reduction programs. In Nicaragua this includes micro credits for peasant farmers through the Zero Usury program; subsidized food for poor people; training in environmentally sustainable farming methods; education, healthcare, school lunch programs; and Zero Hunger programs, which provide women with access to land and materials and livestock for farming.

The ALBA countries have created 12 shared “Grand Enterprises” in order to strengthen their economies. These are in the following areas: ALBA Alimentos, to increase food production; ALBA Bank providing microcredits and capital without traditional US banking debt conditions; discounted petroleum and gas, in conjunction with PetroCaribe; ALBA literacy and post-literacy education programs; ALBATEL to aid in telecommunications and establishing community radio stations in rural and marginal areas; ALBAMed for the production of cheap or free medicines; an infrastructure enterprise that provides cement, sanitation and clean water; an alliance of universities and research; ministerial Council for Women; ALBA Cultura for the defense and promotion of their own cultural heritage; a sports alliance; and the already mentioned health and education programs.

ALBA represents Latin America uniting to help Latin America. For over a century the countries of the region were locked in a neocolonial relation with the United States, which divided the countries from each other, fostering the view that nothing of value could be obtained unless it came from the North. The US rulers regard ALBA as a threat and have attempted to overthrow their governments: Bolivia (2008), Ecuador (2010), Venezuela for the last 12 years, and Cuba for the last 55.

Now, these countries, to varying degrees, have successfully pushed back corporate neoliberalism, and are using their national wealth to meet the needs of their people, and of the peoples in sister countries. The ALBA countries provide an example for the world, such as the people of Greece and Spain suffering under the extortions of international banks and corporations. They provide an example for us here, every year facing further cuts in social programs, while corporate hand-outs and war funding increases. They provide outspoken leadership in the struggle against corporate-created climate change. Ten years of ALBA represents living proof that a new better world is really possible, being built south of our border.

Stansfield Smith, Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5, and member of the Latin America Solidarity Coalition.



See also


Stansfield Smith, Chicago ALBA Solidarity Committee, recently returned from a SOA Watch, Task Force on the Americas delegation to Venezuela.