* ALBA advances*
*Utopia could become a reality*
*By Eduardo Dimas*
At the beginning, in 2003, the project seemed utopian. The
governments of Venezuela and Cuba proclaimed ALBA (the Bolivarian
Alternative for the Americas), a concept created by Hugo Ch?vez with
the support of Cuban President Fidel Castro. At the same time, the
U.S. government and the oligarchies from several Latin American
nations pushed the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), which was
to begin operations in January 2005, according to W. Bush. That
The FTAA was running into reefs. Several Latin American countries,
led by Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina -- all members of Mercosur --
refused to enter into negotiations that would exclusively benefit
U.S. interests to the detriment of their own nations' interests. The
Doha summit failed, as a consequence of the refusal of the big
economic powers (the U.S., the European Union and Japan) to stop
subsidizing their agricultural products.
Meanwhile, Venezuela and Cuba entered a series of accords on matters
of health care, education and the economy, for the benefit of both
countries. Operation Miracle restored the sight of thousands of
Venezuelans afflicted with cataracts and other eye diseases. About
28,000 Cubans doctors and health technicians were in Venezuela,
donating their services. At the same time, a literacy campaign using
the Cuban system "Yes I Can" allowed more than one million
Venezuelans to learn to read and write, and to go on to higher
In exchange, Cuba received 98,000 barrels of crude oil per day, and
protocols were signed to start up the refinery at Cienfuegos. Credit
lines were opened so the island might acquire Venezuelan products,
which led to growth in the small and medium-size industries in that
country. Social, banking and commercial accounts of new types were
established between two Third-World nations.
In early 2006, after the inauguration of President Evo Morales,
Bolivia also joined ALBA and welcomed Operation Miracle and the
literacy campaign. Bolivia, one of the region's poorest countries,
could provide free medical coverage for the first time in its
history. Hospitals donated by Cuba and Venezuela were built in
strategic locations. At present, Operation Miracle has restored the
sight of thousands of Bolivians, Panamanians, Peruvians, Nicaraguans
and even a U.S. citizen.
At the beginning of this year, the new governments in Ecuador and
Nicaragua announced their intention to join ALBA, bringing the number
of nations that participate in this new form of relationship between
peoples to five. This, despite the fact that ALBA has faced and faces
problems derived from the incomprehension of other governments. ALBA
has even been looked upon with contempt by powerful economic sectors
that refuse to accept the changes occurring in the region.
What has been missing? Political will. The desire to pay off the old
social debt that the Latin American oligarchies owe their people.
However, other elements of change, such as the Southern Gas Pipeline,
PetroCaribe, and the idea of a Bank of the South -- all proposed by
Ch?vez -- have been welcomed because they suit the various
governments' economic interests and future ambitions, especially
those with a nationalist vision. It is part of the game that
necessarily has to be played to achieve integration in Latin America.
But ALBA not only dreams. It advances. On Jan. 24, the governments of
Venezuela and Cuba signed 16 accords of cooperation in areas such as
steel manufacturing, telecommunications, agriculture and tourism,
totaling about $1.854 billion. So far, both nations have entered into
12 joint ventures involving different sectors of the economy and
The common element in all those instruments is the interrelation and
complementation of the two economies. The Venezuelan economy boasts
great economic riches, especially crude oil. The Cuban economy has a
scientific-cultural base in many branches of human knowledge that
permit it to deal with the execution of major economic plans for
which it has no resources.
One of the main accords is to promote the extraction and refining of
Cuban ferronickel for the production of stainless steel in Venezuela.
To that end, $600 million will be invested in the steel plants and
about $521 million in the ferronickel plant in Cuba.
One of the accords envisions the creation of a Multidisciplinary
Group for the study and start-up of an international system of
telecommunications between the two countries. An underwater
fiberoptic cable will be laid between La Guaira, state of Vargas, in
Venezuela and the city of Siboney, in the province of Santiago de
Cuba. The cable will have two additional linkage points for any
countries in the Caribbean and Central America that wish to share the
The tourism agreement envisions the development of recreational
tourism through the construction of hotels and resorts in several
keys (islets) in both countries. The agreement allows 100,000
low-income Venezuelans to spend their vacations in Cuba any time of
the year. In addition, an accord provides that rice produced in
Venezuela be exported to Cuba.
In the important (and, for Cuba, fundamental) industry of oil
prospecting, another accord authorizes Petr?leos de Venezuela S.A.
(PDVSA) to take over the search for crude oil in four regions in
Cuba's territorial waters on the Gulf of Mexico. According to
geological studies, major fields of crude and natural gas exist in
In this manner, PDVSA joins six other transnational oil companies
that carry out prospecting in Cuban waters. This accord is in
addition to the pact signed in April 2006 between PDVSA and Cuba
Petr?leo (CUPET) for the refining of heavy hydrocarbons in the
refinery of Cienfuegos and the exchange of technology.
Venezuela thus becomes Cuba's main trading partner. Last year, the
volume of commercial transactions between the two countries rose to
$2.64 billion. To some, it may seem a small amount, when compared
with other countries or even some transnational corporations, but
these are small economies --particularly Cuba's -- and this is only
The main beneficiary is, of course, the Cuban economy, which is still
feeling the consequences of the disappearance of the Soviet Union and
the rest of the socialist bloc, plus the increasingly harsh measures
that are part of the blockade imposed by the United States more than
46 years ago. With the incorporation of Bolivia, Nicaragua and,
later, Ecuador, ALBA is no longer just a dream of justice and
cooperation among nations but a palpable reality, as demonstrated by
the accords signed by Cuba and Venezuela.
After closing the signing ceremony, President Ch?vez delivered a long
speech, from which I have extracted two paragraphs that I consider
fundamental: "...the ALBA continues to advance, the ALBA continues to
concretize and deepen, while -- as comrade Lula said recently in Rio
de Janeiro -- nobody talks about the FTAA anymore," Ch?vez said.
"About ALBA and the mechanisms and alternative processes of
integration people talk and will talk in days to come with more
profusion, more intensity. Not only that, but these mechanisms will
concretize in a progressive manner, in a growing manner ..."
Later, he said: "Here, we are truly willing to be free [...] and to
give an example to the other nations, to the other governments, a
modest example of how, with political will, we can -- and this is
Fidel's phrase -- achieve miracles. With political will,
near-miracles can be achieved, and that is crushing for the
neoliberal theories, which would rather leave everything to the
It may be too soon to declare a definitive victory over the FTAA,
which has been converted by the United States into free-trade
agreements with various countries. The road before ALBA is plagued by
powerful interests that oppose the well-being of the people, and
reject economic development with justice and equity, which is the
foundation of this plan. Those powerful interests mainly oppose the
region's independence and sovereignty.
How far will it be possible to go? It's hard to tell. Perhaps until
the total emancipation of Latin America, a condition that is closely
linked to the economic and political integration of its states. But
now ALBA advances and the union of various peoples and governments of
Latin America is strengthened, joining other, no less promising
phenomena that lead to integration. Let us hope that nothing and
nobody can stop that process.
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