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ALBA advances

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  • Fred Fuentes
    http://www.progresoweekly.com/index.php?progreso=Eduardo_Dimas&otherweek= * ALBA advances* * * *Utopia could become a reality* *By Eduardo Dimas* At the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2007
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      * 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
      didn't happen.

      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
      those regions.

      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 beginning.

      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
      sacrosanct market."

      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.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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