ALBA – An Extraordinary Achievement!
By Arthur Shaw
Apr 27, 2007, 11:42

The third summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for America (ALBA) is set to begin April 28 and end the next day in Barquisimetro, Venezuela. ALBA is a socioeconomic and political organization of Latin American and Caribbean states that fosters development and integration of its members through fair trade and wide-ranging cooperation, rather than by imperialist exploitation and the so-called “free trade” touted by the US imperialists.

The idea of the international organization was formulated in 2004 by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and it quickly won the support of Cuban President Fidel Castro. The two leaders formally launched the organization in April 2005 at a summit between them in Havana. At the 2005 summit, the two leaders signed about 50 deals that have in only two years more than quadrupled trade between the two countries.

The 2005 ALBA deal between Cuba and Venezuela was bilateral in genesis but multilateral in effect. The two countries started a program under ALBA which they called Mission Miracle which aims to restore the sight of over 2,000,000 blind people in Latin America and Caribbean. In the beginning, Cuba provided the medical services and Venezuela provided the money for the program. Today, ALBA’s Mission Miracle has restored the eyesight of almost 500,000 Latin Americans and Caribbeans from 28 different countries, who, for the most part, have been flown to Havana or to Caracas for eye surgery. Transportation, surgery, dinners, and housing in Havana and Caracas are free of charge. Another ALBA program intends to graduate 200,000 physicians in 10 years in Latin America and the Carribean. Already two Schools of Medicine functioning, one in Cuba and one in Venezuela, and more are planned in other countries.

Mission Miracle is a glorious display of revolutionary humanism which bourgeois society, utterly decadent, cannot comprehend or otherwise appreciate.

The astonishing success of the ALBA relationship between Venezuela and Cuba stimulated the interest of other Latin American and Caribbean countries in the organization. At the 2006 summit in Havana, Bolivia joined ALBA under the leadership of newly elected President Evo Morales. Both Venezuela and Cuba have since poured billions of dollars of aid into Bolivia, the poorest country in South America.

Among other things, Cuba has already dispatched well over a 1000 doctors to Bolivia. They are treating the Bolivian population without charge. They have built over a dozen hospitals and clinics of various kinds and equipped these facilities with the latest medical equipment and supplies, most of which were manufactured in Cuba. Cuba has also launched the world famous “Yes, I can” program that aims to wipe out illiteracy in Bolivia in 30 months. In the sphere of fair trade, Cuba and Venezuela have agreed to purchase all of Bolivian soy exports, if necessary, after the US imperialists, led by Mr. George W. Bush, indicated that US market access will be denied to Bolivia soy in favor of soy exported from Colombia. Soy is Bolivia’s main agricultural export.

Venezuelan trade and cooperation with Bolivia under the auspices of ALBA is so massive and wide-ranging that the people and leadership of other Latin America and the Caribbean countries are amazed. Venezuela has helped Bolivia with its current energy needs and with the development of Bolivia’s immense reserves of natural gas. Venezuela has also helped Bolivia escape from its bondage to predatory international financial organizations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter American Development Bank, all three institutions are totally dominated by the US imperialists.

When Bolivia joined ALBA at the 2006 summit in Havana, Daniel Ortega was present as an observer. At the time Ortega was a presidential candidate in Nicaragua. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez walked up to Mr. Ortega and said “Daniel, you should come back to this meeting next year [April 2007] as the president of Nicaragua.” Since then the people have elected Ortega as their president in another sweeping democratic victory for the left in Latin America. On Saturday, April 28, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is expected to be in Barquisimetro, Venezuela at the third summit of ALBA. But Ortega didn’t wait for the 2007 summit; Nicaragua joined ALBA on the same day that Ortega took the oath of office in January 2007.

Nicaragua, which was a close ally of US imperialists until the November 2006 presidential election, is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti. Bolivia is the poorest in South America and the third poorest in the hemisphere.

Expecting the same kind of aid that Bolivia has received, not even the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie, which ordinarily grovels before US imperialists, has seriously criticized Nicaragua’s decision to join ALBA. The Cubans are now doing their thing in Nicaragua in the fields of health care, education, engineering, security, etc. The Venezuelans are doing their thing, again on a truly massive scale, with special emphasis in the fields of energy cooperation, financial assistance, health care, education, agriculture, and housing.

Positive results from ALBA in Nicaragua are already discernible after only four months of membership.

In February 2007, Hugo Chavez visited three English-speaking Caribbean countries –Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda. The heads of government of the three countries are respectively Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister Ralph E. Gonsalves, and Prime Minister Winston Baldwin Spencer.

The three Caribbean heads of government signed a memorandum of understanding that says their countries support the “principles” on which ALBA is based.

It is still unclear what, if anything, this means. We know that trade and cooperation agreements between the three English-speaking Caribbean countries and Venezuela and Cuba have existed for years, even before the ALBA relationships that involve Bolivia and Nicaragua. So, this signed memorandum of understanding contemplates something more than mere “principles,” because Venezuelans and Cubans are already working in the three countries in a variety of fields. The three Caribbean countries are already members of Petrocaribe through which Venezuela supplies oil and gas to them on preferential terms.

The three Caribbean gentlemen named above don’t come off as card-carrying revolutionaries like Chavez, Castro, Morales, and Ortega. Rather Skerrit, Gonsalves, and Spencer resemble middle class liberals; so one has to be cautious about the legal effect of ALBA memorandum of understanding that they signed. Whatever their political and ideological identity, they are political winners in their respective countries and they have a voice in Caricom, OAS, UN and number of other important international bodies.

Indeed, the three countries seem to support ALBA more in practice than in principle.

What appears to be the case is that the three English-speaking Caribbean countries have some kind of relationship with ALBA that lies between membership and non-membership. Perhaps, their relationship will be more clearly defined this week at the third ALBA summit in Barquisimetro, Venezuela, if they show.

There is a possibility that Ecuador may join ALBA. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is now engaged in a bitter political fight to rewrite the constitution of Ecuador. So, now may not be the most opportune moment to enter ALBA formally although Correa may show at the summit in Barquisimetro this week as an observer.

In May 2007, ALBA will launch its international TV network for member countries and others to promote among other things, socialism, democracy, proletarian internationalism and anti-imperialism

Now, finally, to the big and burning question.

Who will represent Cuba at Barquisimetro?

The idea of a summit implies a meeting of either heads of state or of government. The president of Cuba is both the head of state and of government. However, Fidel Castro, 80, is recovering from a serious illness and his brother Raul serves as acting head of state and government. With Fidel in the hospital, it is unlikely that Raul will leave the country. The third ranking official in the Cuban government seems to be Commander of the Revolution Juan Almeida, a vice president of the council of state like Raul, but Almeida doesn’t go abroad often.

This leaves, among a few others, Carlos Lage, yet another vice president of the council of state or Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Rogue to head the Cuban delegation to Barquisimetro. The requirements of protocol imply that it will be Lage because he, as a Cuban vice president, seems closer in status to a head of state than the foreign minister.

In the unlikely event, that Fidel has sufficiently recovered, it’s possible that he will pop up at Barquisimetro and shock the world. This is the kind of thing he likes to do. Again, this is … lamentably … unlikely.

Given the pathological attempts by the US imperialists to isolate Venezuela and Cuba, ALBA is an extraordinary achievement for all of the seven or so countries involved and especially for the Venezuelans and their exceptionally talented president.

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