Columbia International Affairs Online: Journals

CIAO DATE: 08/2011

Charticle: The Bolivarian Alternative

Americas Quarterly

A publication of:
Council of the Americas

Volume: 0, Issue: 0 (Spring 2011)

Joel Hirst


What is ALBA and what does it do? A guide to President Chávez and Fidel Castro's regional project.

Full Text

The PockeT Guide To ALBA part 1 What Is the BolIvarIan alternatIve totheamerIcasandWhatdoesItdo? by joel hirst 84 AmericasQuarterly spring 2011 illustrations by shane harrison History At a conference of Caribbean states on the Is- land of Margarita in 2001, Venezuelan Presi- dent Hugo Chávez announced his intention to follow through on the Venezuelan Liberator Simón Bolívar’s political dream of creating an in- tegrated nation-state in South America. “We from Caracas continue promoting the Bolivarian idea of achieving the political integration of our states and our republics.”1 On December 14, 2004, President Chávez and Cuban President Fidel Castro created the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América— Tratado de Comercio de los Pueblos (Bolivarian Al- ternative of the Americas—ALBA). The idea for ALBA springs from the grand vi- sions of Bolívar and the other founding fathers to establish a union of what became Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador under “Gran Colombia.” Bolívar envisioned one powerful Latin Ameri- can nation in opposition to the United States. It was, Bolívar believed, the only way South Amer- ica would be able to stand up and prosper against the powerful giant and rival to the north. The dream collapsed after Bolívar assumed the role of dictator over the unruly body. He resigned a short time later. Almost 200 years after the post-independence wars shattered Bolívar’s grand plan, his vision still generates disorder as another popular movement has become the expression for the imperial am- bitions of another powerful, controversial Ven- ezuelan leader. This draws from full arTicle wriTTen by Joel hirsT. for a compleTe version of The arTicle, please visiT: part 2 Growth Since its founding in Cuba in 2004, ALBA has grown from two to eight members with three observer countries: Haiti, Iran and Syria. Honduras briefly became a member when President Manuel Zelaya was president, but after the June 2009 coup d’etat, the de facto government withdrew. Despite the growth, ALBA represents only a small fraction of the region’s economic share, population and land mass. 2009 2008 2007 2006 2004 countries TOTAL (ALBA countries above) TOTAL population 68,768,907 527,063,512 land mass in square kilometers 2,537,004 17,685,432 economic share GDP in millions of USD 633,505 4,425,134 economic share St. Vincent & the Grenadines Ecuador Antigua & Barbuda Dominica Nicaragua Bolivia Venezuela Cuba 104,574 14,573,101 389 283,561 442 1,069 108,800 1,522 744 751 130,370 1,098,581 16,510 45,560 85,632 349,300 72,660 5,891,199 9,775,246 26,814,843 912,050 110,000 11,451,652 110,860 517,334, 000 check Non-ALBA/LAC countries population land mass spring 2011 Americas Quarterly 85 The PockeT Guide To ALBA part 3 part 4 Ideas conflict ALBA seeks to in- stitutionalize radi- cal conflict (internal and external). Ac- cording to Fernando Bossi, for- mer president of the Bolivarian Congress of Nations, the alli- ance is the next phase of the “ancient and permanent con- frontation between the Latin American and Caribbean peo- ples and imperialism.”2 Coun- tries are required to choose sides, between ALBA and so- cialism or the United States and free-market capitalism.3 21st century socialism The economic model espoused by the ALBA mem- ber states is loosely based on a Trotskyite version of communism outlined by the Mexican academic Heinz Diet- erich. The model includes the now famous “participatory and protagonist democracy” and in- volves the eventual elimination of representative democracy— and its institutional and civil rights—in favor of local partici- pation linked to a strong “caudi- llo” executive. international revolution As Bossi stated, “ALBA is one chap- ter of a global rev- olution.” This has brought ALBA member coun- tries into contact and cooper- ation with revolutionaries the world over, including the lead- ers of Iran, Hezbollah, FARC, ETA, and ELN. The purpose: the creation of a new world order that fulfills ALBA’s vision, which would bring the current institu- tional order to its knees. Essen- tial to this is the collapse of the U.S. as a superpower. 86 Americas Quarterly spring 2011 FTAs vs. ALBA From the beginning, Hugo Chávez devised the Bolivarian Alliance as a substi- tute for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and to combat Western style economic integration with a new economic and political model: Twenty- First Century Socialism. Although the hope for a region-wide FTAA has given way to a series of U.S. individual FTAs in the region (Chile, Central America and the Do- minican Republic, Peru, Colombia and Panama—the latter two pending), ALBA’s ambitions have shifted with the realities of the region. This is how the vision of a free-trade agenda compares with ALBA’s on commerce and investment. part 5 PChávez’ Petro-Diplomacy resident Chávez uses Venezuela’s windfall oil profits to fund “Grand National Projects”—social projects implemented between two or more ALBA member states. Currently there are 12 Grand National Projects in various stages of de- velopment (most with corresponding companies). Some of these include: Cuba’s “Sí, Se Puede” (Yes, We Can) literacy program; Nicaragua’s “Programa Ham- bre Cero” (Zero Hunger Program); a telecommunications project that is running a fiber-optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela (and eventually Jamaica and Nicaragua); and dozens of TV and radio stations and wire services including Ven- ezuela’s own Telesur. Significant logistical support and knowhow for the implementation of the ALBA infrastructure come from well-trained agents of the Cuban government. ftaa alBa oBjectIve Improved quality of life through free trade and economic integration. reduce barriers to foreign direct investment. fight social exclusion and preserve autonomy of latin america. conditional lifting of trade and investment barriers on technology. transfers and development of human resources. agrIcultural PolIcy elimination of agricultural subsidies and tariffs to improve markets. Priority on food security and agricultural production. IPr Protect intellectual property rights (IPr). Privilege access to advanced technology, medicine and food over IPr protections. access to markets eliminate tariffs to increase trade. defend tariffs and other mechanisms to promote and protect local agriculture and industry. government Purchases open markets for bidding on public projects. domestic companies retain priority in the delivery of services procured by the state. conflIct resolutIon International mediation and conflict resolution through international arbitration. use national judiciaries to resolve individual issues; no recognition of foreign companies’ international rights. part 6 Funding In addition to Chávez’ free and subsidized oil, ALBA has created a bank with offices in Venezuela and Cuba and an initial $1 billion in resources, as well as a regional trade currency called the Sistema Único de Compensación Regional (SUCRE). The SUCRE entered into use in 2010 for government-to-government exchanges. Currently pegged at $1.25, the plan is that the SUCRE will eventually float on a basket of member country currencies and that the bank will house member countries’ currency reserves. Venezuela has provided the bulk of this support off book. As a result, a full accounting of Chávez’ support for ALBA may never be known. However, analysis by CIECA, a Ven- ezuelan think tank, as well as the political party Primero Justicia’s research unit, has put the gifts at above $30 bil- lion. By the Venezuelan government’s own public reports, preferential oil deals alone have cost as much as $20 bil- lion over the last five years. Politically, ALBA has been extraordinarily active. In its short seven years of existence it has held 16 ordinary and extraordinary summits. ALBA members use their regu- lar summits to define ALBA positions within interna- tional organizations, where they usually vote as a bloc. Through their powerful lobby and financial largesse, they have assumed targeted political control over the Organization of military component to ALBA. During the Seventh ALBA Summit in Bolivia in 2009, there was discussion of a mu- tual defense pact. At the Summit, Bolivian President Evo Morales stated boldly, “The proposal of my government will be to approve a Regional Defense School with our own doctrine.” Though the agreement was never officially ratified, ALBA soon after moved quietly toward implementation of this idea. In Santa Cruz, Bolivia, they have established the proposed Regional Defense School. ALBA’s defense theory emerges from the writings of Spanish radical phi- losopher Jorge Verstrynge. In his book Peripheral War and Revolutionary Islam—which President Chávez distributed to all members of the Venezuelan army—Verstrynge lays out the doctrine of asymmetric warfare, as practiced by Islamic insurgents over the years. This is, according to Chávez and his military, the only technique which will allow ALBA to withstand what it is convinced will be an attack from the United States. President Chávez and his ALBA fol- lowers are betting their collective futures on the creation of a re- source-wealthy, energy-rich, revo- lutionary South American bloc to disrupt the inter- national order and facili- tate the creation of a “new world order.” Will this new expression of Simón Bolívar’s Latin Ameri- can revolution be better plowed with an oil tanker? American States (OAS). This has allowed them to deflect accusations of violations of the Inter-American Demo- cratic Charter. Finally, there is a nascent ALBA Cuba 92,000 Antigua & Barbuda 4,400 Rebuilt the Cienfuegos refinery to expand capacity from 65,000 BPD to 150,000 BPD, and the Hermanos Díaz refinery. (in barrels per day—bpd) St. Vincent & the Grenadines 1,000 Non-ALBA Expanded Kingston refinery to 50,000 BPD. Belize 4,000 (in barrels per day—bpd) San Cristóbal & Nieves (Galápagos) 700 Dominica 1,000 Grenada 1,000 Built a refinery with a capacity of 75,000 BPD and provided electricity generators. Dominican Jamaica Guatemala Honduras Haiti Suriname Guyana Nicaragua 27,000 Republic 23,500 20,000 20,000 14,000 10,000 5,200 (suspended) 30,000 spring 2011 Americas Quarterly 87