Member countries of Latin America’s alternative integration bloc, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), met for its 11th summit in Caracas on February 4 and 5 to discuss advancing the organisation.
ALBA is made up of the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda. Formed in 2004, ALBA seeks to develop trade on the basis of solidarity and cooperation.
On February 4, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said member countries had agreed to contribute 1% of their international reserves towards the Bank of the ALBA to create a reserve fund.
The bank was set up in 2008 to provide economic support to people-centred regional projects and contribute to sustainable social and economic development. The bank also aims to act as a regional alternative to the neoliberal International Monetary Fund.
Chavez said Venezuela’s contribution to the bank will be about US$300 million.
The heads of state also discussed the possibility of raising the commercial use of the sucre, the bloc’s virtual currency. The sucre is used for direct trading between the ALBA countries, allowing them to circumvent the US dollar and minimise the foreign-exchange risk.
Venezuelan vice-minister of production and economy Ricardo Menendez said 431 financial transactions using the sucre were carried out between ALBA countries last year, amounting to more than $216 million worth of trade.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa called for the use of the currency to be increased: “Those free trade agreements, free markets, [with] … zero indemnity, annihilating the weak, that’s suicide for our countries ...
“We should encourage fair trade; unite our reserves and financial capacity in the Bank of the ALBA and avoid using foreign currencies.”
Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista president of Nicaragua, also expressed his desire to boost the use of the bloc’s currency. Ortega said he hoped to begin using the sucre within the next few weeks, subject to approval from Nicaragua’s national assembly.
As well as condemning what it called the “systemic policies of destabilisation and interventionism” being implemented in Syria, the bloc signed a document supporting US colony Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination.
ALBA reiterated its support for the Argentinean government in its diplomatic dispute with Britain over the Malvinas (Falkland Islands).
The bloc called for a negotiated settlement to the Malvinas question that does not violate the United Nations' resolution on the British-controlled territory.
Chavez expressed his solidarity with Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner, who is pressing Argentina's case for sovereignty over the Malvinas. He said Argentina would “not be alone” in the event of a conflict with Britain.
Correa said the bloc should impose sanctions against the British government due to its unwillingness to engage in dialogue with Argentina.
Chavez has confirmed that the ALBA group will now review what sanctions may be taken in response to the “negative dialogue” and “ridiculous military threat” from Britain.
The ALBA also criticised the Organisation of American States (which groups 35 nations in the Americas) for its stance of excluding Cuba. The bloc said it would not attend the Summit of the Americas, due to be held in Colombia this April, if Cuba was not invited.
ALBA also agreed to step up humanitarian assistance to Haiti through the formation of an ALBA-Haiti work plan. The project aims to provide emergency relief and help reconstruction efforts in the Caribbean nation, which is still suffering the effects of the earthquake of January 2010.
Member countries agreed to establish a Haiti fund to execute the projects and provide the country’s energy plants with fuel.
Haitian President Michel Martelly thanked ALBA for its continued efforts to help the Caribbean nation in the wake of its humanitarian catastrophe. He added that the new ALBA plan would go towards alleviating extreme poverty in Haiti.
Venezuela and Haiti also signed an independent bilateral agreement to increase cooperation between the two countries.
At the summit, ALBA ratified Saint Lucia and Surinam as two new honorary members to the bloc. It confirmed that soon both countries would be full members of Venezuela’s energy integration organisation, Petrocaribe.
ALBA will also pursue proposals to create regional schools for social movements. It will also pursue a proposal from Bolivian President Evo Morales to create an ALBA “defence council”.
[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]