People's Trade Agreement deepens solidarity

May 10, 2006

In an April 28-29 meeting in Havana, Cuban President Fidel Castro, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales signed the "Agreement for the Application of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas [ALBA] and the People's Trade Agreements". ALBA was initially promoted by the Chavez government in opposition to the US-pushed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which has since been rejected by many Latin American countries. ALBA is based on the principle that to overcome First World, especially US, domination, Latin American nations should work towards economic integration along pro-people, rather than pro-corporate, lines.

The first concrete implementation of the principles of ALBA came with wide-ranging agreements signed between Venezuela and Cuba on December 14, 2004, greatly deepening the economic cooperation between the two countries.

The significance of the latest agreement is the incorporation of Bolivia into ALBA, a further sign that the Morales government, elected in December on the back of mass anti-neoliberal struggles that overthrew the previous two presidents, is willing to confront the interests of imperialism.

Article 1 of the agreement states that the three nations have "decided to take concrete steps toward implementing the process of integration", based on the principles in the original Cuba-Venezuela agreement, "which are hereby accepted and embraced by the Government of Bolivia".

The treaty commits the countries to developing a "strategic plan" to integrate their economies along mutually beneficial lines with an emphasis on "social inclusion, resource industrialization and food security, in a framework of respect and preservation of the environment". The countries agree to "exchange comprehensive technology packages developed in their respective nations". Control over technology is a key way imperialist nations maintain a competitive advantage over Third World countries, and agreeing to share technology is an important step to moving away from competition towards solidarity between the three signatories.

Each country agrees to offer special assistance to the others along the lines of their expertise. For instance, Venezuela agrees to use its experience in the oil industry to help Bolivia develop its still-weak state-run energy industry, while Cuba makes available its expertise in health care and education.

The agreement commits the nations to working towards eradicating illiteracy and spreading free health care throughout Latin America, along the lines of the Cuban-supported programs that have eradicated illiteracy and brought free health care to many of the poor for the first time in Venezuela. The agreements also pledge to strengthen cooperation in fields of sport, culture and communication, with Bolivia agreeing to join Telesur, the Venezuelan-initiated Latin America-wide television station, as a partner.

The direct counter-position between ALBA and the neoliberal model pushed by the US, which prioritises "free trade agreements" with Latin American nations that give US multinationals greater access to markets and resources, was starkly revealed when Venezuela announced on April 20 that it would withdraw from the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) as a result of FTAs signed by Peru and Colombia with Washington. Bolivia has also criticised the agreements.

CAN is an economic community made up of those four countries plus Ecuador. Venezuela and Bolivia claim these agreements violate existing CAN agreements, and that the greater access US multinationals have gained to Colombian and Peruvian markets through the FTAs threatens Venezuelan and Bolivian producers.

A statement issued on April 26 by the Venezuelan government claimed that the interests of producers and consumers in the region were threatened by the FTAs and pointed to the impact on health care, claiming "The FTA negotiations benefit a handful of pharmaceutical multinationals". The statement claimed that "4400 AIDS patients per year [will] no longer be able to access anti-retroviral drugs. They [will] be condemned to die within five years."

From Green Left Weekly, May 10, 2006.
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