This month marked the 10th anniversary of the founding of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), an anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal alliance of Latin American countries.
ALBA, which means dawn in Spanish, is a cooperative regional organisation that advances Latin American integration around an alternative to unbalanced neoliberal trade agreements advanced by the United States.
The Latin America of today stands in stark contrast to the Latin America of even just 15 years ago in regards to its independence from the US empire and in its repudiation of corporate control of their economies. ALBA countries’ successes can be seen both in economic development and in the political and social advances made.
ALBA embodies opposition to corporate neoliberal domination and instead focuses on sustainable development with social justice, the right of Latin America countries to determine their own futures, equality between states, and the construction of a new multi-polar world, freed from imperial control.
The alliance has provided relief to more than 70 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean from the predatory and parasitic trade and debt relationships imposed by the US corporate rule.
ALBA was launched to fight for a second Latin American independence, to free the peoples from poverty and illiteracy, and build an economic model serving their needs.
Since ALBA, Latin America has become more unified regarding their independence. ALBA fosters regional integration and cooperation, particularly in the fields of health, education, culture and financial integration.
Then-Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez proposed ALBA at the Third Summit of Heads of State of South America and the Caribbean in 2001, as a humanistic alternative to then-US president George Bush’s supposed "free trade" agreement for the entire region, which was aimed at escalating US corporate pillaging of the Americas.
Chavez said: "There will be no independence in Venezuela if there is no integration of the nations of these people of South America and the Caribbean … Only united will we be free, only united can we raise the levels of development that our peoples need in order to live in dignity."
This was the great goal of Simon Bolivar, the 19th century Liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, who predicted that unless the new republics banded together, they would be prey to the then growing power of the United States.
When it was founded on December 14, 2004 by Chavez and then-Cuban president Fidel Castro, only Venezuela and Cuba were ALBA members. One of the first agreements was the mutual assistance trade of Venezuelan oil for Cuba heath care services.
ALBA now includes: Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vicente and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, and Grenada.
In contrast to organisations like the G8 or G20, ALBA’s structure provides a participating role not just to government leaders, but to leaders of the progressive social movements in their countries -- hence the word "people" in its title.
ALBA helped spearhead the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which involves all nations in the Americas except for the US and Canada.
CELAC is now displacing the US-dominated Organization of American States as the genuine political representative and decider in the region. Along with the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), it is aimed at preserving the defense of the region and of resolving conflicts without the interference of the U.S.
What has ALBA achieved?
One key success has been its political impact. It has solidified an anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal bloc in the Americas. Now the Americas show much more political independence from US control than the European Union. ALBA has also vastly stimulated South-South trade and cooperation, also weakening US power in Latin America.
Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Cuba’s Raul Castro, and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro known for their strong anti-US imperialist positions. The ALBA countries, as an anti-imperialist bloc, has also made strong statements against US wars in Syria and Libya, the US-Israel attacks on Gaza, against the US blockade of Cuba, in defense of journalists such as Julian Assange, demanded UN action against the US for its huge global spying program, against US police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri, against corporate capitalism’s destructive role in climate change.
ALBA has set the example in implementing a plan to meet the needs of the Haitian people after the 2010 earthquake, focusing on their housing, health, food, literacy, clean water, energy needs.
The ALBA countries, through their social programs, have shown that a new world is possible, and is now being built. One historic achievement of their bloc is the eradication of illiteracy by implementing Cuba’s educational programs “Yo Sí Puedo” and “Yo, Sí Puedo Seguir.”
Now, not just Cuba, but Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, are free of illiteracy. So far, 3,800,000 have learned to read and write and 1,175,000 have completed a primary educational level.
ALBA countries provide scholarships for students to study in 89 different fields, with 789 students coming from ALBA countries. Many of the universities are in Venezuela. Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine has graduated over 20,786 (by 2013), 8,398 from ALBA countries, while Venezuela’s Latin American School of Medicine has graduated 2,348 from 42 countries, 1332 of them from ALBA countries -- all free of charge.
These educational programs illustrate another asset of ALBA: it has enabled the Latin American countries to more easily learn from and share each others’ beneficial social programs. Now, Bolivia and Ecuador are building free universities in the countryside where none existed previously, based on Chavez’ programs, which were learned from Cuba.
Mision Milagro, an ALBA program begun in 2004, has performed free eye surgery on 3.5 million people, restoring or improving their vision. ALBA also aids those with physical or psychological disabilities, aiding 1.3 million people, including 850,000 provided with prosthesis for their assistance.
ALBA has vastly improved peoples access to medicines, and has largely relied on the 82,000 Cuban doctors on the continent, who work free of charge. ALBA countries’ infant mortality rates have been cut by one-third.
The 12th ALBA Summit declared: "[We agree] to convert our countries, not into zones of free trade, but in zones free of hunger, illiteracy, misery and marginalization." Over 11 million people have been raised out of poverty in the last 7 years, with Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela having cut poverty rates in half.
Contrast this with the trend in the US. For half a decade the percent of people in poverty has increased every year, from 12.3% in 2006 to 14.5% per cent in 2013. This amounts to 45 million Americans, and these numbers do not include any of the 12 million undocumented residents. In the U.S. the bottom 90% of households are now poorer than in 1987.*
Income inequality in Bolivia and Ecuador under presidents Eva Morales and Correa has been cut in half. In contrast, in the US, now the richest 400 own more than half the population. **
The ALBA- PetroCaribe program also serves to reduce poverty. Venezuela sells oil at market prices to participating countries, which pay 50% of the cost upfront, 25% over 20 years at 2% interest and 25% is invested, usually through joint Venezuela/participating country poverty reduction programs.
In Nicaragua this includes micro credits for peasant farmers through the Zero Usury program; subsidised food for poor people; training in environmentally sustainable farming methods; education, healthcare, school lunch programs; and Zero Hunger programs, which provide women with access to land, a pregnant cow, pig, chickens and a rooster, materials for building pens, and training in animal husbandry.
The ALBA countries have created 12 shared “Grand Enterprises” in order to strengthen their economies.
These are in the following areas: ALBA Alimentos, to increase food production; ALBA Bank providing microcredits and capital without traditional US banking debt conditions; discounted petroleum and gas, in conjunction with PetroCaribe; ALBA literacy and post-literacy education programs; ALBATEL to aid in telecommunications and establishing community radio stations in rural and marginal areas; ALBAMed for the production of cheap or free medicines; an infrastructure enterprise that provides cement, sanitation and clean water; an alliance of universities and research; ministerial Council for Women; ALBA Cultura for the defense and promotion of their own cultural heritage; a sports alliance; and the already mentioned health and education programs.
ALBA represents Latin America uniting to help Latin America. For over a century the countries of the region were locked in a neocolonial relation with the United States, which divided the countries from each other, fostering the view that nothing of value could be obtained unless it came from the North. The US rulers regard ALBA as a threat and have attempted to overthrow their governments: Bolivia (2008), Ecuador (2010), Venezuela for the last 12 years, and Cuba for the last 55.
Now, these countries, to varying degrees, have successfully pushed back corporate neoliberalism, and are using their national wealth to meet the needs of their people, and of the peoples in sister countries. The ALBA countries provide an example for the world, such as the people of Greece and Spain suffering under the extortions of international banks and corporations.
They provide an example for us here, every year facing further cuts in social programs, while corporate hand-outs and war funding increases. They provide outspoken leadership in the struggle against corporate-created climate change. Ten years of ALBA \represents living proof that a new better world is really possible, being built south of our border.
[Stansfield Smith is a member of the Latin America Solidarity Coalition in Chicago.]