In a summit in Venezuela on June 24, the Caribbean and South American integration organisation ALBA was strengthened by the addition of Ecuador, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda as its newest member countries.
ALBA was formed by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004. Other member-states include Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Dominica.
ALBA, which means "dawn" in Spanish, originally stood for the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, but changed "alternative" to "alliance" at the summit. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez explained: "The ALBA is no longer a theoretical proposal, but a platform of political, territorial, geopolitical power."
Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa said the ALBA bloc, which aspires to supplant neoliberal, US-dominated free trade deals with regional unity, had to build a type of integration that went beyond the economic initiatives that the ALBA and other integration organisations had built so far constructed.
"ALBA is a political project" based on "solidarity, integration, and being the owners of our own destiny", said Correa. "We should not reduce integration to the search for markets."
The final declaration of the summit reflected this broad alliance. It states: "[We recognise] the strengthening of the ALBA and its consolidation as a political, economic, and social alliance in defence of the independence, sovereignty, self-determination, and identity of member countries and the interests and aspirations of the peoples of the South, in the face of attempts at political and economic domination."
ALBA's stated principles include "solidarity, cooperation, complementation, and justice". ALBA countries pledged to support other regional integration initiatives, such as the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) and the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), if, as Correa said, there were no "interferences by those who customarily have attempted to safeguard their profits by taking advantage of our natural and cultural goods".
Honduran foreign minister Patria Rodas said ALBA nations should increase their political power by forming a "united platform regarding their common problems" when attending summits of international organisations such as the United Nations and the Organisation of American States (OAS).
In April, ALBA countries collectively refused to sign the final declaration of the OAS summit on the grounds that the document "offers no answers to the ... global economic crisis" and "unjustifiably excludes Cuba", said a joint statement.
Chavez urged ALBA nations to call for a restructuring of the UN and OAS. "The UN as it is and the OAS as it is are worthless. They do not serve our peoples ... we either restructure them or they will die as institutions."
Chavez said: "The UN has passed many resolutions demanding that the United States end the blockade against Cuba, but it doesn't end. These organisations only serve the powerful countries to legitimise their aggressions, like the US invasion of Iraq."
The strengthening of the ALBA is a functioning example of a burgeoning "pluripolar world", said Chavez.
To accelerate the consolidation of the ALBA's initiatives, the member countries formed ministerial commissions in the areas of political, economic, and social programming. The political commission plans to meet on July 27 in Quito, Ecuador.
Bolivian President Evo Morales proposed the formation of a secretorial commission to continuously collect and record the proposals, discussions, and decisions that take place among member countries.
In economic initiatives, the nine member countries urged each other to solidify what the final declaration calls an "Economic Complementation Zone" that will include a joint bank, common currency, reserve, and compensation system, all of which had started before the June 24 summit.
The bloc has also begun to form a common food production company, and coordinated investments in agricultural production. On Wednesday, US $7 million from the ALBA joint investment fund was earmarked for food security initiatives.
Venezuela offered to open the use of its new, Chinese-made satellite, which was launched last November, to facilitate medical, educational, and rural telephone services in ALBA member countries.
Also, the countries established an education working group to plan the construction of a joint university and to build a network of higher education institutions across the region to conduct research and training for projects that promote the ALBA's core principles.
A commission for women's rights was also established.
[Abridged from Venezuelanalysis.com.]