The Unknown Destiny of the ALBA

By: Carlos Sabino - @Sabino2324 - Aug 9, 2013, 11:54 am

The ALBA or “Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America,” is a coalition of American nations that was formed after a treaty between the presidents of Cuba and Venezuela — at that time Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez — signed in 2004. Other countries following the left-wing populism of Chávez were also added to this initial agreement: Bolivia in 2006, Nicaragua the next year, and Ecuador in 2009. Other country members were also included, like Honduras during president Manuel Zelaya’s time in office, as well as three small Caribbean nations: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, all of which have oil deals to guarantee the deferred payment of purchases made to the oil company of Venezuela.

The ALBA, which also stands for the “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas,” has held many summits between the heads of state between the member nations. The XIII summit took place a few weeks ago in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and was chaired by Rafael Correa, president of that country. Beyond the cold facts, it is proper to recall that during some years, the ALBA represented a personal effort by Hugo Chavez to form a bloc of nations that would give resonance to international policies. The ALBA always stood as anti-imperialist, advocated economic nationalism, and virulently attacked so-called neoliberalism, accusing it of almost all the evils of our nations.

With the economic funds coming from high oil prices, used (and still being used) by the Chavista regime at will, Chávez achieved the support of several nations within the region. He provided funds to bring to power his allies in several nations, tried to destabilize other nations, offered favorable conditions for oil purchases to small nations of Central America and the Caribbean, and created a bloc of nations that came to stand as an instance of power in Latin America.

Lately, however, there have been some events that are rapidly weakening the ALBA.

The first and decisive event was the passing of the undisputed leader of the alliance, the charismatic Chávez. Without him, as can be seen nowadays, the group of member nations of the ALBA lacks a prominent figure to create turmoil in the international scene and show the path to follow because none of the heads of state has the personal magnetism, or the resources, that the Venezuelan leader had. The other event that weighs negatively on the destiny of the ALBA is that Venezuela is facing a truly difficult economic situation, despite the high oil prices. The socialist policies, the waste, and the corruption have created a real crisis in that country. Given a lack of foreign currency, there are constant shortages of basic commodities, and inflation has soared to levels that severely impoverish most of its inhabitants.

The main member countries of the ALBA have shown greater prudence and not implemented the worst economic policies of Chávez. Bolivia, for example, follows a conservative line of fiscal policy; Nicaragua tries to attract investments and maintain the stability of its currency; and Cuba, the point of reference for all the socialist policies in Latin America, has now embarked on a path that slowly drifts away from the extremes reached during the half century when Fidel Castro ruled. His brother Raul, heir of power, is seeking to revitalize its economy with some opening measures, because without strong financial support from Venezuela, Cuba is unable to support itself and guarantee the minimum needs of its people.

Rafael Correa himself has avoided falling into the excesses of Venezuelan socialism. Dollarization, for example, has benefited the country, which has been growing economically at between 4 and 5 percent per year. Correa has also openly expressed his disapproval, during the last ALBA summit, towards the “indigenous fundamentalist movement” that opposes any utilization of natural resources and advocates a radical environmentalism that completely stops progress.

That is the situation of the ALBA; like many supranational structures, it seems to be quickly falling into insignificance. It lacks a leader that stands among the presidents of the member nations; it does not have a source of income like the one once offered by Venezuela; and lastly, it does not have a shared ideological vision. The inclinations of socialists Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, and Daniel Ortega are often expressed in sound statements but, in fact, these governments stand quite away from the socialism that has contributed towards impoverishing the continent.

Carlos Sabino Carlos Sabino

Sociologist, writer, and university professor, Sabino is director of the masters and doctoral programs in history at the University of Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala. Follow him @Sabino2324

The Tower of David

By: Marcela Estrada - @marcestrada - Aug 9, 2013, 9:38 am

In the past twenty years, the Tower of David (pictured) has gone from being a symbol of financial growth to one of vindication for the rights of the poor. In a way, it can also reflect what Venezuela’s society experiences these days: a failure of institutions that has led to chaos and impunity. Invasions of private properties have become more frequent — and since there’s an urgent housing shortage, the government has made it acceptable for people to occupy idle private properties. This argument follows the principle that everyone has the right to a dignified house. The Tower of David, formerly known as Confinanzas Financial Center, was built with a dream to become a Venezuelan version of Wall Street in the nineties. However, in 1993 the construction was halted due to the death of the tower's investor David Brillembourg. The following year, the financial consortium Confinanzas went into bankruptcy and the famous skyscraper was confiscated by the Fund to Guarantee Deposits and Banking Protection (FOGADE), leaving David’s dream unfinished. In 2007, a group of people called Cooperative Cacique Venezuela led by a church pastor, occupied the skyscraper and made it their new home. This vertical slum has become a scenario with more than 500 families who have created their own auto-managed community. Even though the fifty-eight-floor building lacks basic services, the inhabitants have found ways to improvise, installing electricity, completing the walls with bricks or zinc sheets, and getting running water. They have created a cohabitation system based on common rules and the distribution of maintenance tasks. All families pay a monthly fee, and some even operate shops inside the building such as tattoo studios, ice-cream shops, dentist’s offices, hair salons, and a Baptist church. However, not every day is sunshine for the Tower of David inhabitants. The fact that there have been crimes committed inside the Tower, assaults, prostitution, rapes, and kidnappings shows the result of the absence of a police force in an area with such a high population density. Until this day, the government hasn't taken any actions to evict these families who live there illegally or at least find them a more suitable place. The unfortunate part is that the Tower of David is not the only invasion case. According to the NGO Association of Urban Property Owners, there have been 22,000 properties occupied illegally nationwide since 1999. With time, squatters have stopped being a spontaneous movement and have become highly organized groups linked to organized crime. It’s no secret that Venezuela has a critical housing shortage. The people who live in slums, in overcrowded settlements, or who have become homeless refugees from the floods amount to more than two million. From a practical perspective, invasions don’t solve the basic necessities that impede them from overcoming poverty. It only changes their location; their condition remains the same, or even gets worst. The squatters break into unfinished buildings or lands that aren't being used and make it their own home, without taking into consideration the lack of proper legal procedures or sanitary conditions. From the moral perspective, this “solution” starts off from a complete absence of respect for private property, land ownership, or civility. It is based on the message of “my flag, my land.” The role of the government towards this issue has been ambivalent. Yes, it’s wrong that there are more than two million people living in precarious conditions. However, it’s even worse that a government allows this situation to go further by encouraging theft of properties that others have worked for. It’s hard to imagine a country overcoming poverty by building a society based on these anti-values. It’s even harder to conceive how this scheme can be sustainable on the long term. Venezuela is characterized by a lot of problems, but the most important one is institutional failure. The weakness of institutions has undermined the importance of respect, dialogue, and justice between Venezuelans. Even though private property is an intrinsic value and foundation for healthy societies in other countries, the "Bolivarian" regime has vanished this concept by turning expropriation, confiscation, and invasions the new housing policy.

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