The Unknown Destiny of the ALBA
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.