ALBA: Latin America's anti-imperialist economic project
“The Bolivarian Alternative for
Latin Americaand the Caribbean (ALBA) is a different proposal of integration. Whilst the Free Trade Area of the Americas (ALCA or FTAA) responds to the interests of transnational capital and pursues the absolute liberalization of trade in goods, services and investment, ALBA puts the emphasis on the struggle against poverty and social exclusion and, therefore, it expresses the interests of the Latin American peoples.”
To many, when ALBA was proposed it smacked of an interesting piece of rhetoric which did not and would not go beyond the exchange of Venezuelan oil for Cuban doctors.
However, there is much more substance to the proposal than just a Cuba-Venezuela ‘axis’. The growing resonance of ALBA and the number of Latin American countries which are in various degrees, joining the Bolivarian process of integration, show that ALBA has gone well beyond being merely an abstract aspiration and a purely Cuba-Venezuela alliance.
The reason for the current success of ALBA can be found in the abysmal record of thirty years of unabated neo-liberalism in the continent. The figures confirm this: in the late 1970s
The brutal logic of the model of capital accumulation known as neo-liberalism necessitated the drastic economic restructuring of the regional economies, which involved:-
the complete elimination of protection for national industry,
the favouring of those sections of the economy that produced for the external market,
the elimination of all restrictions to the influx and operation of foreign capital in the national economy,
the privatization of all state assets,
and the elimination of all welfare provision.
With a few exceptions, it was ‘
True, in most nations of the Southern Cone of South America, neo-liberalism was originally imposed through fire and blood by nasty dictatorships such as in
But it was 'Third Way' administrations such as the Concertación in Chile, the Peronist Menem in Argentina, the traditional parties, Blanco and Colorado, in Uruguay, the MIR-Banzer alliance in Bolivia, ADECO and COPEI in Venezuela, Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s Partido Social Democratico Brasileiro, in Brazil, and the most pro-US factions within the Mexican PRI, just to cite the most prominent examples, which systematized, perfected and consolidated neo-liberalism in these countries.
They were coalitions heavily based on the support of the middle classes and the better-off sections of the working class but politically hegemonized by a small financially-oriented, national elite who got significant crumbs from the multinational companies’ table.
They crucially rested on the exclusion of large sections of society that became not only politically but also socially irrelevant. Societies such as Venezuela had over 80% of its population living in poverty where most of the proletariat was part of the informal sector eking out a very precarious living, and even ‘success stories’ such as Chile had, as late as the 1990s had about 48% of people living in poverty. The levels of social exclusion in hitherto affluent nations such as
The utter failure of neo-liberalism and the social catastrophe it brought over the whole the continent, led first to the rise of powerful social movements and secondly to the unraveling of the social coalitions that had made the implementation and consolidation of neo-liberalism possible – in some cases leading to the actual collapse and near disappearance of those parties.
The social movements had, in the long and hard years of opposition to neo-liberalism, formulated their needs, but they had done it in a way that universalized them in a new type of politics which can be summarized in the World Social Forum’s slogan: Another World is Possible.
At the risk of generalizing, the combined phenomena of the crisis of legitimacy of the existing political parties and the rise of powerful social movements, led to the emergence of unusual and unorthodox political conduits through which the mass movement could and did channel their energies and effect the formulation in policy (concrete) terms of their aspirations.
Slums in Caracas, capital of Venezuela
These movements seek to ‘complete’ what their historic national political ancestors began, and are Bolivarian in a Latinoamericanista sense: they share a common history, a common ‘enemy’, face similar obstacles to their progress, are mortgaged to the same international financial institutions, suffer similar kinds of discrimination, similar kinds of social, cultural, economic and political exclusion, and are in the grip of the same straitjacket, namely, neo-liberalism.
This is the material base on which ALBA rests.
“The epoch that has just begun through long and difficult battles, is that of President Chávez’s ALBA, that is the dream of Martí and Bolívar of a solidarious and united in social justice Latin America, the realization of the human potential of its inhabitants, the defense of their culture and the conquest of a dignified position in the century that begins.” 
The official document launching ALBA (Construyendo el ALBA “Nuestro Norte es el Sur”) poses the objective of building of a common, prosperous future for Latin America, one that addresses the abhorrent social inequalities and that allows the region to insert itself in the globalised world through a model with possibilities of sustainable development, that is, through an alternative economic strategy for the region, which involves fields such as culture, environment, politics, society, economics and many other features of Latin America.
ALBA is the alternative to ALCA firstly because it seeks to uphold the rights of society as a whole (the specific rights of workers, peasants, women, indigenous groups, the poor, youth, children, and so forth) and, secondly, it is the cumulative experience of the utopias which Latin Americans have attempted over the centuries since the European invasion and conquest back in the 16th century.
Thus, the new society is contained in the multifarious aspirations of the social movements and their struggles.
ALBA’s specific projects
The agreements signed with
Since July 2002, President Chávez had been putting forward the idea of creating Petroamérica, which he did for the first time at the II Summit of South American heads of State in
They are viewed as strategic alliances that rest on the commercialization oil and gas but which are based on the conservation of non-renewable natural resources, shared solidarity and social co-responsibility aimed at ensuring people’s democratic access to energy at affordable prices; they are also viewed as agreements among governments which do not envisage the fusion with private capital, nor the transfer of resources from the state to the private sector.
The strategy consists of conceiving the state energy companies as complementary so as to have a continental reach. 
On 17 June 2003,
In May 2005 PetroSur was created jointly by
The broader objective is to establish a network of oil extraction plants, refineries and petrol stations in the whole of the Brazilian North East (the country’s poorest and most populous region) to supply fuel at heavily subsided prices. In 2003, a similar agreement was signed between PDVSA and Petroecuador which gave life to the “Unidad Hidrocarbuferica Regional” and whose natural gas sector will be jointly operated by the two companies and which will also involve the joint commercialization of liquid gas, kerosene, asphalt, and the raw material for lubricants.
Then, in October 2003, it was the turn of
Setback for privatisation
ENARSA represents a setback for privatisation in the country since it comes to replace Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales (YPF), the old oil state company which was sold at a pittance to Repsol, a Spanish corporation, under the Menem administration.
In April 2004,
Ramirez, head of PDVSA, spelt out the strategic objective behind PetroAmerica:
“Together we will be stronger and have greater bargaining power. We have culture, language, history and problems which are similar, but we must find consensus with regards to technology and commerce in order to cheapen energy for our countries.” 
On 26 September, 2005, the Energy Ministers of the governments of
Also in September 2005, Brazil and Venezuela signed an agreement of energy complementariness and integration between PDVSA and PETROBRAS which includes intense collaboration in the areas of supply and commercialization of crude oil, as well as exploration and extraction of oil and gas; design, construction and joint operation of refineries, storage facilities and deposits; transport and logistics, technology, training and public policies. The purpose, as stated by Lula, was a gigantic step forward in the process of integration 200 years after the initiation of that process by the Libertadores. 
On 3 January, 2006, Chavez welcomed Evo Morales’ electoral victory in the December 2005 Bolivian presidential election by offering Bolivia all its diesel needs for 2006 (which amount to about US$30 million) and said: “I do not accept that they pay us a single cent, but the equivalent in agricultural produce.” He also announced that PDVSA will open a commercial office in
Petroamérica then, is unique in that it is an anti-imperialist multinational company which will control about 15% of the world reserves of crude oil, would benefit from the areas of strength from all the participants and would lift the standard of living of about 530 million people. 
The corollary of energy integration of the region will be a 8,000 km pipeline which will run the length of South America linking
A centerpiece of ALBA is to free
One way, as we have seen already with Venezuelan diesel for
“Hugo Chavez has been at the epicenter of this innovative change and is enlisting support of other leaders in the region to join with him. Discussions have been held about establishing a Bank of the South to finance "real" development projects without the suffocating and constricting burdens of debt that come with IMF loans.” 
The best known example of this is the exchange of Venezuelan oil for 20,000 Cuban doctors, the crucial factor that has ensured the successful implementation of the Barrio Adentro Missions to provide free basic and other more complex health care to at least 17 million Venezuelans.
Cuba has also sent teachers to teach illiterate Venezuelans to read and write. Another manifestation is the agreement between
The Bolivarian regime in
Presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela link hands
The strong economic performance of these economies does not in itself explain their efforts to obtain as much autonomy from the IMF as possible. It is the process of regional integration which has created a context where this is possible.
The Cuba-Venezuela-Bolivia agreement on literacy will benefit immediately 200,000 people in
However, Chavez’s proposal goes much further than the establishment of an independent financial institution. The Bank of the South is seen as a key instrument in the ongoing process of regional integration and, as Gastón Parra, President of Venezuela’s Central Bank, said at a seminar on financial integration organized by Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina held in Caracas on March 24, 2006, also aims at the creation of a single currency, the establishment of a free trade zone with common foreign tariffs and the coordination of economic policies. 
Another initiative stemming from ALBA is Telesur, a TV channel primarily aimed at Latin America by the joint efforts of
Jorge Botero, the Colombian director of Telesur, says that the with the new TV channel "We want our cameras to get into places that their cameras have never been, to give a real, street-level view […] 'The true face of Latin America.'"  This is the view from the South about the South and the relation of the South with the South as well as the North’s relation to the South, as the channel’s slogan has it: “Nuestro Norte es el Sur”.
Telesur is a counter-hegemonic telecommunications project, unique in its field, a major undertaking because it confronts the hugely powerful media oligopolies that overwhelmingly dominate the airwaves.
Telesur: 'the true face of Latin America'
In the April 2002 coup against President Chavez the media, particularly the TV networks, played a central role in helping to create the atmosphere which made the temporary ousting temporarily of the President possible. In
Furthermore, in the region 70% of the TV programming is imported with the
Telesur’s advisory council includes well known figures such as Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua, Luis Britto of Venezuela, Eduardo Galeano of Uruguay, Fernando 'Pino' Solanas of Argentina, Ignacio Ramonet of France, Danny Glover of the USA and Tariq Ali, a Briton of Pakistani origin.
Telesur is independent of the governments that sponsor it and has permanent correspondents in
Telesur actively seeks links with social and mass movements in the region so as to inform about their plight and struggles. Telesur consciously and deliberately seeks to show the ‘other
Never before has the cultural and propaganda hegemony of the
Economic and political obstacles to ALBA
As can be imagined, the
An important plank of the
Where this is not possible the
There is, additionally, the seemingly unsurmountable problem of existing asymmetries. This is evident in, for example, significant differences in the labour costs of
The election of Morales in
Furthermore, if Morales is to increase the movement’s electoral and political strength he must address the pent up socio-economic demands of the vast majority of Bolivians. The only source of economic resources to finance social programs is the nation’s gas.  It will not be easy for
These objective obstacles stemming from the uneven and combined underdevelopment of the Latin American countries can be multiplied ad infinitum (see the severe conflict between
Similar disparities can be found between
ALBA and the
ALBA and ALCA are fundamentally incompatible and the Bush administration (or its Democratic successors) will do whatever it takes to stop and reverse its objective and subjective logic.
It is unthinkable to imagine a government of the empire that is prepared to coexist in a hemisphere in which its neighbours – traditionally under its economic, political and cultural thumb – assert their independence, nationalism and autonomy away from and against the interests of its financial, industrial and military oligarchy.
Given the intense hostility expressed by high officials of the Bush administration such as Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Roger Noriega, John Negroponte, John Bolton and a few others, the United States’ opposition to the Bolivarian integration of some Latin American countries, let alone the region as a whole, little needs to be said about the US intentions.
The inference of their hostility is clear, if they can overthrow the Chavez government, they will, whether through supporting a long-term campaign of domestic destabilization (which they have tried and failed, several times), a border conflict involving centrally Colombia which would allow the U.S. military to ‘jointly’ invade Venezuela, or through direct U.S. military invasion and ‘get the job done’. This hostility is compounded by the fact that
It is difficult to interpret the obsessive desire of the Bush administration to establish as many military bases in
The United States has military bases in Guantanamo Bay, Roosevelt Roads and Forth Buchanan in Puerto Rico, air bases in Aruba and Curaçao, Palmerola and Soto Cano in Honduras, Manta in Ecuador, and radar stations in Colombia and several other secret locations in the region and it is busily militarizing the Triple Frontier (border area in Brazil, Pargauay and Bolivia), where US spokespeople allege Al Qaida and Hizbollah have links with Latin American Marxist guerrillas, radical populists, left wing narco-traffickers and, of course, with Chávez, Castro and Evo Morales.
A worrying trend in
True, the empire is heavily bogged down in
Nevertheless, they are getting quite desperate. The Bush administration has barely two years to ‘sort out’
Francisco Dominguez is head of Latin American Studies at Middlesex University, UK
 Alternativa Bolivarian apara las Américas, ¿Qué es la Alternativa Bolivariana para América Latina y El Caribe?, www.alternativabolivariana.org, visited Feb 7, 2006.
 Diputado Rafael Correa Flores, Constuyendo el ALBA “Nuestro Norte es el Sur”, Ediciones del 40 Aniversario del Parlamento Latinoamericano, 1ra Edición, Caracas, República Bolivariana de Venezuela, Mayo 2005, p. 16.
 Diputado Rafael Correa Flores, op.cit., p. 21.
 Miguel Lora, “Petroamerica, la estrategia sudamericana para recuperar la soberanía energética”, www.granma.cubaweb.cu/secciones/alba, visited Feb 7, 2006.
 PDVSA, Se robustece Petroamérica en el ámbito de la integración, 26-20 September, 2006, www.pdvsa.com
 PDVSA, Acuerdo energético
 PDVSA, Presidente Chávez: “Con la llegada de Evo se fortalece Petroamérica” 03-01-2006, www.pdvsa.com
 PDVSA, Petroamérica controlaría 11.5% de reservas mundiales de petróleo, 06-10-2004, www.pdvsa.com
 In January 2005,
 Ministry of Comunication and Information of the
 Iain Bruce,
 Telesur has been under severe attack from right wing Republican members of Congress – such as Connie Mack [R-Fla] - who see it as the most pernicious ‘communistic’ propaganda being used by Chavez to promote his Bolivarian Revolution throughout the rest of the continent and undermine the US position in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, in Mack’s website, Telesur is presented as something much worse: “New Alliance Between Chavez’s Telesur and Al-Jazeera Creates Global Terror TV Network”(http://mack.house.gov/index.cfm?FuseActionfiltered=PressReleases.View&ContentRecord_id=173).
 Green Left Weekly, Reversing neo-liberalism: an interview with
 The first steps were taken the day after Morales’ inauguration. PDVSA opened an office in
 With regards to Cuba, the US plan is to implement a blueprint for regime change in the Caribbean island which includes among other niceties, the complete dissolution of the state’s armed institutions, the illegalization of the Cuban Communist party and the Confederación de Trabajadores Cubanos and any other ‘communist’ organization such as the Federación de Mujeres Cubanas and many more that exist in the island, the transformation of Cuba into a capitalist country, the ‘recovery’ of the confiscated land, property, buildings, houses, enterprises and everything else that used to belong to US corporations and the some of the Cubans living in Miami; the US has even appointed a ‘Transition Coordinator’, Caleb McGarry whose sole job is to ‘transition’ Cuba.
 Cristian Lora, Fuerzas de EE.UU Inician Operativo "Medrete", Portalba, Alternativa Bolivariana para la América, 10 March, 2006 www.alternativabolivariana.org;