Inter Press Service | 1 May 2007
Activists Back Venezuela-Driven Alternative Integration
BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela, Apr 30 (IPS) — Progressive social and political movements joined the governments of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) in their aim to bring about integration based on solidarity and social justice.
"Unlike the pro-imperialist Plan Puebla Panama conceived of by brains from Harvard, which is harmful to ordinary people and the environment, ALBA has emerged as a solidarity pact, based on popular participation," Juana García, an activist with the Mexican group Insurgent Women, told IPS.
ALBA, made up of Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, is aimed at becoming an umbrella for economic and trade agreements and joint ventures, but under which cooperation programmes in health, culture, education and energy supplies will be of equal or greater importance. By definition, the new bloc is opposed to the free-market, "neoliberal" policies advocated by Washington in its hemispheric relations.
The Plan Puebla Panama is a Mexican initiative involving the countries of Central America and supported by Colombia, designed to boost development in southeastern Mexico and Central America, parallel to the promotion of free trade accords with the United States.
García was one of the roughly 50 political and social activists from around the region who were invited to meet in Tintorero, a village of weavers and cloth dyers (tintoreros) on the hot, arid plains near the west-central city of Barquisimeto, where the fifth ALBA summit took place on Saturday and Sunday.
ALBA was created in December 2004 by presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba.
Host president Chávez met in the two-day summit with presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage, and several observers: Haitian President René Preval and ministers from Dominica, Ecuador, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Uruguay.
The leaders issued a political declaration proposing an alternative form of integration. Venezuela gave substance to that declaration by guaranteeing all of the oil supplies needed by its partners in ALBA, as well as Haiti, under the most preferential terms yet seen in the region, and by earmarking 250 million dollars as the seed capital for the brand-new ALBA investment fund.
The recipient countries will have three months to pay half of the oil bill, and 25 years to pay another one-quarter of the bill, at just two percent interest. The remaining 25 percent of the bill will go towards the ALBA fund, to be invested in local economic and social projects in the beneficiary nations.
The leaders also decided to establish presidential, ministerial and social movement councils, along with thematic working committees to coordinate efforts in education, culture, health, investment, trade and finance.
The presidents advocated "fair trade agreements", shared literacy and job training plans, an initiative for university education with an emphasis on health and social work, a cultural fund, and the creation of "ALBA houses" that will emphasise the defence of the identity and cultures of indigenous and black people in the region.
"Our groups support this integration project, which is based on the historic legacy of our independence heroes, has a clear ethical content, and is counterpoised to neoliberal principles," the activists said in the "Declaration of Tintorero".
"Of course we want to consolidate ties between the ALBA governments and popular organisations in the hemisphere, as well as with local or provincial governments in anti-neoliberal hands, to promote a shared agenda in education, health, land reform, the environment, labour rights and food security," Honduran activist Rafael Alegría, with the global peasant movement Vía Campesina, told IPS.
"We want to help create a regionwide movement in order for countries that do not form part of ALBA to adhere to, and support, its aims," Brazilian lawmaker Iván Valente, of the Socialism and Freedom Party, commented to IPS.
A coordinating mechanism will be set up to follow the agreements and efforts of ALBA and give them resonance within social organisations in the region, the activists agreed in a meeting with the presidents that closed the summit Sunday night.
The groups and parties whose representatives were invited to the gathering included the communist parties of Chile and Cuba, the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) — El Salvador’s main opposition party —, the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST) and Central Unitária de Trabalhadores trade union, and Vía Campesina.
Venezuelan activist Braulio Álvarez, with the pro-Chávez Jirahara Campesino Movement, told IPS that the participating parties and groups wanted a charter of principles to be drawn up for ALBA, that would include social movements in the bloc’s plans and efforts.
The presidents were receptive to the idea: "I myself am a president as well as a social activist and trade unionist," Morales told the participating activists. "I hope that in the future, you are here (on the platform where the presidents sat), and we can see if we are able to truly bring about change in Latin America."
García said the struggle for ALBA "necessarily leads us to oppose predatory strategies like the Plan Puebla Panama, which for example aims to build a dam between Mexico and Guatemala that could hurt the area’s wealth in flora, fauna and archaeology."
In its stead, she said, "the Insurgent Women movement is pushing for sustainable alternatives to accompany ALBA, such as an inventory of local species that can be raised, like the red deer of Chiapas (in southern Mexico)."
Alegría said Vía Campesina and the other movements are prepared to support and participate in Venezuelan initiatives that reach out to the rest of the region in health, like the "Miracle Mission", which provides free eye operations for the poor, or literacy campaigns, job training initiatives, food security programmes and the struggle for agrarian reform.
The Declaration of Tintorero also called on the ALBA governments to urgently put into effect a programme of cooperation and solidarity with Haiti. In the presence of the activists, Chávez and Preval signed an agreement for oil supplies, while Cuba offered to carry out a literacy programme in Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere.
In addition, the participating activists suggested the creation of a social oversight mechanism for ALBA, in order for the governments’ integration projects to be held accountable to popular movements.