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Granma (Cuba) | 19 January, 2007
ALBA: Justice in Deeds
MARIELA PEREZ VALENZUELA
The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) welcomed Nicaragua as its fourth full member as the FSLN returned to power in that country, while in Ecuador, President Rafael Correa adds new support to the movement for Latin America integration.
As predicted, it appears that many Latin American leaders elected or reelected in 2006 will continue with the process of change mainly through policies of unity and solidarity.
The changes described by the Ecuadorian president at his inauguration on January 15 as the beginning of a new era, have the ALBA as a key source of growth, since the revolutionary approach begun by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and immediately supported by Cuba is showing concrete and encouraging results.
Inspired by the ideas of 19th century South American liberator Simon Bolivar the ALBA was born on December 14, 2004 when the presidents of Cuba and Venezuela signed the agreement on the tenth anniversary of Chavez’ first visit to Havana.
Bolivia was the third country to join the ALBA in April, 2006, during a meeting in Cuba with Presidents Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales.
On October 28, 2005, Venezuela surprised the world when it acknowledged having taught 1,519,555 people to read and write, including 76,369 indigenous peoples, using the Cuban Yo Si Puedo (Yes I can) teaching method. The effort involved thousands of Venezuelan literacy workers.
And that wasn’t the only accomplishment from the integration effort that countered Washington’s attempt to impose its neocolonial plan, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Roberto Rivas, who heads the Latin America and Caribbean office of the Ministry of Foreign Investment and Economic Collaboration (MINVEC), told Granma that with help from Cuba, thousands of Venezuelans have graduated from different levels of education.
Likewise, Cuban medical assistance has reached the most remote Venezuelan localities. This drastically changed the healthcare situation for more than 17 million people who received free medical care at the Barrio Adentro community health clinics where thousands of Cubans doctors are working.
Cuban and Venezuelan professionals are working together in 270 of the 600 comprehensive diagnostic and rehabilitation centers and in 11 of the 35 high-tech diagnostic centers already operating while the others are being built. Cuba also continues to treat Venezuelan patients with different pathologies on the island.
Promoting sports is also an active part of the ALBA. Cuban trainers speak highly of the results of Venezuelan athletes at regional and international competitions and the improved quality of life of the population in general.
COMPLEMENTATION NOT COMPETITION
Rivas explained that joint businesses were created like the ALBA construction company to build both economic and social infrastructure in Venezuela and later in Cuba and other countries.
Other firms are Transalva (sea transport), Astimarca (tanker repair in the Lake of Maracaibo), PDV-CUPET S.A. (to reactivate the Cienfuegos, Cuba oil refinery) and Telesur, a satellite television station belonging to several Latin American countries that seeks to spread the reality of the peoples of the Third World.
The banking sector was also favored. The Cuban Export Bank was created in Venezuela, as a subsidiary of the Banco Exterior of Venezuela and the Banco Industrial Venezolano opened a branch office in Cuba.
Cuba benefits from the purchase of Venezuelan oil under an energy agreement with Caracas, whose principles were later applied in the forming of PetroCaribe to supply the Caribbean nations with preferential prices and payment conditions.
Another project underway is the applying in Venezuela of Fidel Castro’s ideas for energy saving and generation. Rivas said the installation of batteries of small generators and the replacement of 52 million incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient ones turns savings into added resources.
Two development projects are underway on the island with financial and technical assistance from Venezuela. One, in the Pinar del Rio Province communities of Marti, Bolivar and Sandino, is geared to reactivate local economies and provide social advancement. The other, to train Venezuelans in different agronomy specialties, is in the Havana Province municipality of San Jose de las Lajas.
The official noted that during the joint Cuba-Venezuela commission meeting held in Caracas in 2005, a budget of $834 million USD was approved for 209 joint economic and social development projects.
Meanwhile, in Bolivia, where ALBA returned hope for a better life to millions of the poor, Cuban doctors have treated some 3 million patients in a year, 30 percent of the total population.
The Andean nation already has 20 reconditioned hospitals as part of the Cuban cooperation and 23 more are scheduled to open during the current year. Currently 5,000 Bolivians are studying in Cuba, most to be doctors.
The literacy campaign taking place in Bolivia since March 2006, hopes to teach 1.2 million to read and write in 30 months.
Thanks to this integration project, Bolivia has preferential trade with Cuba and Venezuela, which offered 5,000 scholarships for Bolivian youths in the petrochemical sector and delivered a fund of $100 million USD for development projects in Bolivia.
THE ALBA MIRACLE
One of the most humanistic programs of ALBA is the Operation Miracle eye-surgery program, already underway in several countries. The goal is to restore or improve vision for six million mainly low-income Latin American and Caribbean people in a decade.
By mid-December, 305,930 Venezuelans and had been operated on, 130,481 of those in the South American country, where 13 ophthalmology centers are operating, and the rest in Cuba.
Operation Miracle is also underway in Bolivia, one of the poorest countries of the Americas. There, more than 51,000 have had their sight restored since November 2005, most having suffered cataracts, at 11 ophthalmology centers. As a demonstration of the growing integration on the continent, 3,277 Argentineans and 1,938 Peruvians traveled to Bolivia to leave blindness behind.
In Ecuador, more than 10,000 people have been operated on. In all, a half million people of the region have benefited from Operation Miracle including 24,416 from the Caribbean.
ALBA FOR THE AMERICAS
In the spirit of ALBA, other governments in Latin America and the Caribbean, each according to their needs and characteristics, are benefiting from different programs in health, education and energy.
At the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, inaugurated by Fidel Castro in November, 1999, more than 3,000 young doctors have graduated and another 10,000 from 28 countries are currently studying there.
Eradicating illiteracy is a priority of Latin America and the Caribbean. Towards that aim, in 15 countries the proven Yo Si Puedo method is being used.
One of the important plans of the ALBA is to guarantee energy for the region. To alleviate the energy crisis in Nicaragua, with serious consequences for the economy and society, the first sets of generators obtained from Venezuela under the ALBA agreements have arrived to the Central American nation.
The creation of regional oil companies such as PetroAndina, PetroCaribe and PetroSur, with preferential payment terms, and the project for a continent-stretching gas pipeline involving Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, are all part of the integration efforts sweeping the continent.
The times are changing on the continent with the correlation of forces in Latin America tipping in favor of more progressive ideas. The unity conceived in the ALBA acts as a guarantee to achieve the political and social and economic independence that Simon Bolivar, Jose Marti and many others once fought for.