logo logo

ALBA, Petrocaribe and Caricom: Issues in a new dynamic

29 May 2008


Norman Girvan


The growth of relations between several Caricom states and the Venezuelan-promoted
ALBA and Petrocaribe initiatives is one of the most significant recent developments in
regional affairs. An immediate issue that has arisen is whether membership of ALBA
might conflict with the obligations of membership of Caricom itself. There are also larger
issues of a strategic nature for Caricom. They are related to the need for diversification of
economic relations in the light of global economic restructuring; pursuit of opportunities
for new modalities of South-South cooperation that are more advantageous to the region
that the standard features of North-South arrangements; and the scope for a coordinated
external trade policy by the Community. Indeed although ideology and hemispheric geopolitics do come into play with ALBA and Petrocaribe; it seems important for the issues
to be framed within a regional optic rather than within one determined by Washington.
We argue here that ALBA, though having its own special characteristics; should be seen
as one manifestation of a process of reconfiguration in the world political economy; a
process marked by a relative decline in U.S. power and the emergence of new geoeconomic poles of influence. The rise of Asia, and in particular China and India, is
among the most significant of the changes; as is the emergence of other regional powers
in the Global South including South Africa, Brazil and Venezuela. One notable
consequence is the waning ability of the United States to control the course of events in
Latin America and the Caribbean. Hence, according to a recent report published by the
Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, ‘the era of US hegemony (in the
region) is over’. [1]

The signs of this shift are everywhere. The FTAA process was aborted due to Brazilian
opposition to the terms on which Washington had framed the negotiations; governments
opposed to the neo-liberal ‘Washington Consensus’ have come to power in several
countries; the Cuban Revolution is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary in spite of
Washington’s obsession with regime change in that country; the Bolivarian Revolution in
Venezuela continues apace in spite of Washington’s antagonism; and the traditional
Washington-dominated sources of development cooperation are being overshadowed by
Southern-controlled institutions centred on Venezuela and Brazil. Continentally, a South
American Union (UNASUR) is being constructed under Brazilian leadership. These
developments form an important backdrop to a consideration of the role and significance
of ALBA and of Caricom’s relationship with the grouping.

In this paper we examine the nature of ALBA’s mission and programme, focusing on the
kind of cooperation arrangements that are likely to be of particular interest to Caricom
countries. Hence, we review the scope and magnitude of its financial cooperation, the
existence of non-reciprocity, the scope of social cooperation, the role of Petrocaribe and
the recent incorporation of food security into the ALBA cooperation programme. We
discuss the content of ALBA agreements from the point of view of the treaty obligations
of Caricom members; and conclude that there is no inherent incompatibility between
them. We go on to point to the potential economic and political vulnerabilities from
participation in ALBA and Petrocaribe; and suggest how these might be mitigated. We
point to the value of coordinated Caricom policies on ALBA and other external economic
relations and discuss the difficulties of agreement on these in a Community with
divergent interests among its members. There is a short concluding section.

Click here to download the full paper


[1“Era of U.S. hegemony in Latin America is over, says CFR Task Force”, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, Press Release, May 15, 2008. Available here. The full report is published as Report of an Independent Task Force, U.S.-Latin America Relations:
A New Direction for a New Reality. Available at

 source: Norman Girvan