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Tuesday, 02 February 2016 10:03
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ALBA:The dynamic geopolitical initiative of international integration in Latin America

(LLCT) - Since the late 20th century, globalization has gradually been an inevitable trend in the world. The modern productive force created by the scientific and technological revolution, including the means of communication and transportation as well as the prevailing market economy, has made globalization an irreversible process.

All the nations and states and economic, social, political forces are unable to act as bystanders of this historical trend. In reality, they have selected a wide range of methods to get involved in the globalization and they have together formed the process of international integration.

Materialistically, globalization can be seen as an economic and technological process. However, when considering it in a broader view to see its true essence, globalization is a complicated socio-economic, cultural and political process which contains different, even opposing or antagonistic interests among stakeholders. Therefore, the process of international integration, while pursuing the initial idea of a fair and wholesome global unification, has revealed itself as a process torn between co-operation and conflict, unity and clash.

Globalization has become a process of unprecedented in-depth cooperation among various elements in the international community; free movement of resources for development; extended cultural and social exchanges; and coordination in security, military and political activities. All the nation-states, especially developing and underdeveloped ones, have many promising opportunities engaging themselves in the process. This way, globalization is considered as democratization to all the human activities of the contemporary world.

In the other hand, globalization is now under the manipulation of Western forces, especially the US government, developed capitalist states and international monopolies. In a broader view, for many years, globalization has been the process of expanding and stabilizing markets for capitalist monopolies, establishing capitalist relations of production on the global scale, imposing the idea of neo-liberalism as the ideology of capitalism to the contemporary world, conducting cultural invasion towards developing and underdeveloped nations; interfering with internal affairs of other sovereign nations.

America, consisting of North America of developed capitalist states and Latin America (Middle America, South America and the Caribbean) of developing ones, is a geopolitical and geoeconomic area with many unique features. Efforts on forging regional association and integration had been started since the middle of 19th century and strongly promoted at the end of the century. Along the history of international integration in America, there have always been two conflicted tendencies. One advocates the empowering control of US over the matters of integration, the other asserts that independent nations in Latin America should decide their own policies. These tendencies are not derived from any subjective factors but inevitably due to the socio-economic, historical, cultural and political situations in America.

Utilizing its political and economic advantages following the dissolution of  the Soviet Union, the US government had publicly shown its dominating power over the matter of the unification of America. In 1994, the heads of states from 34 American countries (except Cuba) participated in the Summit of the Americas held in Miami. This Summit of the Americas resolved to establish a Free Trade Area Agreement (FTAA) (Spanish: Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas [ALCA]) in order to unify 34 markets in the West hemisphere into a single entity controlled by the US. With the establishment of ALCA, Latin American nations had been encumbered with the menace of political dependence, the elimination of economic sovereignty caused by neo-liberalism, the dissolution of  Latin American nations’ association, the return of poverty. It was a golden opportunity for the US to realize the Monroe doctrine’s idea: “America belongs to Americans” as in the beginning of the 90’s when USA became a global hegemony freely creating a so-called PAX AMERICANA. Because of the grim situation they were in, governments and radical groups had intensively attempted to find an appropriate and practical solution. Despite all these efforts, the ALCA seemed to have the upper hand for the first few years after 1994.

In 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected as the new president of Venezuela and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has been created ever since. This was a huge success for the sprouting movements of Leftists in Latin America. As of the beginning of 20th century, the Leftists had taken power in 15 countries leaving positive impacts on the Latin America political scene. On December 14, 2004, in La Habana, Presidents Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro signed an agreement on establishing Bolivarian Alternative for the peoples of the America (“Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra America” [ALBA] in Spanish). According to the strategic thinking of the two presidents, ALBA is an alternative for Latin American nations to the ALCA hence making it a direct opposition of ALCA in this continent.

In the following years, ALBA had been continuously receiving new members. As of today, ALBA has 9 members: Antigua-Barbuda, Cuba, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, San Vicente-the Grenadines and Venezuela; ALBA is populated by 74 million people, 47% of which is in legal working age; the total area of ALBA is 3 million km2 ( take up 1% of Latin America’s total area); the total GDP is approximately 350 billion USD. The headquarter of ALBA’s Secretariat is placed in Caracas (Venezuela). ALBA official website is http://alba-tcp.org. In 2006, ALBA changed its name into Bolivarian Alliance for the peoples of the America (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra America), still remained its original acronym ALBA, with a sub-name of Peoples Trade Agreement, or PTA.

Usually, the top agenda of other regional associations and integrations consists of economic and trade projects with economic goal is the first priority. This method usually makes it easier to attract and motivate their member states. ALBA, on the other hand, has its own way: first, establishing a geopolitical project and on the basis of the right political orientation, they will initiate other economic, cultural, social, environmental integration programs. With the nature of a geopolitical project, ALBA claims itself as the continuation of the fight for national independence, sovereignty and the regional unity of Latin America which was established and promoted by great leaders such as Simon Bolivar, Jose Marti, Francisco Miranda, Augusto Cesar Sandino, Che Guevara. In its founding document, ALBA claims its general objective as: “The purpose of ALBA is to transform Latin American societies, making them more fair, knowledgeable, participatory and supportive. It is therefore conceived as an integral process intended to guarantee the eradication of social inequalities, and to promote quality of life and the effective participation of the peoples in creating their own destiny”.

To this end, ALBA has determined its specific objectives as follow: first, coordinating  policy of public agricultural development to ensure national food security; second, ensuring economic, social and civil rights; sovereignty and national independence are inviolable; third, striving for a humane integration; fourth, utilizing advantages from cooperation between nations, compensating any imbalance; fifth, combating poverty and social exclusion to develop consensus and harmony in the region; sixth, creating a space for strategic consultation, coordination and alliance.

The principles of ALBA include a lot of unique features. First, trade and investment must not be an end in itself, but instruments to reach a just and sustainable development; the real Latin-American and Caribbean integration cannot be a blind product of the market, much less a simple strategy to extend the external markets or to stimulate the trade; therefore, an effective participation of the state as a regulator and coordinator of the economic activities is needed. Second, encouraging the economic complementarity and the cooperation between the participating countries whereas competition between countries and productions are unacceptable. Third, taking into account the level of development of the various countries and the dimension of their economies which guarantees the access for all the nations that take part in the benefits that stem from the process of integration.

With a realistic vision, ALBA has realized the obstacles it has to overcome: severe poverty in member states; development gap and differences between the member states; unequal trading mechanism and unjust conditions in current international relations; the burden of unpayable foreign debts; imposition from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on the structural adjustments policy; limited access to information, knowledge and technology due to intellectual property agreements; endangering democracy due to monopolism in media.

ALBA is a regional association and international integration project for the people, focusing intensively on socio-economic programs. The average Human Development Index (HDI) of the whole bloc had increased significantly, from average level (0.658) in 2005 to high level (0.721) in 2012. ALBA also determined to improve the ratio of 1 doctor to 1,626 people in 2004 to 1 doctor to 1,166 people in 2008. According to the survey data for 2 years from 2009 to 2011, more than 3.8 million poor people had received free medical care in which 1.3 million people had received free medical treatment. The health program “Mission Miracle” which is being implemented in 21 countries around the world, has brought light to nearly 3 million people with visual impairment. The “Moto Mendez” mission supporting people with disabilities, has promoted genetic and psychological - social study, bringing normal life to thousands of people in the ALBA member states. In 2006, ALBA established Cardiology hospital “Gilberto Rodriguez Ochoa” in Caracas specializing in the treatment of congenital heart disease for infants and children in Latin America. As of March 2014, it successfully conducted more than 8,000 surgeries. In addition, the program also has provided free medical treatment for drug addicts. ALBA member states have established Grand-national Pharmaceutical Company (ALBAFARMA), agreed on 489 essential medicines for use in ALBA bloc; conducted medical register for medicines appropriate for human use according to the World Health Organization and the American Health Organization. In the period of 2004 - 2012, the rate of infant mortality (under age 5) has been lowered by 5.1% in which some countries have attained notable numbers such as Bolivia (20.5%), Nicaragua (8.7%), Ecuador (6.4%).

 

ALBA has also achieved remarkable results in the field of education. As of 2014, there were 3,815,092 cases of illiteracy solved. With genuine pride, Antigua-Barbuda, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela declared complete eradication of illiteracy. The ALBA states had earlier signed a decree recognizing a regional bachelor’s certificate, promoting the international Education Program based in Caracas. In the framework of this program, more than 4,000 foreign students (Latin America, Asia, Africa, Middle East) received scholarships to study 88 disciplines at 36 universities in Venezuela. In 1999, ALBA established Latin American School of  Medicine (ELAM) in La Habana (Cuba). As of 2013, there were 20,786 doctors of public health of 123 countries around the world graduated in which there were 8.398 doctors  from the ALBA states. In addition, there were 1,590 general practitioners have graduated, including some who continue to specialist program II. Currently, it has 9,580 international students enrolled. In November 2013, Latin American School of Medicine “Salvador Allende” was founded in Venezuela and it has given 1,000 college scholarships and 900 postgraduate scholarships for foreign students. Generally, the medical curriculum of ALBA has provided the community 21,075 doctors and 1,590 students are being enrolled in medical specialties.

In the field of communication, ALBA is always consistent with the goal which is to strengthen national sovereignty. ALBA has promoted many common software for computing application; established many Center for Community Telecommunications; conducted installation of Ground Stations to use the KU-NAM band and receive signal from Simon Bolivar Satellite. In 2007, the Telecommunicaciones Gran Caribe (TGC) joint venture company was established and it began to set optical submarine cable system connecting 3 countries Cuba, Jamaica, Venezuela and then many countries of Central America and the Caribbean. In 2010, the ALBA Telecommunications Group (ALBATEL) was established for the purpose of implementing projects supporting the development of infrastructure, service and telecommunication industries on the entire ALBA bloc. So far, ALBA has Southern Television (TELESUR), Southern Radio (RADIO DEL SUR) and ALBA Television (ALBATV) in the role of general media institutions.

In the field of culture, sports are identified as one of the ways to protect national sovereignty and self-determination of a nation’s future. ALBA Cultural House was built and operated in the capital of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia as a research, introduction, promotion, exhibition, trade products and services institutions. Virtual Museum of Latin America and the Caribbean currently has 84,546 digitized artifacts. The research programs in Latin America and the Caribbean culture has been intensively deployed among most member states of ALBA. Periodically, ALBA organizes competitions and gives awards to achievements in literature, film, art. ALBA Sports Competition has been held for 4 years, attracting more than 10 thousand athletes from 36 countries attending in 45 sports which is the highest number of participation in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

In the economic field, the 6th Summit of ALBA in 2008 signed the agreements on  establishing ALBA Bank to ensure independence of economic and financial sovereignty for the member states. At the present, the Bank is implementing 42 projects with a total budget of 344.9 billion US dollars. ALBA has established internal payment mechanism (SUCRE) to create favorable conditions for all economic and trade transactions between member states. In the framework of SUCRE, the local currencies are used in intra-payment; the cost of currency exchange is rationalized; transaction time is reduced; import cost is reduced leading to reduced production costs. ALBA especially emphasizes on food programs. To date, Cuba, Dominica, San Vicente-the Grenadines and Venezuela have confirmed the eradication of hunger in their countries. Other countries have also significantly reduced their rate of hunger: Nicaragua (35%), Bolivia (10%) and Ecuador (6.2%). In 2008, the ALBA Food Fund was established with a total capital of 50 billion US dollars to ensure food security, support in combating crisis and difficult situations. Especially, ALBA has established Complementary Economic Zone and Petrocaribe Economic Zone which have promoted association and effective integration.

The first ten years of ALBA is not long and ALBA is still not considered as an entity which has large population, area and economic size or significant military power. Its achievements are hard to compare with other associated entities such as the European Union (EU), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). However, ALBA with its realistic approach for the last 10 years has learned many important lessons.

First, developing and underdeveloped countries are on the verge of becoming “neo-colonies” of modern capitalism due to the “free trade” scheme set up by global monopolies. These monopolies have always been attempting to capitalize the globalization trend in the name of economic neo-liberalism. Free trade, which can be directly explained as the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers, should only be considered as a future goal for developing and underdeveloped nations in the age of globalization. However, capitalists have imposed on these nations that free trade is a prerequisite for further development.  Despite all that, ALBA has found its own way which exhorts complementation and association between member states instead of mere competition in the market economy.

Second, while most of the regional associations belong to developing and underdeveloped countries intensively seek opportunities for cooperation with developed ones, ALBA decides to excel from its own inner potency. Therefore, there is no trace of USA or any other global power on the road of ALBA. ALBA has proved to the world the significance of establishing, stabilizing and promoting independent and self-determination institutions for international integration among developing and underdeveloped countries.

Third, through many non-profit programs and projects, ALBA has become a salient example of international solidarity movements and internationalism in the South hemisphere which goes against the growing of pragmatism in global community. In a post-Soviet period which spares nearly no space for internationalism, ALBA still willing to share its very limited resources and support other countries to overcome turbulences.

ALBA is truly a regional association for international integration, but above all, it should be considered as a revolutionary geopolitical project belongs to Latin American Leftists. The reason for all the successes ALBA has achieved for the last 10 years is not solely economic power but also the right political vision from the heads of states such as Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa, Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega... ALBA is the institution for integration and trade agreement of Latin American people, it will continue to achieve more successes in the coming future.

 

Assoc. Prof., Dr. NGUYEN VIET THAO

Vice President

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics  

 

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