Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas: A progressive alternative to the Washington-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas

ALBA logoThe Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America, known as ALBA for its abbreviation in Spanish, was launched in Havana in 2005 by Cuba and Venezuela.

In 2006, this alternative trade alliance was joined by Bolivia, and today it boasts a full eight members Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, plus four countries with observer status Grenada, Haiti, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Although the alliance seeks to reduce or eliminate tariffs between member countries it is very unlike conventional trade agreements.

ALBA is a deliberate counterweight by countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA /ALCA in Spanish) proposed by the United States. ALCA advocates the liberalisation and privatisation of public services, which would inevitably mean millions of people in the continent would be deprived of the basic services needed for human survival. However, in contrast to ALCA which focuses on an unregulated market, free trade and economic liberalisation to generate growth and prosperity in the region, ALBA advocates social, political, and economic integration and social reforms which place the fight against poverty and exclusion at its centre.

In order to help overcome trade disadvantages, ALBA pushes for solidarity with the economically weakest countries, with the aim of achieving a free trade area in which all of its members benefit (a win-win alliance).
The first agreement between Cuba and Venezuela focused on the exchange of medical and educational resources and petroleum between both.

The second round of agreements between Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela in 2006 saw Cuba promise to help Bolivia provide free eye treatment to those Bolivians who otherwise would not be able to afford it, while Venezuela s agreed to provide at Bolivia with oil at preferential rates.

A joint declaration between Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro following this meeting stated: “…we fully agree that the ALBA will not become a reality with mercantilist ideas or the selfish interests of business profitability or national benefit to the detriment of other peoples.”

Other examples of cooperation through ALBA have included free medical scholarships for students at Cuba’s Latin America School of Medicine, and Cuban medical brigades providing primary health care in many countries.

Cuba and Venezuela have a joint agreement to work on the design of a continental project to eliminate illiteracy in Latin America.

Venezuela has also provided petroleum and mining industry expertise and oil at preferential rates to many countries.

From January 2010, member nations also agreed use a new currency dubbed the “sucre” for trade among themselves. Although no sucres will be printed or coined, the virtual currency will be used as a common currency for electronic transactions to manage debts between governments while reducing reliance on the US dollar and on Washington in general.