Cuban President Raul Castro welcomed representatives of ALBA nations to Havana Dec. 11-14 for their eighth summit meeting. "The confrontation between two historical forces is intensifying," he observed. He contrasted an "elitist and exploitative model, a legacy of colonialism" with the "advance of the revolutionary and progressive political forces ...committed to the real independence of the peoples."
This summit marked the fifth anniversary of ALBA's founding by Cuba and Venezuela - in Havana - as an alliance that would become, according to Prensa Latina, "a dynamic nucleus of integration placing emphasis on solidarity, complementary relations, justice and cooperation."
ALBA signifies the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America - People's Trade Agreement. The latter refers to a commercial and trade system under ALBA proposed earlier by Bolivian President Evo Morales. The summit approved a time schedule for institution of "fair trade" emphasizing "social development as an alternative to neoliberal free trade agreements." ALBA member nations include: Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia, Antigua and Barbuda, San Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica.
The eighth summit undertook to evaluate accomplishments and problems evident during ALBA's first five years and to assess "perspectives, challenges, and opportunities." Strengthened operating efficiency and mechanisms for integration were on the agenda.
Success was noted in extending health care, including sight restoration for one million people; dissemination of medical education, and removal of illiteracy from Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. President Castro highlighted studies underway in several countries toward improving the lives of disabled people. Other proposals included creation of a regional scientific center in Caracas, improved access to education up to the secondary level, creation of an ALBA cultural center, and an initiative identified with the name of Jose Marti for advancing regional integration.
Plans were laid for use, beginning in January 2010, of the sucre, a virtual currency for transactions among member states. Funding of the sucre will derive from deposits by ALBA members of currently used currencies in a central bank in Caracas. The aim is to reduce dependency on the U.S. dollar.
President Morales introduced the notion of an ALBA defense council as a "permanent necessity." The presence of U.S. military bases in Latin America requires that people "must organize themselves, lose their fear and defend not only the sovereignty of our countries, but their dignity."
The summit approved the ALBA resolution that Presidents Morales and Chavez would take with them to the Copenhagen Climate Summit. It called upon industrialized nations to adhere to scientific recommendations on reducing greenhouse gases and make good on reimbursing poor nations for climate damage.
The summit lauded the Dec. 6 electoral victory of Morales in Bolivia.
A closing statement denounced the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba, new U.S. military bases in Colombia, U.S. persecution of the Cuban Five prisoners, and the military coup and recent presidential vote in Honduras. "The coup d'etat was not only against Honduras, it was also against ALBA," declared Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Foreign minister-in-exile Patricia Rodas was on hand representing the legitimate Honduran government. After the summit concluded, de facto President Roberto Micheletti asked the Honduran Congress to retract its year-old ALBA membership. From the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa deposed President Manuel Zalaya accused Micheletti of diverting $100 million provided under ALBA from projects for the poor to his own devices.
Concluding the ALBA summit, which unfolded on the 15th anniversary of his first visit to Cuba, President Chavez read a letter from Fidel Castro honoring the occasion. The former Cuban president wrote, "The empire is mobilizing the Latin American right-wing forces." Nevertheless, he suggests, "The most important political battle of human history is being fought [at the Copenhagen climate conference] at this very moment." That fight is "not only for justice but also for human survival."
On the summit sidelines, Cuba and Venezuela signed agreements worth almost $3 billion on joint manufacturing, health care, education, and food projects. Trade between Cuba and Venezuela reached $5.28 billion last year, up from $945 million in 2003.