ALBA economic integration: Chávez flooring the accelerator

The heads of ALBA member states agreed Monday in Caracas to accelerate the economic integration of the bloc, by appointing an economic policy coordinator, moving up the schedule for creation of a common currency, and broadening the development of Banco del ALBA and multilateral state joint ventures.

The day after the 9th extraordinary ALBA summit, a top group of Cuban and Venezuelan officials, headed by both presidents, held a work meeting at the presidential palace in Caracas, hashing out ways to intensify bilateral economic integration.

Few specifics emerged from either of the meetings. The ALBA leaders didn’t say how and when they will pick the economic coordinator. According to the summit’s final declaration, the coordinator will present a “roadmap of economic sovereignty and independence” within three months, outlining “strengths and weaknesses or our economies” as well as the “main opportunities for complementarity,” and propose actions to “promote unity and integration of our economies, in a socialist perspective.”

Also, the ALBA economic commission must present, within 45 days, a plan to speed up the introduction of the Sucre common currency, and expand ALBA joint venture companies and the ALBA Bank “to a bigger size, where they truly impact the economic life of our countries.” 

The private sector has been relegated to a secondary role in the ALBA plan.

More petro dollars

The Venezuelan push for faster integration — amid a recession in the South American country — is likely to shower more petro-dollars on the cash-starved Cuban economy, which has been hampered by U.S.-fostered isolation and exclusion from multilateral organizations. Venezuela’s massive investment and oil aid raised concerns in Cuba about rising dependency on Venezuela. The push for ALBA could ease this dependency somewhat: While the economies of Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua are smaller and poorer than oil-rich Venezuela, their prosperity could bring about more economic exchanges with Cuba. Already, thanks to Venezuelan funding, Cuba has become a clearinghouse for billion-dollar ALBA healthcare and energy programs.

Chávez used the summit, held at the oversize Teresa Carreño theater in connection with the 200-year celebration of Venezuela’s independence, to rally his peers around an increasingly coherent political bloc.

“ALBA is a cause, and this cause cannot be achieved with doubters,” Chávez said. “I do not doubt.”

Indigenous groups at the Bicentennial parade in Caracas. Indigenous and Afro-descendant groups will be the focus of the next ALBA summit, June 3-5 in Otavalo, Ecuador


In the final communiqué, the heads of state committed to advancing the “battle for socialism, the Ayacucho of the 21st century.” Ayacucho in Peru was the site of the decisive battle for South America’s independence from Spain.

Castro and Chávez aside, the summit was attended by Evo Morales, president of Bolivia; Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua; Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador; and the prime ministers of St. Vincent & Grenadines, Dominica, and Antigua & Barbuda.

Bilateral meeting

The day after the ALBA summit, Raúl Castro and several cabinet members led by Vice President Ramiro Valdés had bilateral work meetings with Chávez and his cabinet at the Miraflores presidential palace to talk about investments, technology and import substitution.

“We’re working here on the integration plan, and now we’re developing a more detailed road map for economic complementation, on top of all the social development,” Chávez told reporters after the meeting. “Cuba has great potential. We were remembering that before the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba developed large textile factories. Now they’re there, and, more than anything, a lot of trained people. There were fishing vessels, a merchant marine, and almost all were left stranded, they were finished. But the people there weren’t finished, the fishermen, the sailors, and the ports and shipyards. That human capital. Now, we’re refining diagnostics and planning for economic complementation.”

Chávez also mentioned food and shoe production. Cuba once exported shoes, the Venezuelan president told reporters. 

The Cuban delegation also included Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca, and Eusebio Leal Spengler, who heads the restoration program of Old Havana. 

Also, even though Cuba’s billion-dollar medical aid to Venezuela’s “Barrio Adentro” program was designed to sunset three years ago, Venezuela apparently decided to continue using the services of nearly 30,000 Cuban doctors and medical staffers.

On Sunday, Chávez met with Cuba’s deputy health minister, to talk about medical aid to Haiti. Cuba is leading a $690 million program to rebuild the earthquake-shattered country’s healthcare system.

“I am leaving very satisfied, because relations with our Venezuelan brothers are consolidating and advancing,” Castro told reporters. “Every day, we’re more one and the same.”

Chávez accompanied Castro to the stairs of the Cuban presidential plane at Maiquetía airport. 

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