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"Tribune libre"

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « Soumettre les marchés aux besoins sociaux »

by Rémy Herrera

"Bringing Markets Into Line with Social Needs"

Translated Wednesday 26 November 2008, by Kieran O’Meara

For more than a decade, popular struggles have been intensifying in Latin America. The Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA) is one of the experiments from that continent which inspire hope.

This programme of regionalization was launched at the end of 2004 in Havana, by Presidents Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, in order to strengthen the autonomy of the peoples of the South.

The ALBA is an initiative for regional union in opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) project. Launched by G.W. Bush in 2001, the FTAA (ALCA in Spanish) was the economic constituent of the American plan to dominate the “Western Hemisphere”. This project, which aimed to extend the North American Free-Trade Agreement joining Mexico to the United States, aimed to provide a legal framework for the pillage of Latin America by American multi-nationals.

This is the imperialist project which the struggles of the peoples of Latin America have put to flight. Some states (Cuba, Venezuela) have subjected it to radical critiques; others (Brazil) have tried to renegotiate it. They have all relied on a great mobilization of civil society against the FTAA. Forces came together from every sector - political parties, trade unions and social movements. The final blow was dealt by the refusal of the members of Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) to sign the FTAA in 2005. However, the counter-offensive had already begun with ALBA in December 2004.

An anti-ALCA strategy, ALBA obeys a logic contrary to that of Really Existing Capitalism and the diktats of banking oligopolies and global financiers. Today ALBA brings together six countries: Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Honduras. It has close relations with other states, including Ecuador. The aims of the mechanisms which have been set up are to bring markets into line with the aim of developing partner economies and with the social needs of their populations: education for all as far as tertiary education, universal health care (free and all-encompassing), guaranteed alimentary provision thanks to a network of State-controlled shops, social housing, public infrastructure (water, transport) and agrarian reform.

Negotiations towards the creation of a continent-wide public-run oil company (PetroAmerica) are on-going. The company would bring together the activities of the Venezuelan, Brazilian, Argentine, Bolivian and Ecuadorian state oil companies. An oil agreement (PetroCaribe), which provides oil to small non-oil-producing countries under favourable non-market conditions, has already been passed by 17 Caribbean states.

In the financial domain, the creation of the Bank of the South (Bancosur) also opens up promising horizons. The aim of this multi-lateral institution, operating under different criteria to those of capitalist banks, is not only to reduce the debt burden, but also to finance production geared towards the satisfaction of social needs.

ALBA’s strategy, following the logic of co-operation, solidarity and democratic participation in trade, must be understood as complimentary to other processes of integration in Latin America. Venezuela has, moreover, very recently joined Mercosur. These convergences are to be taken into account along with growing relations between other large countries of the South and East on other continents (for example, the Shanghai Group). Who could feel a stranger to these efforts to go beyond capitalism and to rebuild social or, better still, socialist projects?

Rémy Herrera is a researcher at the CNRS, Paris.

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