ALBA-TCP Summit in Havana
The quest for Latin American and Caribbean unity and integration
Conquest is central to the human story. Conquest is the foundation to the great empires and advanced civilizations in human history since the agricultural revolution.
From the tenth to the fifteenth centuries, Western Europe was a backward region, relative to the Chinese Empire or the empires of the Islamic Civilization. But during the period, driven by war interests, the monarchs of Spain, England, and France, in alliance with their respective emerging commercial classes, forged a political centralization based on a single ethnic identification. These modern nation-states were thus strongly positioned to enter the competitive game of conquest.
The Western European conquest of the world from 1492 to 1914 was driven by a quest for wealth, which was fulfilled through the forced appropriation of natural resources and raw materials of the conquered territories, with forced labor having a central role, and with the conquered territories providing markets for the surplus goods of the conquering powers. The process of Western European conquest was legitimized with religious and racist ideologies.
During the process of European conquest, the United States of America came into being as an English settler republic. The American republic was able to advantageously insert itself into the global colonial process. Its upper commercial and agricultural sectors were able to accumulate capital from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries through a lucrative trading relation with Caribbean slaveholders, involving the sale of food and animals. In the first half of the nineteenth century, its southern region cultivated cotton, primarily through African slave labor, which facilitated the economic development of the commercial centers of its northeastern region, by providing cotton for an expanding textile industry as well as markets for manufacturing and agricultural goods.
The ascent of the American Republic also was aided by the conquest of the West during the nineteenth century, forcefully appropriating the territories of the original nations of the continent. Also facilitating the U.S. ascent was the concentration of its industry during the second half of the nineteenth century, through the ethically and legally questionable practices of the “robber barons,” which provided the economic foundation for imperialist political and economic penetration of Latin America and the Caribbean during the twentieth century. The expansion of U.S. industry also was fueled by the war profits of the world wars from 1914 to 1945.
The arrival of the United States of America to world hegemony coincided with the transition of the world-system to neocolonialism, which occurred during the post-World War II period, as a concession to the demand for independence of the colonized peoples of Asia and Africa. In the neocolonial order, all nations are equal and sovereign, and all citizens have civil and political rights. But the economic structures established during the previous colonial period remain intact. Inasmuch as they are designed to ensure the flow of cheap raw materials from the peripheral regions to the core, and to ensure the opening of world markets to the surplus products of the core, global economic structures reinforce global inequalities.
The transition to neocolonialism occurred during the 1950s and 1960s. Some scholars have called it the golden age of capitalism, because it was a period of economic expansion and low levels of inflation and unemployment. Indeed, the high standard of living in the core nations did not have precedent; and with their newly attained independence, the colonized peoples of the world had hopes for the future.
But hidden beneath the surface were structural contradictions. The high standard of living of the core was financed in part by state deficit spending. To be an effective long-term strategy, deficit spending must be undertaken as a temporary measure that is integral to a plan for the development of national production; it ought not be merely a political concession to the demands of the people with respect to their social rights and needs. Without a long-term comprehensive plan, state deficit spending has natural limits.
In addition, the high standard of living of the core also was financed by the superexploitation of labor in the peripheral zones. This characteristic was not politically sustainable, inasmuch as it was being challenged by Third World social and political movements envisioning the end of the superexploitation of labor and seeking the transformation of colonial economic structures into more just and mutually beneficial trade relations between the core and the formerly colonized zones.
One of the strategies of the neocolonized for change was the formation of associations of raw materials exporters, so that the exporting nations would be able set prices. The most successful was OPEC, which in 1973, set a higher price for petroleum, creating a great inflation.
The oil exporting nations did not use the higher revenues to invest in the productive capacity of their nations, as was envisioned by Third World revolutionaries of the period. They deposited the new money in core banks, which created a problem for the banks of surplus liquidity, which was resolved by low-interest loans to states in semi-peripheral and peripheral zones. When the interest rates on outstanding loans were raised, the problem of Third World debt was created.
The core powers found in the Third World debt a mechanism for imposing economic policies that served their interest in keeping Third World wages low, raw materials exports cheap, and Third World markets open. The global powers, with the cooperation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, rescheduled debt payments and floated new loans, on the condition that the recipient state would adopt social and economic policies in accordance with core interests.
In the 1980s, Fidel Castro spoke with moral authority among the peoples of the Third World. His 1983 report as outgoing president of the Non-Aligned Movement, prepared with the support of a team of Cuban economists, was at once a scientific analysis, a moral condemnation of neoliberalism, and a political call for the unity of action of the Third World states. During the decade, Fidel delivered several speeches on the Third World debt, describing it as politically, economically, and morally unpayable; and noting that the problem itself was a product of the irresponsible conduct of core banks. He called for a debtors’ strike, a suspension of debt payments by Third World governments, negotiating as a united bloc with core institutions, and seeking a reasonable resolution of the problem in a form that did not punish the Third World poor for the sins of others. However, the Third World states did not attain the necessary unity of action. Each state negotiated individually for rescheduled debt payments. The core banks were rescued; and the world’s poor were further impoverished.
The United States in the 1990s sought to implement neoliberal policies with respect to Latin America in a more systemic form, through the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), exempting agriculture, inasmuch as U.S. big agriculture, with its state subsidies and benefits, would be undermined by free trade. A Summit of the Americas was held in Miami to attain consensual support for the project, excluding socialist Cuba. But the project encountered resistance from Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil, and it could not be implemented. The resistance of key Latin American states to FTAA was part of a larger resistance by the Latin American and Caribbean peoples to neoliberal economic policies, for their devastating consequences.
Latin American and Caribbean unity and integration
The neoliberal turn of 1979 to 1994 eclipsed Third World hopes. The coerced implementation of neoliberal policies left Third World states without the capacity to attend to the most immediate socioeconomic needs of their peoples, already impoverished by a century or more of colonialism and semi-colonialism. Even less did Third World states have the capacity to formulate and implement a long-term plan for the development of their national economies.
However, the notion of the need for Third World unity in opposition to the imperialist maneuvers of the core, formulated by Fidel and other Third World revolutionaries during the 1970s and 1980s, did not die. In Latin America at the dawn of the twenty-first century, it expressed itself in the form of unified political action seeking Latin American and Caribbean regional economic integration, with the intention of establishing fair and complementary trading relations among the nations of the region, thereby gradually escaping from the unequal core-peripheral exchange imposed by the powers of the North.
The story goes that the first time Fidel heard Hugo Chávez speak, he passed him a note saying, “I think I am no longer the only devil in the room.”
In 2004, Chávez and Fidel took the first practical step toward the notion of Latin American and Caribbean unity and integration, with the founding of Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA for its initials in Spanish), as an alternative to the US-proposed FTAA (which has the acronym ALCA in Spanish). The Joint Declaration by Cuba and Venezuela presented ALBA as an alternative to FTAA, maintaining that the U.S. proposal no longer was viable, principally because of opposition from Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil. The declaration maintained that integration in Latin America historically “has served as a mechanism for deepening dependency and foreign domination,” and it described FTAA as “the most recent expression of the appetite for domination of the region.” It proposed an alternative form of integration based on cooperation and solidarity: “Only an integration based on cooperation, solidarity, and the common will to advance together with one accord toward the highest levels of development can satisfy the needs and desires of the Latin American and Caribbean countries, and at the same preserve their independence, sovereignty, and identity.”
ALBA was followed by the formation in 2008 of the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR), a process led by Brazil, where the Workers’ Party led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had taken power in 2002. The Constituent Treaty of UNASUR, signed by all twelve nations of South America, proclaims that “South American integration and union are necessary in order to advance sustainable development and the welfare of our peoples as well as to contribute to the resolution of the problems that still affect the region, such as persistent poverty, exclusion, and social inequality.”
The process of Latin American unity and integration culminated in the formation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in 2010, consisting of the governments of the 33 nations of Latin America and the Caribbean. Its fundamental goals were well expressed in its 2014 Summit in Havana, which affirmed the commitment of the 33 governments to continue the process of Latin American integration. It affirmed a form of integration based on complementariness, solidarity, and cooperation. It endorsed “a vision of integral and inclusive development that ensures sustainable and productive development, in harmony with nature.”
The Twenty-First Summit of the Chiefs of State and Government of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-Commercial Treaty of the Peoples (ALBA-TCP) was held in Havana on May 27, 2022. Presidents, prime ministers, and high officials of ten Latin American and the Caribbean nations were present, including, in addition to Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucía.
The Twenty-First Summit of ALBA-TCP was conducted days prior to the Ninth Summit of the Americas, originally created for the purpose of attaining consensus concerning the above-mentioned FTAA. And the ALBA Summit occurred amid speculation that the governments of Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia will not be invited to the Ninth Summit of the Americas.
In statements to the press, Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela, declared that “the people of the Americas are today firmer and clearer about our destiny. ALBA-TCP is the road to the union and liberation of our people.” He further declared that “this is the work of Fidel and Chávez; we are carrying out their work, constructing unity for the liberation of our peoples.
In his discourse to open the Summit, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel reaffirmed that the Latin American and Caribbean region must be united in its diversity, because if the region is fragmented, each country can be ignored. But if we are united in collaboration and solidarity, the voice of the region cannot be silenced. He declared that “now is the time to defend our America with resolve and dignity.”
The Twenty-First Summit emitted a declaration, in which the governments:
(1) Ratified their commitment to strengthen ALBA-TCP as an instrument for the union of the peoples of the region on the basis of the principles of solidarity, social justice, cooperation, and economic complementarity.
(2) Ratified their commitment to the genuine integration of the region led by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
(3) Supported the demands of the countries of the region for a change in hemispheric relations, in accordance the UN Charter and International Law, including the principles of the equality and sovereignty of nations, non-interference in the internal affairs of states, the non-use of force or the threat of force, the peaceful resolution of differences, and the self-determination of peoples.
(4) Reaffirmed their support for multilateralism as the principal instrument for confronting complex global challenges through collective action.
(5) Denounced the intentions of imperialist domination over the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, in order to keep the region divided in accordance with its hegemonic interests.
(6) Rejected the ideologically and politically motivated exclusion of several countries of the region from the so-called Summit of the Americas, a unilateral action that constitutes a serious backward step in hemispheric relations, and which offends the Latin American and Caribbean peoples.
(7) Denounced the discriminatory treatment by the United States against representatives of the genuine civil society of the region, which have sought to enter the United States to participate in said event.
(8) Emphasized that exclusions from meetings cannot contribute to the solution of the urgent challenges that the region confronts.
(9) Rejected the imposition of unilateral coercive measures against Venezuela and Nicaragua and the economic, commercial, and financial blockade against Cuba.
(10) Backed all genuine efforts to promote respectful dialogue, tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and cooperation among all the countries of the Americas, without exception, in order to find effective solutions to the serious problems that affect the hemisphere.
The President of Bolivia, Luis Alberto Arce, declared a message of solidarity to the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, in which he described ALBA-TCP as “an alliance for life, solidarity, cooperation, and peace among peoples. He asserted that “we need a new world order truly democratic and just, with balance of power and without hegemonies, with full respect to the principals of self-determination of people and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. We need a new world order with world peace based in mutual respect and recognition of political, economic, social, and cultural pluralism.”
Arce recalled that the first summits of the Americas in the 1990s occurred during the zenith of neoliberal capitalism on the continent. However, following the eruption of leftist and progressive processes on the continent, the summits acquired different characteristics, including space for debate and interchange dedicated to strengthening democracy in its most ample sense. Now, the arbitrary exclusion of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela can only have the consequence of weakening the summits. The veto of Washington demonstrates, he asserted, that the USA has no political will to change its hostile policies toward governments that do not subordinate themselves to its interests.
It is time, Arce declared, for the government of the United States to end its senseless and criminal economic, commercial, and financial blockade against Cuba as well as the more than 500 coercive sanctions imposed on Venezuela and Nicaragua. “With blockades and sanctions, a sustainable future will never be constructed in our hemisphere.”
The peoples of our region, Arce declared, ought to continue to strengthen organizations founded on regional integration, like ALBA-TCP and CELAC, which constitute “an integration for the wellbeing of our peoples, not an integration for the domination and looting of peoples. From ALBA, an alliance that has resisted and will continue resisting all the imperialist attacks, we walk firm, joined with the peasant indigenous and worker movement, the vanguard of our revolutions.”
As the nations and peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean find the road to unity, the United States falls into decadence. It turns out that neoliberal polices not only had devastating socioeconomic consequences for the peoples of the Third World. They also undermined the productive capacity of the United States, thereby weakening its capacity to economically compete with other nations. The USA has turned in the twenty-first century to aggressive wars and economic sanctions, justified with pretexts based on false assumptions and erroneous claims.
The progressive governments of Latin America and the Caribbean join with China, North Korea, Vietnam, Iran, and Syria in an anti-imperialist alliance, seeking to defend possibilities for the construction of a more just and sustainable world order.
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