A report on ALBA and Its Growing Caribeean Members
The following report on ALBA and the Caribbean was given to the Venezuela Coalition Planning meeting on July 13 by Faiz Ahmed who is doing a thesis on ALBA at the University of New Brunswick.
ALBA has three Caribbean members: Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda. Each has a population of about 100,000; the largest (Dominica) is 1/7 the size of PEI.
These island nations belong to several other trade groups. But ALBA offers something not available in the other alliances, because ALBA is based on cooperation not competition.
The islands are poor by Caribbean standards and are very vulnerable: environmentally (lack of fresh water, pollution), economically (dependency on tourism, lack of leverage in determining export and import prices); socially (class differentiation is little developed; the local elite is weak).They need oil, of course. But also storage capacity. And they need the ability to buy without cash: they are cash-strapped and highly indebted.
What does ALBA provide them?
First, the ALBA Bank. This gives the islands access to capital. ALBA Bank decision making is based on equality: there is no system of weighted voting. The bank will have a branch in each island. It has funded $1 billion for social, educational, cultural, and health projects.
Second, oil. ALBA members can apply for loans for oil purchases on a sliding scale based on the price of oil. Currently, oil consumes 20% to 40% of the islands' GNP. ALBA also sponsors Petrocaribe, which provides discounted oil to ALBA members and other Caribbean islands.
Third, sports and culture. Recently the islands were among thirty countries (including some from Europe) participating in the ALBA games. Cuba sent the most participants, a large number of them trainers to assist the other delegations.
Fourth, Telesur, which functions in English as well as Spanish. It assists the islands in developing independent media.
Little of ALBA is financially driven. It is laying the groundwork for national self-sufficiency. On that basis, nations can make a free choice regarding their future economic model. This is not necessarily socialism. President Zelaya of Honduras was politically conservative, not a socialist. But the self-sufficiency that ALBA is working for can provide preconditions for socialism.
Faiz will soon publish a written report on the English-speaking ALBA countries.