ALBA: A fight for justice and for the survival of the species

raul-albaThe 8th Summit of ALBA-TCP, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Trade Treaty of the Peoples (formally the Bolivarian Alternative), was held in mid-December in Havana, Cuba. It marked five years since ALBA was set up between Venezuela and Cuba in 2004. From Havana, Sam Mcgill reports for Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

ALBA brings a political, economic and social alliance to defend the sovereignty, self-determination, identity and unity between Latin America and the Caribbean people, practicing the principles of cooperation, solidarity, mutual assistance, social justice and complementary economic planning for sustained integration and development. There are already over 100 ALBA projects spanning health provision, telecommunication, food and fuel distribution, scientific projects and initiatives for environmental protection. The Alliance includes Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Ecuador, St Vincent and Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and, until the coup in June 2009, Honduras. The recent election of Jose Pepe Mujica confirms the likelihood that Uruguay will join soon.

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Latin American workers sold out by trade union / FRFI 212 Dec 2009 / Jan 2010

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010

Over the past three years FRFI has regularly supported the struggles by low-paid cleaning workers in London for better wages and living conditions. These battles have overwhelmingly been led and organised by the Latin American Workers Association (LAWAS), which has consistently linked this economic struggle to the fight of all workers against capitalism and of immigrants against Britain’s racist immigration laws. Now this principled stance has meant LAWAS has come under attack from the opportunists who control the union Unite.

LAWAS brings together a wide range of highly political comrades: some who have fled repressive regimes like that in Colombia, where state and paramilitary forces constantly threaten trade unionists with imprisonment and murder; others from countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador which are moving in a progressive direction and directly confronting imperialism in the region.

The task of organising and representing Latin American workers in London is not an easy one. Even the precise size of the community is difficult to estimate. Research indicates that it could be anywhere between 31,211 and 258,605 depending on which sources and statistical methods are used. Estimating the undocumented population is even more difficult since it is by definition below the radar. In a recent survey of 413 Latin Americans in London 22% had a European passport and 19.6% a British passport while 17% said they had no valid documents.  50% said they earn less than £1,000 per month.

As reported in the last FRFI, although LAWAS was initially supported by the trade union Unite, the relationship began to deteriorate when Unite refused to support several workplace struggles – in particular that at the Willis building in the city of London. In September 2009 Unite ordered LAWAS to vacate its office in the union’s southeast region HQ. In November LAWAS issued a detailed statement, setting out how it has been progressively undermined and attacked by Unite. The full statement is on our website at www.revolutionary communist.org/index.php/editorial-a-welcome/1588-latin-american-workers-sold-out-by-opportunist-british-trade-union-movement.html

El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!

ALBA: New dawn for Latin America / FRFI 212 Dec 2009 / Jan 2010

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) was initiated in 2004 with a set of trade and cooperation agreements between Cuba and Venezuela. Its immediate origins lie in the famous barter trade between the two countries which began in 2000. Cuba sent thousands of educators and medical personnel to Venezuela, which in turn sold 53,000 barrels of oil a day at below world market prices to Cuba. This was followed in 2001 by an agricultural cooperation deal. In December that year, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez first proposed a ‘Bolivarian Alternative’, to counter the neo-liberal Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), known in Spanish as ALCA. ALBA means ‘dawn’ in Spanish.

Between 2006 and 2009, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Honduras (under Zelaya), St Vincent & the Grenadines, Antigua & Barbuda and Ecuador joined ALBA (with Paraguay intending to join at the end of 2009), and the ‘Alternative’ was consolidated as an ‘Alliance’; a ‘trade treaty of the people’. ALBA’s institutional framework is established, with secretariats, work commissions, councils, bi-national corporations and so on. It provides cooperation agreements between governments, without imposing changes to domestic institutions or social-relations, whilst providing ideological and material support for radical internal reforms. Principally, ALBA is building a barrier to US domination and European capital penetration, buttressing the most radical governments (Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador) while offering other countries in the region concrete examples of the benefits of trade relations based on south-south cooperation and the potential for welfare-based development.

By April 2009, there were 100 ALBA-projects underway, promoting non-market, non-profit based exchanges with the aim of keeping resources and surpluses in the region. ALBA projects use member-states’ resource strengths to promote domestic development focused on eradicating poverty and breaking traditional patterns of economic dependence, exacerbated by neo-liberalism. This bloc has the potential to become increasingly important in the context of the global financial crisis, highly unstable world commodity prices and recession in the most developed capitalist countries with devastating consequences around the world. The Bank of ALBA, inaugurated in December 2008, operates without loan conditions and with the consensus of members. Early in 2010 a new virtual currency, the SUCRE, will be introduced for exchanges within ALBA, undermining the leverage of the US dollar and international financial institutions.

ALBA is inspired by the welfare-based development model of socialist Cuba, with its medical and educational internationalism. ALBA in turn has removed from Cuba the obligation to completely insert itself into the international capitalist economy. It has provided the Revolution with an alternative export strategy that is consistent with its socialist principles, reaps the benefits of the Revolution’s investments in education and healthcare and is not obstructed by the US blockade.

The April 2009 the ALBA Declaration of Cumana, Capitalism Threatens Life on the Planet says: ‘it is necessary to develop and model an alternative to the capitalist system. A system based on: solidarity and complementarities, not competition; a system in harmony with our mother earth and not plundering of human resources…in summary, a system that recovers the human condition of our societies and peoples and does not reduce them to mere consumers or merchandise.’

Although at present the economic impact of ALBA is limited, its regional political and social implications are already significant. The emergence of an independent, alternative alliance in a region rich in hydrocarbons, metals and agricultural land is seen as a threat to US domination and European capital investment in the region.  ALBA’s relations with Brazil and Argentina are increasingly fraternal, as it draws them towards its operation principles (trade between Brazil and Argentina is no longer carried out in the US dollar, but by a system of payment in local currencies), and unites with them in a defensive bloc against the Colombian regime, which will host seven US military bases relocated there after the expulsion of the US from La Manta base in Ecuador.

The future consolidation and expansion of ALBA will take place in the context not only of growing US hostility but also of a global recession. Whatever the difficulties, socialists and progressive people everywhere should celebrate the example and achievements of ALBA. Three Latin American countries have eradicated illiteracy in the last five years (as Cuba did in 1961): Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, while Ecuador will achieve this historical goal soon. This is testimony to the revolutionary solidarity promoted by ALBA.

Helen Yaffe

Interview with president Rafael Correa / FRFI 212 Dec 2009 / Jan 2010

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010

President Rafael Correa in London President Rafael Correa in London President Rafael Correa in London

Building socialism for the 21st century in Ecuador

In April 2009, Rafael Correa was elected to his second term as President of Ecuador with 51% of the vote. This gave him a mandate to continue and deepen the programme of reforms and structural changes initiated since he first became president in November 2006. In three years Correa’s government has introduced an unprecedented social and economic programme of reforms – the Citizens’ Revolution – to reverse the poverty and exploitation suffered by the majority of the population in a country which has been ravaged by neo-liberalism (see FRFI 210). Correa has announced that Ecuador is building socialism for the 21st century and joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). In late October 2009, he made a brief trip to London, speaking at universities and to over 1,000 Ecuadorians living and working in London, en route to a formal state visit to Russia. HELEN YAFFE had the privilege of interviewing President Correa during a boat trip on the River Thames and a translation appears here.

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Peru – indigenous peoples fight back against imperialism / FRFI 210 Aug / Sep 2009

FRFI 210 August / September 2009 

Peru – indigenous peoples fight back against imperialism

For 58 days in April, May and June, some 3,000 indigenous peoples from 356 communities in the north and central part of the Peruvian department of Amazonas peacefully occupied oil installations and blocked roads and waterways in protest at their exclusion from decisions about the use of their historic lands. On 5 June, heavily armed police attacked them at a section of the Fernando Belaunde Terry highway in Bagua province known as ‘Devil’s Bend’. By the evening of 6 June, up to 70 civilians and police had been killed and some 115 wounded in the bloodiest single attack on indigenous peoples by the state since President Fujimori’s death squads and forced sterilisation campaign in the 1990s.

More than 70% of Peru’s Amazon rainforest was divided into concessions for oil and gas extraction between 2003 and 2008. The latest protests are against 11 presidential decrees applying the 2006 US-Peru Free Trade Agreement which affect hundreds of thousands of indigenous people, and fast-track large-scale farming, logging and the private acquisition of land in the Amazon. The legislature revoked two of the eleven decrees in August 2008 after locals blocked highways, waterways and a state oil pipeline. In Congress, President Alan Garcia simply boycotted debates on reports recommending the removal of the remaining nine.

To force negotiations over investments, indigenous people have resorted to seizing police, guards or even plant managers. By May 2009 there had been 268 officially recorded conflicts between state and indigenous peoples, compared to 83 in 2008. In May, protesters blocked the Napo river to stop boats from Perenco, an Anglo-French oil company and a major gas supplier to Britain, from moving into a proposed indigenous reserve in northern Peru. Perenco intends to build new platforms and wells involving massive airlifts, admitting that contamination of soil and water will be the consequence. Garcia sent the navy to break the blockade. Only two weeks after the Bagua massacre, Perenco got the go ahead to drill for oil in this site of international biological importance.*

Attempt to decapitate the indigenous leadership

During the 5 June attack, the police gassed, beat and shot protesters as they retreated. Local indigenous leader Santiago Manuin was shot repeatedly as he approached police trying to persuade them to stop firing. Residents from nearby Utcubamba and Bagua, hearing radio accounts of the attack, ran angrily to the blockade with sticks and stones and a few machetes. They gathered at El Reposo crossroads, where they were also shot and gassed. In Utcubamba a mass of people surrounded the police station in protest.  Around 11pm the police began shooting into the crowd, killing and wounding many. In Bagua police attacked protesters; 47 people were admitted to hospital by the evening of 6 June, most with bullet wounds.

The police prevented anyone looking for the dead or wounded until they left Devil’s Bend on 6 June. Journalists later found five bodies, shot in the back, beaten and burned in a crude attempt to conceal the murders. Some bodies were thrown into the river, others were taken away. The up to 70 dead included 23 police officers. Garcia sent police reinforcements to Bagua and imposed a state of emergency in Bagua and Utcubamba provinces, lifting it on 23 June. On Sunday 7 June Garcia  accused the protesters of ‘barbarity and savagery’, saying that their opposition to oil and gas ‘development’ impeded ‘progress’ and was due to ‘elemental ignorance’ or manipulation by unnamed foreign (meaning Venezuelan) interests.

The leader of Peru’s national Amazon indigenous organisation AIDESEP, Alberto Pizango, went into hiding on 6 June after a warrant was issued for his arrest and four other leaders on trumped-up sedition charges. Seven congressmen and women have been suspended, the local radio that covered the violence at Bagua has had its licence withdrawn, and moves are afoot to clamp down on NGOs. The coordinating body for Andean Indigenous Organisations has called for solidarity with the Peruvian Amazon peoples with pickets in front of all Peruvian embassies and consulates until the repression ends and the free trade agreements with the USA are derogated. It has also called for Garcia and his government to be put on trial in an international court for genocide. Panicked, the Peruvian Congress voted on 10 June for a 90-day suspension of two decrees.  On 11 June, riot police fired tear gas to keep protesters away from Congress as thousands marched in favour of the Amazon people.

On 22 June the country’s central highway was blocked by mine workers from the La Oroya mine, Junin. 3,500 struck after work was suspended due to lower exports and in solidarity with the victims of the police attacks. In the southern districts of Apurimac, a general strike continued for 11 days and road blocks were set up by the workers in Cusco. Apurimac is the site of a huge planned iron ore project pumping iron ore slurry to the coast, inevitably with huge damage to the forest and massive water demands. On 23 June the military was sent to Apurimac, Cusco and Junin ‘to assure the function of public and private services’.

The National Front for Life and Sovereignty declared a three-day strike from Tuesday 7 July against Garcia’s  economic policies.  The government offered workers who stayed at work 20 soles ($6.6). Thousands of police were deployed in Lima and next day over 156 demonstrators were arrested, mainly in Lima. The strike had 100% support in the southern provinces of Huancavelica, Puno and Cuzco; it took place in the midst of a serious government crisis that forced Garcia to advance a planned cabinet shuffle.

The Bagua bloodbath represents an attempt to destroy Peruvian indigenous movements. Garcia speaks of 400,000 people preventing 28 million Peruvians from benefiting from the wealth of the Amazon, as if the vast majority of the Peruvian people could ever benefit from imperialism. Following Bagua this majority has turned against Garcia, but the bourgeoisie is preparing for a yet harder fight. April showed the first monthly GDP decline since mid-2001. Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Peru’s imprisoned ex-president Alberto Fujimori, has emerged as an early leader in the campaign for the 2011 national elections. Already 21 parties have registered for the presidential elections while others seek the 145,000 signatures needed to stand – including former Prime Minister Simon and former armed forces minister Antero Flores Araoz.  

*http://www.conservation.org.pe/ci/hotspots/index.html

Alvaro Michaels