BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CMC – A leading Caribbean thinker, the development economist Professor Norman Girvan, has urged the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to sit up and pay attention as the Hugo Chávez -led Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) continues to make rapid advances.
Over the last 72 hours, the eight-nation bloc approved a new economic integration system dubbed ECOALBA and opened its doors to welcome another three CARICOM member states.
At ALBA’s 11th summit in Venezuela ending on Sunday, Haiti was granted permanent observer status and Suriname and St. Lucia were made “special guest members”, as a prior step to their full entry.
The two countries also indicated they intended to join another Chávez integration initiative, Petrocaribe, Venezuela’s preferential credit oil scheme.
They are set to join Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines and five Latin American member nations – Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Describing ALBA as a dynamic integration grouping, Professor Girvan told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that ALBA’s growth must be a wake-up call for CARICOM.
“(ALBA) poses the urgency of revitalising CARICOM and if CARICOM continues to be relatively moribund in its economic integration aspect then inevitably ALBA will become an attractive alternative for more and more CARICOM states,” Girvan said.
Chávez announced that each member state agreed to contribute one per cent of its foreign exchange reserves to the proposed Bank of the ALBA. He said that in the case of Venezuela, this represented 300 million dollars, an amount that will be used to create a common development fund that would pave the way for greater financial independence in the region.
Girvan said ALBA is proving to be a “more dynamic” grouping than CARICOM is at the moment.
“They are mobilising resources on a much more significant scale,” he told CMC. “The ALBA bank and Petrocaribe funding are much larger than those mobilized by the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF) and ALBA is moving ahead they keep launching into new projects for example food security and agriculture that CARICOM has been talking a lot but doing very little.”
ECOALBA, which is being projected as an alternative to trade and economic links dominated by the United States and the US Dollar, emphasises bartering and payments among ALBA members through a virtual currency, the Sucre.
Girvan, a former secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), also stressed that attempts by CARICOM member states to join ALBA should not viewed negatively.
He said there were no treaty obligations “of any kind” which conflict with those of CARICOM.
“It does not involve for example agreements that are similar to single market or single economy agreements and as far as the co-ordination of foreign policy are concerned, countries are free to opt out of foreign policy pronouncements if pre-existing commitments to their own integration movement require this,“ Girvan said.
But as his fellow ALBA leaders moved to adopt the plan for ECOALBA as a “single economic space” among member countries, the Vincentian leaders Gonsalves urged ALBA to work out “significant” legal and administrative details. He urged the grouping to take into account other regional economic and monetary arrangements, including the newly-formed OECS economic union and the CARICOM Single Market (CSME).
During the two-day summit, the Venezuelan leader also briefly discussed with Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit the possibility of bartering Dominica’s freshwater for Venezuelan-made cars.
He also highlighted the importance of the Orinoco Oil Belt, which he called the “principal engine of Venezuela’s integral development and a cooperation with the economic independence (of ALBA).”
Chávez announced “there is oil for 200 years” in the Orinoco Oil Belt, and that Venezuela is expected to increase oil production this year from three to 3.5 million barrels per day, making the country better able to meet its ALBA commitments.
The ALBA nations also signed on to a blockade of ships flying the Falkland Islands’ flag, in support of neighbouring Argentina as tensions again mounted over the disputed British-held territory.
The group also issued a statement in support of Syria’s embattled president Bashar al-Assad that rapped foreign interference in the Middle East nation.
- With reporting by Julius Gittens in Caracas