The alba-tcp: Looking with Keen Eyes
Christopher David Absell
DEFINING THE ALBA-TCP

Given the descriptive nature of the literature concerning the ALBA-TCP, most of the work focuses on the historical, ideological and political aspects of the organization. The majority of definitions of the ALBA-TCP outlined here combine these aspects. Common threads include: the combination of ideological and historical aspects in order to produce a social consciousness based on the unifying myth of the legacy of Latin American libertadores; the use of the ideological-historical to shape a political identity defined in terms of counter-hegemony; the FTAA as the principal catalyst for the emergence of this counter-hegemonic identity; and the inability of pre-existing categories of integration to describe the development of the ALBA-TCP.

THE ALBA-TCP AS THE CONSTRUCTION OF A REVOLUTIONARY LATIN AMERICAN CONSCIOUSNESS

The definition of the identity of the ALBA-TCP is a complex affair; the multi-faceted nature of such an identity can be difficult to articulate unambiguously, given the various intersubjective meanings which may define its relationship with other actors, including its member-states. Despite the difficulties inherent to this process, numerous authors have attempted to define the ideational aspects of the organization, usually in historical-ideological terms. Crucial to understanding the nature of the ALBA-TCP, Thomas Muhr argued, is the role of “...ideational and normative constructs” in its process of development. These constructs represent the conversion of the historical and ideological into the normative building blocks of the regional project, as Muhr observed, “...in ALBA, a counter-hegemonic ethics of solidarity and cooperation merges with the historical-ideological in the construction of a ‘regional complex’ and a ‘regional community’...and in providing the foundation for the regional governance project.” The multiple references to past Latin American libertadores (such as Simón Bolívar, José Martí, and Augusto Sandino) in the rhetoric of the ALBA-TCP are an attempt to, “construct a regional popular-revolutionary consciousness and identity...” in order to “...counteract the historical monopolization of external relations (‘who is a friend or foe’) by the countries’ national elites” (Muhr, 2010a: 46-47).

The centrality of the construction of a regional social consciousness for the development of the ALBA-TCP was also explored in the work of Ken Cole. Like Muhr, Cole defined the ALBA-TCP as a “...counter-hegemonic project...” which was “...founded on complementarity, solidarity, cooperation, human dignity and respect for social diversity, rather than competition, domination, exploitation, corporate rule and economic expediency” (Cole, 2008). This project, he argued, was not only characterized by its institutional development but also by “political concientizacion”, in other words by an “emerging social consciousness” in Latin America. In this sense, Cole defined the ALBA-TCP in two ways: as the ALBA, a process of regional institutional organization, and as the alba, a word in Spanish that means dawn, that is to say the dawning of a social consciousness which at once reflects Latin American society and rejects the false promise of neoliberal ideology. “While ALBA and the other institutional and regional initiatives define the regional ‘we’, alba is the process of an emergent continental ‘us’: an evolving, shared social consciousness in which individual citizens might remain themselves as they jointly progress and develop” (Cole, 2010: 326). Thus, the author defined the multi-faceted nature of the ALBA-TCP's identity in terms of two interrelated elements: as a politic of counter-hegemony, which reflected both confrontational (external) and cooperative (internal) relations, and as a historical-ideological element which attempted to endow a regional social consciousness upon the peoples of Latin America, of which the ALBA-TCP was an expression.

This tendency to define the ALBA-TCP in terms of political and historical-ideological elements is common in the literature. In one of the earliest written scholarly articles regarding its development, Nayllivis Nathaly Naím Soto defined the ALBA-TCP as a “...political-historical response...” to the attempts by the United States to “redefine” its regional hegemonic position by way of the implementation of the FTAA. The historical element, Naím Soto observed, was an effort “...to recoup the idea of liberator Simón Bolívar of creating an American Confederation with the republics that gained their independence from Spain, in order to confront the Asian, European and North American economic blocs.” The political element was the active use of this idea “...to minimize, as much as possible, the political power of the United States and to weaken its proposal for hemispheric economic integration...” (Naím Soto, 2004: 57). Although this author defined these two elements in terms of a dichotomy, they are inseparable; it is not possible to gain an understanding of the historical nature of this organization without an examination of its political nature, and vice versa.