The alba-tcp: Looking with Keen Eyes
Christopher David Absell
THE NATURE OF THE CRITICAL APPROACH ( ...continuation )

The works included in the first category (see Table 2) are largely descriptive in nature and do not present any critical analysis of the ALBA-TCP. They are principally discursive, mostly present the ALBA-TCP in a positive (in some cases, almost poetic) light, and generally do not provide empirical evidence to support their fundamental arguments. Some of these works (Naím Soto, 2004; Linares, 2007; Granato et al., 2010) are simply historical accounts of the ALBA-TCP’s institutional development. Others are decidedly more discursive. The reliance on the official documentation of the ALBA-TCP as a primary source of information imbues much of this work with an ideological bias which is not supported by empirical evidence. A good example of the selection bias6 which can be derived from this approach is apparent in the article by Eudis F. Fermín T. In this article, Fermín analyzed the nature of the ALBA-TCP during the 1999-2009 period in order to determine whether the ALBA-TCP “…truly represents a paradigmatic break with the economic models of the prevailing integrationist regimes in Latin America and the Caribbean” (Fermín T., 2009: 342). This methodological approach, however, depended upon official ALBA-TCP declarations, which obviously did not provide an ideologically balanced perspective of the organization. For this reason, Fermín concluded that the ALBA-TCP did indeed represent a paradigmatic break with previous integrationist regimes. The author used the opinion of the unit of analysis to explain its nature.

This approach is common in the other articles included in this category although –unlike Fermín– most of them did not use an explicitly defined qualitative methodological approach. Omaira García de Berrios claimed that the emergence of the ALBA-TCP could very well be “…‘the Americas awakening’ to make the dream of harmonic development of nations come true” (García de Berrios, 2007: 629). This argument was derived from a limited number of sources (including Naím Soto; Ruiz et al., 2004) which provided only minor critical analysis of the ALBA-TCP. Another example can be found in Cole’s work. In an eloquently written article which drew parallels to Gabriel García Márquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera, Cole noted that, “The trancendental power of love prevailing over cholera (globalization) is encapsulated within the ALBA/alba initiative as a stategy of regional endogenous development, which is the process by which the continental ‘us’ allows individual citizens to remain themselves…” (Cole, 2010: 328; emphasis from the original work). Nonetheless, Cole’s eloquent prose did not rely on any empirical support aside from references to official documentation and the rhetoric of the ALBA-TCP elite (including Castro and Chávez).

It should be emphasized that many of these works are not completely devoid of critical content, although this content does not focus on the ALBA-TCP, but rather on what are perceived of as negative external forces, such as the inequitable make-up of the international legal order (Al Attar et al., 2010), the nefarious nature of neoliberalism (García de Berrios, 2007; Kellogg, 2007), the destructive tendencies of globalization (Cole, 2010), or the lack of regional governance in Latin America (Manzur et al., 2007). Generally, the ALBA-TCP is presented as a positive force which counteracts these tendencies. In a comparative case study of the Union of Southern American Nations (UNASUR), Paul Kellogg argued that although the ALBA-TCP and the UNASUR both challenged the role of the United States in Latin America, the two organizations were, in essence, contradictory in nature. Kellogg observed that while the UNASUR “…is completely embedded in a very familiar logic of capital accumulation and corporate rule,” the ALBA-TCP “…is closely associated with mass movements…” (Kellogg, 2007:189). The UNASUR is a manifestation of “newly confident” Latin American governments, bolstered by energy exports and an almost unanimous ideological consensus, able to articulate alternative development paradigms which reject US hegemony. The ALBA-TCP, on the other hand, reflects the nature of social movements in Latin America, manifested by “…factory occupations in Argentina and Venezuela, land occupations in Bolivia, Venezuela and Brazil, and the election of left-leaning governments throughout the region” (Ibid.: 209). Kellogg observed, “…there is a real feeling that what we are witnessing is … an alternative at last to the long night of neoliberalism” (Ibid.: 189). However, like the work by García de Berrios and Cole, this “feeling” and its accompanying discourse were supported only by a reading of the declarations of the ALBA-TCP and other ideologically complementary sources.

Another example of a generally critical article which failed to critically analyze the ALBA-TCP is that by Al Attar and Miller. The authors presented a pertinent critique of the international legal regime and an evaluation of existing Third World approaches to international law, arguing that international law essentially represents a continuation of the colonial era: “Fashioned to provide rational and moral justification for the horrors visited upon newly ‘discovered’ peoples and lands by emergent European powers, jus gentium remains a colonizing tool par excellence” (Al Attar et al., 2010: 359). Although Third World approaches attempted to redefine international law along more pluralistic and democratic lines, the authors observed that the Third World project stalled from want of a viable and well-articulated “emancipatory program”. The ALBA-TCP, however, could provide a framework for the continuity of this project: “…the ALBA could potentially reach the outer boundaries of the Third World and, in the process, construct an ethos of complementarity that might inform a new international legal framework” (Ibid.: 355). Nevertheless, this argument was not based on the empirical reality of the ALBA-TCP, but rather on official declarations made by the organization.

6 For an explanation of selection bias in the context of social science research, see Thies, 2002: 355.