The alba-tcp: Looking with Keen Eyes
Christopher David Absell

The concept of the Boliviarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA) was first formulated in 2001 by Hugo Chávez at the III Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Association of Caribbean States. During his speech, Chávez dismissed the neoliberal model which characterizes other Latin American integration schemes and proposed an alternative, “...the original idea of many other men and women of our continent... a new concept of integration that is nothing new...” (ALBA-TCP, 2009a). Over the next few years, Chávez and his political mentor, Fidel Castro,2 debated this concept and it soon developed into a more comprehensive strategy that aimed to achieve nothing less than the historical mission of Simón Bolivar, José Martí and other Latin American liberators: “the Bolivarian dream,” consisting of emancipation from imperial power and the consolidation of regional integration. The first step towards the institutionalization of this project was taken on December 14, 2004, when Venezuela and Cuba signed an agreement and issued a joint declaration announcing ALBA's creation. Initially framed as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)3 which, according to the joint declaration, only contributed to the “...deepening of neo-liberalism...” and “...unprecedented levels of dependence and subordination...” (ALBA-TCP, 2004a) in the region, the agreement also served as an institutional basis for intra-regional trade that had already commenced between these two countries in the form of medical and educational personnel from Cuba in exchange for subsidized Venezuelan oil (ALBA-TCP, 2004b). This agreement was further consolidated during 2004 and 2005 through the formulation and application of a “strategic plan” that expanded the degree of cooperation between these two countries (ALBA-TCP, 2005).

The institutionalization of the ALBA was paralleled by a complementary political phenomenon that swept across the region during the first decade of the 21st century: the rise to power of a group of left-leaning governments which shared the ALBA's ideological approach. The presence of these ideological circumstances led to the rapid expansion of the organization's membership, beginning with the adhesion of Bolivia in 2006 under the leadership of Evo Morales. Upon Bolivia's incorporation, the title of the organization was expanded to include the words “Peoples’ Trade Agreement” (TCP by its acronym in Spanish), as originally proposed by Morales, which further defined the organization as an alternative to “...the free trade agreements which seek to increase the power and control of transnationals” (ALBA-TCP, 2006). Next came the subscription of Nicaragua in 2007, shortly after the election of Daniel Ortega, whose first official act as president was to sign an agreement to join ALBA. Membership expanded throughout 2008 with the inclusion of Dominica and Honduras, led by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and President Manuel Zelaya, respectively. Ecuador's Rafael Correa showed an interest in the project before he assumed the presidency in 2007, but the country remained an official observer until 2009, when it joined ALBA alongside St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda. That same year, the organization, previously referred to as the Bolivarian Alternative, became the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA-TCP, 2009b).

2 See Azicri (2009) for a good examination of the nature of this relationship.

3 In Spanish: Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas (ALCA).