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ALBA Trade Bloc Forms Joint Food Company at Summit in Venezuela

by James Suggett
February 04, 2009

Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Honduras, and Dominica created a joint food production company and laid out plans to guarantee food security in the Caribbean, Central, and South American regions during an extraordinary summit of the regional trade bloc known as the ALBA in Caracas on Monday.

"We are going to create a supranational company, like a transnational company, but in this case with the concept of a great nation, to produce food with the goal of guaranteeing food sovereignty to our people," declared Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who co-created the ALBA group in 2005 with his ally, the former president of Cuba, Fidel Castro.

ALBA stands for "Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas" and is named after the South American independence hero Simón Bolívar, who aspired to unite all of South America into one nation. ALBA nations forge mutually agreeable "people's trade agreements" that are meant to be free of the coercion and one-sidedness of freed trade deals promoted by the United States.

In Chávez's words Monday, "ALBA is the expression of a new geo-political space… the sunrise of a new era in which Venezuela is no longer solitary."

The new ALBA company will receive an initial investment of $49 million drawn from the $100 million food security fund that ALBA member nations created during the height of the world food crisis last April.

As an investment plan, the ALBA nations signed agreements to form mixed enterprises that will promote technological cooperation and training, invest in rural infrastructure, and integrate regional food distribution.

Member nations also decided Monday to place the food security fund under the management of the ALBA Bank, which is now headed up by Venezuela's former ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Álvarez.

Over the long term, ALBA nations committed to further integrate ALBA with PETROCARIBE, a group of seventeen Caribbean and Central American countries that receive preferential financing on Venezuelan oil and fertilizer in exchange for goods and services.

Several PETROCARIBE nations have already started a special Caribbean food production fund in the ALBA Bank and constituted mixed enterprises with the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA to jointly extract oil from Venezuela's Orinoco oil belt.

Another ongoing ALBA project is the establishment of a common currency and unified compensation measurements for trade among member countries. Last December, each ALBA nation agreed to form a committee to advance a specific aspect of this effort, according to announcements by Venezuelan Finance Minister Alí Rodríguez.

Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador attended the ALBA summit Monday, along with Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and Cuban Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura.

Morales praised Venezuela's and Cuba's efforts to provide assistance to poor Latin American nations, noting that hundreds of thousands of Bolivians have received free eye surgery and learned to read through Venezuelan and Cuban solidarity programs.

Before heading off in a caravan with the ALBA country leaders to participate in street marches to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his inauguration as president of Venezuela, Chávez announced that there is a potential new member of ALBA. "President Fernando Lugo [of Paraguay] called me this morning to request that he be included in the next ALBA meetings," he said.

In addition to leading the ALBA and PETROCARIBE initiatives, Venezuela appears to be on the verge of earning the approval of Brazil's congress for membership in the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR). Venezuela is also an outspoken promoter of the Union of Southern Nations (UNASUR), a political alliance that focuses on resolving political and military disputes and does not include the U.S.


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