Friday, April 17, 2009
In attendance were the presidents of the ALBA nations; Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Cuba's Raul Castro, Bolivia's Evo Morales; Honduras's Manuel Zelaya; Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega; and the Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit.
Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, and the Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Fander Falconí were also present.
"We shouldn't expect anything, except from ourselves, from our own hands and our own will and our own courage," said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in his opening remarks, setting the theme for the four hour-long meeting. "That's where we'll find the solution to our problems. Magic solutions aren't going to come from the North, and much less through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank."
In the major issue of the day, the Latin American leaders signed into effect a new South American currency, to be called the Sucre.
"I sincerely believe that this initiative is writing a new page in history," said Chávez as the eleven leaders took turns signing the official order. "Here in ALBA, we came to take action to confront the economic and social crisis."
The progressive ALBA leaders say the Sucre is necessary to help defray the regional effects of the world economic crisis by substituting their trade in dollars with this new alternative currency. The ALBA countries and their allies plan to begin using the virtual Sucre by early next year, with future plans to convert it into a hard currency.
The regional currency is named after one of South America's founding fathers, Antonio José de Sucre, who was born in the Venezuelan town of Cumaná where the summit was held. Sucre fought alongside South American Liberator, Simon Bolivar.
During the meeting Chávez said that the SUCRE, which stands for the Unified System of Regional Compensation (Sistema Único de Compensación Regional), "will be much more than a currency." According to Chavez, the Sucre system will have four branches: The Regional Monetary Council, The Sucre currency itself, the Central Clearing House, and a regional reserve and emergency fund.
"This will help us to overthrow the dictatorship of the dollar, imposed on us from over there, from Bretton Woods," said Chávez.
The economic crisis, this weekend's Summit of the Americas, and the role of the United States in Latin America were also discussed during the meeting.
Cuban President Raul Castro lashed out at recent comments by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said the US would consider lifting the Cuban embargo if Cuba released dissidents from prison and embraced democracy.
"We have told the North American government in private and in public that when they want, we are prepared to discuss everything, human rights, freedom of press... everything, everything, everything they want to discuss, but they keep their conditions without even attempting to respect Cuban sovereignty, while violating the Cuban people's right of self-determination," said Castro.
All in attendance supported Cuba's stance.
Paraguay's new President Fernando Lugo asked if "someone at the UN or the Organization of American States (OAS) gave the United States the power to elect itself as the judge of the democratic people of Latin America."
"We are in a new moment in Latin America. And we are the true authors of our own destiny, and there is no nation in the world that can judge us, over who is more democratic or not. We each have our own unique process of democratization," Lugo said.
"The United States doesn't have any authority to speak about democracy, because from over there they install coup d'etats, like these civil coups now in Bolivia," agreed Bolivian President Evo Morales who was unexpectedly in attendance, having only just finished a multiple-day hunger strike.
He proposed that the ALBA nations present a resolution at the Trinidad Summit to ask the United States to end its embargo on Cuba and to cease intervening in Latin American affairs.
"Cuba has the support of everyone in the world, except the United States and Israel. So if Obama wants the whole world's support, he's going to have to lift the embargo on Cuba," said Morales.
The Bolivian president said that Cuba should be re-admitted in to the OAS, because the reason for Cuba's expulsion from the organization in 1962 is that it was "Marxist, Leninist, and Communist."
Now with numerous Latin American countries openly in support of Socialism, Morales joked that either Cuba should be readmitted, or they should all be kicked out.
Morales also condemned the Human Rights Councils of the UN and the Organization of American States, which he said only criticize the region's progressive governments. He called for the creation of an ALBA commission on human rights, to carry out its own investigations in to human rights violations and destabilization attempts against their countries.
After signing the Sucre legislation, the heads of state rushed to a public event in Cumaná's Ayacucho plaza where they were greeted by thousands of cheering Venezuelans.
"For us, the Sucrenses, it is a huge honor to have welcomed them to our land, Cumaná!" cried Milagro Marcano after the event. "And we are very proud that the ALBA currency, the currency of South America, will be called the Sucre... It is important that the empire knows that our strength is in our union, and the people are in the street, and we have awoken and we are going to continue to fight for our free and sovereign country."
In the crowd a hundred feet away was a colorful and vocal group of two-dozen Bolivian students studying in Venezuela as part of the ALBA agreements between the two nations.
"The main goal of ALBA is to overcome this crisis and support each other from one country to the next so this crisis doesn't hit us so hard in Latin America," said Lisbel Paniagua, who is studying study Computer Science. "This means to fulfill the dream of Bolivar and Sucre, that we are one united America."
Beside Paniagua was Victor Valdiviez who said that ALBA has been very beneficial. "For example in my case, I am from a province there in Bolivia, in which the doors were locked for me. I was really afraid of the camera, but today I can express myself thanks to the ALBA agreement, I am studying," said Valdiviez.
The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA was founded five years ago between Cuba and Venezuela as an alternative to the US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas. Since its founding, the ALBA nations have implemented numerous social program and cooperation agreements. Among those is the recently founded ALBA bank that Chavez announced on Thursday will be taking over the funding of a number of Nicaraguan projects that were dropped by Millennium funding from the United States and Europe.
"We don't need the gringo money with these undignified conditions to continue exploiting the people. You can take your millions. We have the means to resolve our problems. We have the how, and we know how," said Chavez at the summit.
The ALBA heads of state traveled to Trinidad and Tobago today, but left behind government representatives in Cumaná to work on the details. Both Cuba and the international crisis are expected to be hot topics at the Trinidad & Tobago Summit. But with a heavy US agenda, the ALBA nations don't have high hopes, and President Chavez has already threatened to abstain from signing the final Summit of the Americas document.
To hear a radio report by Michael Fox on the ALBA summit visit Free Speech Radio News at www.fsrn.org.