By SARAH RAYMUNDO
There are many ways that opinion-writers, soothsayers, and gatekeepers of lifestyle might assess the year 2014. By way of a year ender, this writer tackles ALBA vis a vis US-dominated global politics. More than two weeks ago, she learned about what ALBA means for peoples who are part of it. But more importantly, she came upon ALBA with the kind of people—her very own actually— who seek to change the conditions of their existence.
Before this, it did not seem likely that she would ever be convinced of an alternative that is at once remote and present. She has started to see what change means for a significant number of peoples. Like crimson dye sinking into a bowl of water, the quantitative and qualitative properties of change are happening for ALBA. And not without the hope, vision, and fire in the eyes of peoples whose great histories blow like the wind on their backs, the same histories that lead them to the open road ahead.
ALBA’s promise is its task
ALBA-TCP is the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America–Peoples’ Trade Treaty (1). Established on December 14, 2004 “for the development of cooperation and the economical, commercial and productive integration with special emphasis on the social dimension,” ALBA-TCP was first launched in a Summit held in Havana, Cuba “through the subscription of the Joint Declaration for the establishment of the ALBA and the Agreement for the implementation of the Alliance, by the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, and the President of the Council of State of Cuba, Fidel Castro.”
Currently, the ALBA-TCP members are: Venezuela (December 14, 2004) Cuba (December 14, 2004) Bolivia (April 29, 2006), Nicaragua (January 10, 2007)Dominica (January 26, 2008) Ecuador (June 24, 2009) Antigua & Barbuda( June 24, 2009) Saint Vincent & The Grenadines (June 24, 2009) Saint Lucia (July 30, 2013).
In 2006, merely two years after ALABA’s founding, and with Bolivia joining in, it scaled new heights through the proposal of the People’s Trade Treaties. TCP constitutes instruments of trade that promote solidarity and complementary exchanges among member countries whose goal is to carry out a plan of economic development that will benefit the people. This formation is in stark opposition to the Free-Trade Area (FTA) whose neoliberal mandate is to promote the profit-driven logic of transnational corporations.
As a complementary economic zone, ALBA-TCP seeks to expand and consolidate the Latin American and Caribbean (Petrocaribe) trade integration from a progressive standpoint. From South America and the Caribbean basin, member states have been promoting an economic integration that is based on humanist principles of justice and solidarity. The starting point for which is the existing conditions of hunger and poverty in the region.
On account of the long history of colonialism and imperialist plunder— external forces that have historically brought together the peoples of this region to struggle for national sovereignty and dignity— the world has witnessed counter-hegemonic ruptures from tyranny and exploitation in the great revolutions led by Bolivar, Marti, Sucre, O’Higgins, and the more contemporary victories and struggles led by Fidel Castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
In its 2004-2014 Management Report, it is made known that:
“The nine Member States of ALBA-PTA are inhabited by some more than 74 million people, 47.7% of which forms part of the labor force 1. It spreads over three million square kilometers in the aggregate, including the exclusive economic zones, 49.5% of which comprises forests and 6.73% covers plowlands. The latter number surpasses the average of 1% in the whole Latin American and Caribbean region.”
As opposed to the FTA that promotes the privatization of the basic services of water, education, health, transport, communications and energy, the PTT promotes and strengthens the role of the State in these essential services that allow for the full compliance with human rights.
For 10 years now, ALBA has been keen on identifying new economic actors in redefining a growing commercial presence. Since when has the system of monopoly capitalism allowed and promoted new commercial actors such as small and medium sized enterprises and make sure that they actually survive?
Social production companies, communes, cooperatives as key actors in the field of commerce is unheard of; and they are even easily eaten up by the logic of profit that abandons human needs. In fact, one of capitalism’s worst crimes is its systematic way of making everyone believe that human needs are nothing more than utopian talk.
Capitalism makes utopia sound like it is such a stupid and remote idea. And this version of utopia is one of the major sources of institutionalized cynicism and a severely stunted intellectual and moral growth for those who believe that this system works and is good for the majority.
ALBA’s reflexive framework
ALBA-TCP is a properly progressive shift in multilateral and diplomatic relations, as evidenced by its avowed principles. The more impressive aspect of this formation is its approach to changing the world. For ALBA-TCP, the point is not to question the entanglement of nations and their integration in the global order.
ALBA-TCP questions the existence of geopolitical domination in a diverse world with heterogeneous ways of life. Meanwhile, leaders of imperialist US find it convenient to call for an end of division as it funds genocide and builds it military bases all over the globe.
ALBA-TCP clearly identifies the source of division and struggles against interventionist and aggressive practices committed by imperialist nations, foremost of which is US imperialism.
Historically, imperialist US has been actively engaging in cover-up operations, media wars, and the funding of destablizers and/or armed group that sow terror among the people of different nations that it wants to colonize anew.
What is possible?
“A better world is possible” is ALBA’s claim. We have heard of the liberal WSFish claim that “another world is possible (2).” What is the difference? The first is reminiscent of Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History:
“This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress (9th Thesis on the Philosophy of History).”
What propels people to move forward is its remembrance of oppression and exploitation, not only of one’s own but the kind of misery that has brought every one of us here at the expense of other people’s unnecessary suffering in the history of humankind’s so called ascent. For those who know how “history hurts” (Jameson) or how the class struggle takes on its most painful forms in the quotidian, the making of a better world is an urgent task.
What does it mean to say that a better world is possible? ALBA has taken leaps in the field of commerce, health, and education to make people’s lives better. One can read its 10-year report and see that very simple and celebratory (not triumphalist) YouTube video on its 10th anniversary. In a very modest yet impressive way, the documents do not leave the audience with the question of what to do about its promises.
Meanwhile, the liberal leftist claim that another world is possible is not only philosophically impoverished (yes, even taglines must be philosophically astute in order to go beyond attracting hipsters), it also urgently calls for innovation, transformation, and creativity. Just like advertising. The chasm that is conjured by the reference to another world is a perfect idea to minimize subtraction and division. It invites everyone, exploited by the system or not, to project one’s own fantasies onto the idea of another world.
Can this present world or system be any better for big business and state bureaucrats? They wouldn’t be invested in a better world. But capitalism is a system that demands change all the time. It demands innovation, creativity, and even transformation in order to restore its failed institutions.
We have recently seen this in the way the system is innovatively and creatively handling the financial crisis that started in 2008. That is why for those who can reconcile themselves with the current system, imagining another world may be one of those compelling fancies that will not make a dent on the system’s normal functioning. “Another” does not only sound vague and empty, it is vague and empty.
We hardly ever hear about ALBA in the same way that Clara Zetkin and Federico Garcia Lorca are unheard of. It is the duty of mainstream media as a state apparatus not to tell us all about them. The Occupy Movement has been discussed by various media a great deal, and in conflicting ways, too. Its scope is vast, and the mobilization is overwhelming. But serious debates on its future prospects have yet to crystallize. The movement might do better by dropping its horizontal politics avowed by its “leaders.”
In any case, Mike Davis came up with one of the most wonderful statements on that ongoing world event since 2011: “The occupy movement should create a space for fundamental needs and demands to be registered rather than a space for so-called realistic goals.” The radical assertion of human needs over profit must eclipse the cynicism of pragmatism: “what is true is what works.”
Against this pragmatic and cynical approach to truth, one must ask who dictates what works under this system. And this is another one of capitalism’s worst crimes: it has hijacked our capacity to imagine reality and realism. It has appointed big business, corrupt politicians, and technocrats as visionaries for and judges of reality.
Real alternatives are in order
There are other ways of constructing citizenship other than integrating it with consumerism in the manner that is done in the so-called affluent society of the United States. What has modified capitalism since the 20th century is the drive for mass consumption, now made global (3).
In this context, the pursuit of rational economic goals such the accumulation of profit has been reinforced by the practice of extravagant display. It has managed to cover class division and scarcity with standardized portrait of abundance and middle class satisfaction.
The compulsion to aspire for standards set by the elites is less a function of unbridled individualism on the part of the consuming masses than a systematic capitalist mechanism to rein everyone in.
If capitalism can do anything and everything to change an expiring system into its own image and likeness, including itself, then surely there will be formations like ALBA and other socialist organizations worldwide whose mode of operation has historically been that of finding themselves ever more committed after every defeat.
If that sounds like a formal similarity between the world that we have and a better world that can be known and constructed again, then one must draw the line between two directions. It is either a forward or a backward movement. There are no grey areas here.
“¿Claro como el agua o claro como la Coca Cola? is a question that features symbolic elements of the system and a demand for clarity and understanding (4). It is a standard question that this writer would ask in jest whenever she speaks with some friends from Latin America and the Caribbean to emphasize that she just made an important point and to detect potential allies. It never fails to elicit laughter. Signs of better times.
Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Center for International Studies (UP-CIS Diliman) and a member of the National Executive Board of the All U.P. Academic Employees Union. She is the current National Treasurer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the External Vice Chair of the Philppine Anti-Impeiralist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.
(1)TCP is its acronym in Spanish
(2)World Social Forum
(3)A detailed historical description of mass consumption is presented in Lizabeth Cohen’s A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. 2003. Minnesota:Graywolf Press.
(4)”Clear as water or clear as Coke?”
ALBA TCP Building an Inter-Polar World: 2004-2014 Summits
ALBA-PTA 2004-2014 Management Report: 10 Years consolidating solidarity and integration among the peoples of our America.