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The crisis of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America: is there a chance of overcoming it?

The beginning of 2018 gave rise to the hopes of some experts and analysts for the normalization and smoothing of international tension, and raised questions about the future alignment of forces in the multipolar world. In this context, it is worth considering the transformations and their results that have affected Latin America. In particular, about the deep crisis, in which the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which until recently was the only truly “leftist” international association, is sinking.

The Bolivarian Alliance is a very interesting but often little-known Russian-speaking audience, the integration association of the Latin American region, which was founded in 2004 on the initiative of well-known leaders Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. The main goal of the alliance was to promote trade and cooperation between its members. Initially, it consisted of eight countries: Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. But by 2018 this association includes already twelve states in the region: seven Caribbean countries (Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Dominica, St. Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Christopher and Nevis), four South American (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador , Suriname) and one Central American (Nicaragua). From the point of view of the territory, the alliance represents a third of the Latin American-Caribbean community and, despite the “ALBA skepticism” in the scientific community, the ALBA’s geopolitical weight remains quite tangible.

First of all, the Bolivarian alliance is focused on the integration of real production. The fundamental principle of economic interaction is the “complementarity” of its participants: when the strengths of one state compensate for the weaknesses of others. It is worth noting that the ALBA is an example of an attempt to unite the Latin American countries on the left platform and convincing evidence that the leftist idea in the region is still alive. In addition, this interstate alliance with its own, it is possible to say, individual and original ideology unites in itself almost all states, which in one way or another are supporters of the “socialism of the 21st century”.

Foto oficial de los mandatarios que participan en la XIII Cumbre de la Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América-Tratado de Comercio de los Pueblos (ALBA-TCP), en el Palacio de la Revolución, en La Habana, el 14 de diciembre de 2014.
AIN FOTO/Marcelino VAZQUEZ HERNANDEZ/rrcc

In 2017, political life in the Latin American countries of the “left axis” entered a fundamentally new stage of its development. In the light of last year’s events, the future of the Bolivarian alliance for the peoples of our America is also seen as “vague”. In order to understand and follow the possible ways of development of this association it is worthwhile to plunge into the last year’s panorama of events and their hypothetical scenarios in more detail.

After the death of the legendary Commandant Fidel Castro and the upcoming departure of Raul from the political arena in April of 2018, Cuba will end a dynastic dictatorial regime. Liberty Island leader Raul Castro confirmed that he would leave office on April 19, 2018, and he officially announced this at a meeting of the National Assembly of People’s Power. It is too early to predict what scenario the events in Cuba will develop in the absence of Castro’s brothers, but, undoubtedly, this will lead to drastic changes not only in the Cuban state, but also in the region as a whole.

In the forefront of the changes that have taken place in 2017 is Ecuador. In the second round of presidential elections, the majority of votes still managed to get the protege of former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa – Lenin Moreno who on the 24th of May of 2017 officially entered the presidential term. Since Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra, who has served as president of Ecuador five times (the first time in 1934 and the last in 1968), Ecuadorians have never had such an odious leader as Rafael Correa. During the period of his presidency (2007-2017), a small South American country made a turn towards modernization, eradicating poverty, improving the well-being and living standards of the people, and the government’s national plan, entitled “El Plan Nacional del Buen Vivir” ), which was implemented from 2013 to 2017 and, as the former leader of the country noted, was a definite step towards building a new “socialism of the 21st century” under the state’s predominant control, popular participation in the management of the national treasure and the creation of society, in which man is above the power of capital. However, as noted by a number of analysts, his years of government were associated with contempt for state institutions, complete disregard for the independence of various branches of government, subordination of the media, television and the press to his political interests, as well as a loud corruption scandal with Odebrecht.

The current leader of Ecuador has grandiose plans, the main goal is to achieve energy independence. In order not to repeat the tragic error of Venezuela, which simply “eaten” its oil budget, and is now reaping the fruits, the Ecuadorian government has adopted a new concept of energy independence. The rate was made for hydropower, thanks to water reserves in the ranges of the Andes. By the end of 2018, eight hydroelectric power stations should be built and commissioned in the country. Some of them are already working, one of the newly launched hydroelectric power stations (Guri) has become the fourth largest in the world. When all planned hydropower plants are put into operation, Ecuador will be able to claim the status of the largest exporter of electricity on the continent.

In Venezuela, social transformations are again seen as dubious: as in the last years of Hugo Chavez’s presidency, and even more so in the current alignment of forces. The current leadership of the country, headed by President Nicholas Maduro, is trying to combat consistent sabotage, food shortages, energy crisis, but it seems that it does not dare to really take up reforms, let alone deepen them consistently. Another 15 months ago, no one would have thought that the president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, might have a future as dictator. Today we can safely say that, for the first time since Maduro was proclaimed successor of Hugo Chavez in December 2012, he has the best chances of remaining in power. In addition, recently, opposition parties have experienced a difficult period of “plunging” the country into an endless political crisis, characterized by their representatives as a peaceful, constitutional way out of the previous crisis through elections. They had a chance to avoid this process, but he seemed to have “slipped” from their hands because of mistakes and wrong steps committed within a few weeks. At the moment, it seems that neither the government nor the opposition parties feel the consequences of the unprecedented humanitarian crisis that has resulted in the death of hundreds of Venezuelan citizens from hunger and deprivation every day since the beginning of 2014. All this will be taken into account when preparing for a new round of talks in the Dominican Republic on the eve of presidential elections, which already seem inevitable. These negotiations will resume on the 15th of January. Although it is difficult now to guess exactly what they can lead to, most critics of the opposition coalition “Round Table of Democratic Unity” are inclined to think that the meeting in the Dominican Republic will not bring any results. Against this background, Lenin Moreno looks much more serious reformer than Bolivarians from Venezuela, whose rhetoric still prevails over the actual content of state policy. In this sense, Ecuador for other countries of the Latin American continent is not yet a flagship, but a symbol of hope for change.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales, an ardent supporter of the “socialism of the 21st century”, after the referendum held in 2016, citizens refused to be nominated for a fourth term in 2019. However, in December 2017, the Constitutional Court of the Plurinational State of Bolivia authorized the president to stand for election in 2019. The court decision extends to “governors, mayors, parliamentarians, members of city assemblies, as well as the president and vice president.” It is reported that, in case of victory, Morales will lead the country for the fourth consecutive term until 2025. With the initiative for the re-election of Morales, a number of social movements of the South American country were made. This decision on a new re-election for the fourth term was the target of tough criticism and continued strikes by the opposition, which qualified him as unacceptable, but so far the Bolivian leader continues to occupy strong positions in the regional arena.

Summing up the events in the “Bolivarian” countries in 2017, it should be noted that in the near future the states of the “left axis” will have to live without the dynasty of the Castro brothers, the Chavism and try to resist the general crisis of the “left” in the region. Currently, the ALBA is going through difficult times. In Latin America, the so-called “right turn” is in full swing. In addition to political prerequisites, a serious challenge for the Bolivarian alliance for the peoples of our America was the complication of the situation in the “core” of the alliance, primarily in the framework of relations between Venezuela and Cuba. The decline in world prices for “black gold” forced Venezuela to reduce its oil supplies to the Island of Freedom.

Against the backdrop of a “right turn” in the Latin American region, in 2018 the alliance entered, going through hard times. One can only hope that ALBA will be able to overcome the current difficulties and will come out of the economic and political crisis, common both for Latin America, and for the world community as a whole, and in a new capacity.

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