When the votes are counted on the evening of November 6, one thing will not be in people’s minds – the Nicaraguan vote is effectively a referendum on the ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our Americas. Nicaragua is one of the key countries within the ALBA, and it could be argued that no country has taken the idea forward faster, with the exception of the founder member, Venezuela. Daniel Ortega, in his first day in office, signed his country up to the ALBA. Despite the economic advantages of the agreement, it would be no surprise if Nicaragua was pulled out of the regional agreement if Fabio Gadea or Arnoldo Aleman were to win.
Whilst some have portrayed the ALBA as merely a megaphone for the political views of Chavez and Ortega, in reality it is a series of agreements developing economic relations between the countries, which also funds social programmes through Nicaragua’s purchase of oil on concessionary terms (for more on the social programmes see our previous post here ).
One person who has seen the benefits of the ALBA close up is campaign member David McKnight, who has spent seven months this year in Nicaragua. He spoke at a meeting in Mold last week about the changes he has seen in the country since his first visit in 2001, two years after he had attended the anti-globalisation protests that derailed the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Seattle. He said:
In many ways it began twelve years ago at the anti-World Trade Organisation protests in Seattle which were about opposing neoliberal economics that were hurting some of the poorest people in the world. However, the protests were also about saying ‘another world is possible’ and that there are alternatives.
Shortly after the protests, I made my first visit to Nicaragua with Wales NSC and saw first-hand how Nicaraguans were suffering the impacts of eleven years of these policies. But also, how they were challenging them, with practical, on-the-ground examples such as fair trade cooperatives, grass-roots community organisations and innovative environmental projects. All of which had their roots in the Nicaraguan revolution.
In the eighties Thatcher, Reagan and the neoliberal economic gurus told us that ‘There – Is – No – Alternative’ (TINA) to neoliberal capitalism.
What Nicaragua, the Seattle protests, the world social forums, the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico, the rise of radical and socialist governments in Latin America, the Arab Spring and the occupations like Occupy Wall Street tell us is that Thatcher and co were wrong.
There ARE alternatives – alternative economic and social policies to the beggar-thy-neighbour approach of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, of the so-called Washington Consensus that told some of the poorest countries in the world that there was no alternative to slashing public spending on healthcare, education, social welfare, agricultural subsidies to small producers. Economic growth would eventually occur and the wealth created would trickle down. Of course, nothing did ‘trickle down’. With bank bailouts, public spending cuts and other so-called austerity measures, many of us are now beginning to feel the sharp end of those policies.
And that’s why I am here. I’m interested in these alternatives, I’m interested in what people are doing to shape their own destiny, to create a fairer world. That’s why I have been going back to Nicaragua over the past ten years and why I decided to spend the last seven months there.
In an attempt to give you a glimpse of this I’m going to show a short video I produced for a Nicaraguan online news organisation that I’ve been working with – producing short news information films on different issues.
The film is about the impact that ALBA or the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas has had on Nicaragua, particularly on the rural poor and on access to health care. ALBA is an alternative trading bloc based on solidarity and mutual aid and made up of several countries in Latin America including Cuba and Venezuela.
The basic philosophy behind the ALBA, and it’s non-market focus, is summed up in a short interview that David carried out with US activist Michael Albert in the Rebellious Media Conference in London earlier this month:
Without the ‘market mechanism’ offering ‘transparent prices’ (if there is, indeed such a thing due to the power relationships Albert describes), the ALBA, certainly in the case of Nicaragua, has been accused of, at best, being non-transparent, and at worst, corrupt. Some of these criticisms have been answered in a series of articles and videos on the tortillaconsal website, the best of which is here, which contains a summary of both the benefits of ALBA to Nicaragua and the structures under which it operates in the country.