regional integration in latin america – one big union

Integration projects continue apace, both regional and continental, with Nicaragua playing a key role in many of the forums. This week has seen another step forward in Central American integration, a dream as old as many of the countries themselves. In the SICA summit earlier this week in El Salvador (see here), the countries signed another round of agreements. This time the emphasis was on working together to fight organised crime and drug trafficking, a growing problem in some countries which we have previously highlighted.

The news comes after the hiccup for regional integration earlier this month. The founding meeting of CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States -the OAS without the US and Canada) was postponed because of Hugo Chavez’ ill health (see here for the announcement).

However the ALBA carries on. Made up of eight nations, including Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our Americas isn’t just a way of distributing Hugo Chavez’ largesse. Below the headlines and the grand-standing, specific mechanisms are being developed to promote ‘fair trade’ between the countries. The links between Nicaragua and Venezuela are particularly advanced, which makes the outcome of Nicaragua’s November elections important for the development of the ALBA.

One of the leading experts on the ALBA, certainly in the UK, is Bristol University’s Thomas Muhr. He has written several interesting papers, detailing the ALBA mechanisms, including TINA Go Home!

What does this mean for a country like Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in Latin America? Here’s a brief summary of what ALBA has helped Nicaragua achieve under the Sandinista government:

  • The Roof Plan aims to improve the houses of 250,000 families. 150,000 have received zinc sheets and nails already. The Plan is funded by ALBA
  • Zero Hunger is on target. It will support 75, 000 families over five years to help them enter the rural economy. $150 million is being spent , in the form of animals, seeds, a bio-digestor and training and advice. Funding comes from ALBA and bilateral and multilateral agencies.
  • A similar model is being used for Zero Usury, 80,000 women are receiving small loans (about $200) in a micro-credit scheme to help set up small businesses. ALBA and other countries have provided the finance.
  • ALBA is also supporting the re-paving of roads with the Streets for the People programme and also funds new homes with the Houses for the People programme.

The mechanisms are not without their critics, particularly over financial transparency, a debate which is still ongoing. A good summary of some of the concerns, aired in Envio by a worker from a Basque NGO in Nicaragua, can be found here. It is interesting because it also analyses other development assistance provided by European countries to Nicaragua. Tortillaconsal have added their contribution to the discussion, with interviews with some of the leading officials within the Sandinista government managing ALBA. The video seeks to challenge ALBA’s critics. Watch this below:

The debate, though, is as much political as it is about whether the ALBA process is managed efficiently and transparently. In neighbouring El Salvador, there is disagreement within the FMLN, between their President, Mauricio Funes, and leading members of the party, on how far to go with their links with the ALBA – so far Funes has favoured an ALBA-lite approach, taking advantage of some of the packages without signing up to the Alliance (see here for more from Envio).


One Comment on “regional integration in latin america – one big union”

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