A people's trade agreement
Resistance to neo-liberalism takes off in Latin America, writes Faiza Rady
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Venezuelan, Cuban and Bolivian presidents Hugo Chàvez, Fidel Castro and Evo Morales at the La Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana, Cuba. The three signed the People's Trade Agreement
"Now, for the first time, there are three of us. I believe that one day all countries can be here," said Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana on 29 April. "This is the happiest day of my life," he said after signing the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas Implementation Agreement (ALBA) and the People's Trade Agreement (TPC) with Venezuelan President Hugo Chàvez and his Bolivian counterpart Evo Morales.
"This agreement that we have signed today is the most ethical that has ever been signed. It is not for two or three who want to divide up their riches," said Fidel in a not too oblique reference to the much-maligned United States-sponsored Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).
Scheduled to coincide with the first anniversary of the ALBA, a trade treaty signed on 29 April, 2005 between Cuba and Venezuela, the TPC which is actually an extension of the ALBA now also includes Bolivia. It may soon extend to other Latin American countries.
Paving the way to potential expansion of the TPC, Chàvez stopped off in S‹o Paulo on his way to Havana, for a one-day summit with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva and Argentine President Nestor Kirchner. Focusing on economic and political regional integration, discussions also involved ambitious plans to build the 'Great Southern Pipeline', a 100,000-km gas pipeline running from Venezuela through Brazil to Argentina. The largest pipeline in the world, it would serve regional independence and create an estimated one million jobs, said Chàvez.
In Havana, the three socialist leaders feted the nascent TPC defining it as a socialist trade model that represents an alternative to the FTAA and other bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTA) the US recently signed with Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and six other Latin American nations.
Modeled on ALBA, and unlike conventional trade treaties, the TPC invests in human development putting people before profits. "Strong solidarity, mutual cooperation and aid between people must prevail, free from any interest in business or market profits. Benefits must improve the lives of the poor, the exploited and the discriminated," reads the Cuban, Venezuelan and Bolivian leaders' joint communiqué introducing the TPC. Along these lines, the people's trade treaty will eliminate all trade and tariff barriers between the three nations.
For Venezuela and Cuba, the implementation of ALBA has already paid off. Trade between the two countries will reach more than $3.5 billion this year, a 40 per cent increase since 2005. According to the terms of the oil-for-medical-and-educational-services barter, Cuba receives 90,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Venezuela, the world's fifth-richest oil country.
In exchange, an estimated 100,000 Venezuelans are scheduled to have eye surgery in Cuba, and Cuban physicians are currently training 40,000 Venezuelan doctors. Some 30,000 Cuban health workers are staffing the Barrio Adentro (inside the neighbourhood) programme and providing free health care to the poor in the Venezuelan hinterlands. In addition, Cuba has provided its expert assistance to the Venezuelan literacy programme that has successfully graduated 1.4 million people since its inception. In 2005, Venezuela was declared an illiteracy-free country -- the second on the continent, after Cuba.
In the spirit of ALBA, the TPC stipulates the export of Venezuelan and Bolivian natural resources in exchange for much needed Cuban expertise. Cuba will provide Bolivian medical students with 5,000 scholarships at Cuban universities and send ophthalmologists to Bolivia to train local physicians and treat the poor. The Cuban government also extended the mandate of 600 Cuban health workers who were sent to Bolivia to care for the victims of the natural disaster that hit the country in January 2006. In addition, Cuba will donate 20 field hospitals to the stricken areas. The agreement also stipulates that Bolivia, the continent's poorest country but the second-richest in natural gas reserves worldwide, will export its surplus production of hydrocarbons to its trading partners. The TPC marks a new era for Bolivia in particular, a country that was left with a lower per capita income than at the outset of 25 years of rampant neo- liberalism. Energised and buoyed after signing the treaty, Morales made good on earlier promises to his people and announced in La Paz on May Day that he had signed a decree placing Bolivia's energy industry under state control. "The time has come, the awaited day, a historic day in which Bolivia retakes absolute control of our natural resources," said Morales.
In Havana Fidel hailed the spirit of the TPC, defining the treaty as building on "the enormous power of just ideas", in stark contrast to the FTAA's aim to divest Latin American countries of their national sovereignty for the benefit of US multinationals. "The FTAA", says Fidel, "is an effort to annex Latin and South America".
Modelled on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which was signed between the US, Canada and Mexico in 1994, the FTAA is also known as "NAFTA on steroids". This is because the FTAA has a grander strategic vision of the world than its predecessor: it aims to incorporate the entire Latin and South American continents.
In retrospect, NAFTA's designs, which only affect three countries, look more modest. In Canada and the US, the implementation of NAFTA caused the closure of major manufacturing plants and the loss of hundred of thousands of jobs following the exodus of entire industries to the discounted haven of old-fashioned non-unionised sweat shops on the Mexican side of the US- Mexican border. Twelve years on, besides having kept a tight lid on real earnings and having scrapped long-standing labour rights like health and social insurance benefits, NAFTA has also caused the dispossession of 1.5 million Mexicans who lost their land as a direct result of the treaty, according to a report on the Web site Venezuelanalysis.com.
"The FTAA is nothing more than a refined instrument of domination that represents the tactics of the US government to subjugate our people", explained the Cuban president. Fidel also denounced a number of FTAA fringe benefits that keep the US military-industrial complex in business: war games and manoeuvres in the Caribbean, the establishment of military bases and the expansion of intelligence networks. It is the FTAA's destruction of people's livelihoods in the pursuit of multinational profits that the People's Trade Agreement aims to counter.