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Despite its founding by Hugo Chávez on the heels of the failed Free Trade Area for the Americas (FTAA) negotiations which took place November 2003, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA, as it is known for its Spanish acronym) has evolved into a political tool that uses “social power” to facilitate Venezuela‟s positioning as the leader of the anti-U.S. agenda in the region. Fostering political favors and goodwill through the financing of social development projects, ALBA has created a political environment whereby countries on the take and their respective leaders seem deterred from taking public opposing viewpoints to Chávez. To that end, it has provided billions in economic aid to several nations in Latin American and the Caribbean, winning their favor and support for its policies. To date, ALBA counts on eight member nations. Besides Venezuela, it includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. It also has several observer nations, among them, Grenada, Haiti, Paraguay, Uruguay, and a non-Latin American country, Syria. Throughout its recent history Venezuela has used its oil wealth to pursue political capital. Under the Chávez government it is doing so as part of a strategic effort countering the U.S. Following Cuba‟s demise in the region as the anti-American socialist camp leader, Chávez is attempting to step into Cuba‟s shoes, picking up where Cuba left off over a decade ago and has used the ALBA as a mechanism to help promote his foreign policy. Relying on its own resources, not those of the Soviet Union as Cuba once did, Venezuela has already shown its influence in the international arena, challenging U.S. positions at the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations, and even in matters having little if nothing to do with the region, such as Iran‟s nuclear proliferation.
Taking advantage of Venezuela‟s oil prices bonanza, Chávez has been spreading economic aid throughout the region, funding several development projects. From stepping in to buy Bolivia‟s soy beans when the U.S. ceased doing so, to helping finance and construct an airport in Dominica, Venezuela‟s ALBA has provided assistance to many states in the region. As in the past, Venezuela has invested significantly both in time and money in the Caribbean, providing development assistance and oil at a discount to Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the Dominican Republic, although the latter two are neither member nor observer states of ALBA. The aid Chávez has been spreading around may be coming at a cost. It seems it has begun to cause cracks within the CARICOM community, where ALBA already counts on six of its 15 members, leading experts and leaders in the region to question traditional alliances to each other and the U.S. Yet, ALBA‟s ability to influence through aid is dependent on the Venezuelan economy. Its success hinges on continued Venezuelan oil sales at stable prices and the ability of Chávez to remain in power.
de la Fuente, Erich, "ALBA: A Political Tool for Venezuela’s Foreign Policy" (2011). Western Hemisphere Security Analysis Center. 4.
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