April 24, 2009
SVG ready to sign on dotted line

A military alliance is not part of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), according to Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.{{more}}

He stressed this last Monday, April 20th, as he announced at a press conference this country’s intention to sign on to the agreement.

He said that last week he indicated to Venezuela President Hugo Chavez that this country was now ready to “join ALBA formally.”

Dr Gonsalves attended the 5th extraordinary summit of ALBA countries and friends called by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Cumana, Venezuela, on April 16th, just before the Summit of the Americas held in Port of Spain, Trinidad, April 17th to 19th.

Replying to a question about a military alliance forming part of the ALBA, Dr Gonsalves was very animated in dismissing this suggestion.

The ALBA is touted as mainly an organization of cooperation and partnership of social and economic development, with components like the ALBA bank and Petro Caribe aimed at providing developmental aid to member countries in need.

The question about a military alliance is, however, not without some foundation.

Early last year, Chavez was quoted as saying that countries within ALBA should “set up a joint defence strategy and intelligence service because the enemy is the same: the United States empire.”

“If the US threatens one of us, it threatens all of us,” he said, “We will respond as one, “Chavez is quoted as further saying.

Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skeritt came under much scrutiny when Chavez’s statement was widely broadcast and he quickly dismissed the military alliance call.

“I can reassure you that this government has not and will not enter into any military alliance against any country. ALBA is one further reflection of Government’s proactive foreign policy – foreign policy in support of Government’s determination to promote growth, employment generation and poverty reduction in our country. This is what ALBA represents, plain and simple,” Skerrit said then.

Meanwhile, Dr Gonsalves said that the foreign affairs ministries of both countries will be working through the formalities before this decision is formalized.

He had said last year that while he supported Skerrit’s move to join the ALBA formally, he was not prepared to do so until some juridical issues had been addressed because he didn’t want any agreement that will contradict any existing Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) or Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) arrangements.

“Expressly the ALBA is complementary to CARICOM, the OECS and the ECCB,” the Prime Minister declared.

“There will be in that document (of membership) the specific issues that there will be no reciprocity on trade matters and to acknowledge the complementary nature of the arrangements with the OECS, CARICOM and the East Caribbean Central Bank and such like institutions within the Caricom and OECS family,” Dr Gonsalves said.

He said a good example of this relationship was seen at last week’s ALBA meeting when the Latin American countries who are a part of ALBA, and Cuba came together and proposed the formation of a currency to be known as the SUCRE.

The plan is for this currency to, by 2010, be used as a virtual currency and eventually a hard currency.

Dominica, which is a member state of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, was, however, not part of this currency formation.

But opposition leader Arnhim Eustace remains unconvinced.

“I want to know what it is all about…the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines must know what he is signing,” Eustace said.

He suggests that the government is moving towards agreements that will make aid and loan funds available because “more and more they are having trouble financing the airport and the government all together.”

A key component of being a formal member of the ALBA is the access to the more than $1 billion Bank of ALBA, which is designed to provide funding for projects of economic integration and infrastructural development as well as progress in social, educational, cultural and health programs in the member nations.

In February 2007, during a state visit by President Chavez to St Vincent and the Grenadines, Gonsalves along with Prime Ministers Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda and Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica signed on to “the principles of ALBA” and last year Dominica went a step further by becoming official members of the ALBA.

Now St Vincent is on its way to signing on the ALBA’s dotted line.