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Fri. June 21, 2024
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Honduras joins ALBA: Economic decision or ideological turnaround?
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By Adam Kott On August 25th, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya signed an agreement to join the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA. While the organization calls itself an international cooperation that focuses on Latin American integration, it has accomplished relatively little since its inception. ALBA is the brainchild of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. A vehemently anti-American man, Chavez conceived ALBA to help fight American hegemony in Latin America and the Caribbean. Honduras is the sixth member to join ALBA along with Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Dominica. ALBA is more a concept than a solid organization. In general the member nations have an anti-American stance and wish to balance out the Western Hemisphere’s power situation. Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, use strong political rhetoric to criticize the United States for their political, economic, and social oppression of Latin Americans everywhere. Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista Party has had a poor relationship with the United States since Ronald Reagan funded anti-Sandinista Contras to remove him from power over twenty years ago. Cuba’s rapport with the United States is more than well known; the US has had a trade embargo on the island nation since 1962. The one exception to ALBA is the small island nation of Dominica. Unlike ALBA’s other member nations, Dominica does not voice any particular anti-American sentiment. Rather, the nation of 69,000 people has had friendly bilateral relations with the United States since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1978. Knowing that the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas maintains an anti-American stance, what is the actual significance of the Central American nation joining Chavez’s group? Honduras’s joining of ALBA appears to be an economic strategy more than a political one. One of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Honduras has always relied on the United States to help fuel its economy, whether through remittances or export processing. With an unemployment rate of almost 28%, the nation has struggled despite signing the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005. President Manuel Zelaya made an interesting choice by signing into ALBA last week. ALBA represents a short term solution for the struggling nation, as Chavez has already pledged to supply the Honduran people with enough oil to provide energy for at least a year. This is especially important as oil prices continue to rise worldwide. In the long run however, ALBA’s newest member nation may be alienating itself from its most important supporter, the United States. The US has stood up for the small nation on countless occasions, not only by bolstering Honduras’s economy through trade, but by using its pull to help secure monetary loans from the IMF and the World Bank. Unfortunately, recently the IMF has frozen loans that were intended for Honduras because it has failed to comply with all of the organization’s regulations. More importantly, the United States may not take Honduras’s joining of ALBA too kindly, as one of the key principles of the organization is to help battle what they call U.S. imperialism. Although it seems clear that the choice to join ALBA was done more to jump-start its economy than voice its disdain for the United States, any nation that allies itself too closely with Venezuela and Hugo Chavez will be kept under strict watch. Despite positive feedback from a 50,000 person crowd during the signing of ALBA, not everyone believes the treaty is a step in the right direction. In fact, the crowd during Zelaya and Chavez’s speeches was large merely because its participants were offered money to come. Additionally, there have been charges of corruption in Honduras’s Congress, where there are allegations of bribes in which Congressmen were paid off in return for voting for the agreement. Thus, while one can only hope that Honduras benefits from its new trade benefits secured by ALBA, Zelaya must guide his nation on the right path, keeping it away from the anti-American sentiments that have become so standard within the organization. The country’s president must make sure he does not come off as ideologically charged as Chavez and his allies. If Zelaya can rely on his membership in ALBA strictly for economic purposes, there may just be hope for the small nation.

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