Cuba and the construction of alternative global trade systems: Alba and free trade in the Americas

Larry Catá Backer, Augusto Molina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América) (Bolivarian Alternative for The People of Our America), the command economy alternative to the free trade model of globalization, is one of the greatest and least understood contributions of Cuba to the current conversation about globalization and economic harmonization. Originally conceived as a means for forging a unified front against the United States by Cuba and Venezuela, the organization now includes Nicaragua, Honduras, Dominica, and Bolivia. ALBA is grounded in the notion that globalization cannot be left to the private sector but must be overseen by the state in order to maximize the welfare of its citizens. The purpose of this Article is to carefully examine ALBA as both a system of free trade and as a nexus point for legal and political resistance to economic globalization and legal internationalism sponsored by developed states. The Article starts with an examination of ALBA's ideology and institutionalization. It then examines ALBA as both a trade organization and as a political vehicle for confronting the power of developed states in the trade context within which it operates. ALBA remains embedded in a large web of trade arrangements among its member states that bind them in different ways under different arrangements. That context highlights differences, especially in relation to MERCOSUR and the abandoned FTAA. It also produces both cooperation and challenge. This is most acutely felt in ALBA's relationships with CARICOM and in the rising network of bilateral investment treaties among regional states. Taken together, for the moment at least, ALBA's greatest contribution might well be its ideology. Its mere existence serves as a basis for challenging assumptions in the creation and implementation of methods of integration. It provides a base through which this distinctive ideological voice can be leveraged by its state parties in hemispheric integration debates. It seeks to balance the tensions between post-colonial nationalism, internationalism and state sector dominance by substituting private markets and private actors with state actors and tightly controlled markets. It is no longer focused on eliminating borders for the production and management of private capital; instead, it is focused on using borders as a site for the assertion of public authority to control all aspects of social, political, cultural, and economic activity. Understood as an ideological joint venture among its participants, ALBA represents a space within which a consensus on alternatives to the existing preeminent economic model of globalization might be constructed. As such, it may represent one of Cuba's greatest triumphs and also its greatest challenge to the normative tenets of the current framework of economic globalization. Thus contextualized, ALBA serves as a nexus for six great points of tension and connection within both modern trade theory practice and the construction of state system frameworks in Latin America. ALBA implicates tensions between integration and nationalism, between public and private models of integration, and between internal and external regional trade norms. It also highlights connections between the current form of trade frameworks and the construction of alternative forms of trade arrangements, between anti-Americanism and integration, and between conventional frameworks of Latin American trade and it challengers. These are summarized in the conclusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)679-752
Number of pages74
JournalUniversity of Pennsylvania Journal of International Economic Law
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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