"[We agree] to convert our countries, not into zones of free trade, but in zones free of hunger, illiteracy, misery and margialization" - Declaration of the XII Summit of ALBA, Guayaquil, July 30, 2013.
In the United States for half a decade the percentage of people in poverty has increased every year, from 12.3 per cent in 2006 to 15.1 per cent in 2010.  In the European Union, poverty remains high with 115 million people (23 per cent) at risk in 2010 -- that is a 20 per cent rise from that of the previous year. 
In contrast, the extraordinary achievements of the ALBA countries (Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, San Vincent and The Granadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and Venezuela) in less than a decade include:
- Eliminated poverty for 11 millon people;
- Increased literacy rate from 84 to 96 per cent;
- Reduced infant mortality rates by 32 per cent;
- Enrolled hundreds of student at the Latin American School of Medicine, Cuba, to develop sorely needed medical workers. 
In this context, ALBA's achievements are exceptional.
Perhaps North America and European countries would do well to set aside their prejudices, and realize that they can learn something significant from the South, specifically from the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America, known by its Spanish acronym, ALBA. It is an original, historic, radical, project to preserve sovereignty and attain the liberation of the peoples of Latin America from poverty and misery. Its name, in Spanish, means dawn, and it represents a new dawn for solidarity and cooperation for the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean and has significant implications for international exchanges in general.
It was proposed by President Hugo Chávez on December 12, 2001, at the Third Summit of Heads of State of South America and the Caribbean, in Margarita Island. At that time, President Chávez stated:
There will be no independence in Venezuela if there is no integration of the nations of these people of South America and the Caribbean … Only united will we be free, only united can we raise the levels of development that our peoples need in order to live in dignity.
He was giving expression to great dream of Simón Bolívar, the Liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, who fortold that unless the new republics banded together, they would be prey to foreign powers, specifically, to the then growing power of the United States.
President Chávez proposed a real alternative to the supposed "free trade" agreement zone that U.S. President George Bush wanted to establish in the entire region that would eliminate trade barriers and tighten intellectual property protection. These two key components of the proposal would consolidate U.S. and corporate control since they would wield remarkably unequal economic power with respect to the regional nations. This scheme was thoroughly rejected by the Latin American countries in Argentina, Mar de Plata, in November 2005. They clearly understood that there was nothing free about "free trade" and it would only open of every conceivable door to multinational corporations to continue pillaging of the region.
On December 14, 2004, Cuba and Venezuela signed the first document creating ALBA, and declared its main objective to be: "To construct the Great Homeland in Latin America following the dreams of the heroes of our struggles for emancipation." Cuba and Venezuela led the way with the first step consisting of their revolutionary and highly successful trade: oil for doctors.
It is important to highlight what ALBA is not.
In the 1950s the U.S. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, without any trace of irony, made a cold statement of fact, saying: "The United States has no friends, only interests." Historical events have proven that he was perfectly honest. The values behind ALBA are exactly contrary to this this way of conceiving the relationship with other countries. ALBA is the opposite of the Monroe Doctrine, which states that the region is of the sole interest of the U.S. government, and it is the opposite of the U.S. Free Trade Agreements that are about making the region "free" for the U.S. corporations.
ALBA is a cohesive alternative vision of international trade and mutual aid based on complementarity and solidarity, not domination or exploitation. It is creating an infrastructure for making real the ideal of Latin American integration dreamed of by Simón Bolívar. As the Executive Secretary of ALBA stated: "ALBA's fight is for a second true independence for Latin America and the Caribbean -- to free ourselves from poverty and illiteracy and achieve development for our people." 
ALBA is Latin America helping Latin America. For over a century the countries of the region were locked in a submissive relationship with the hegemonic power of the United States as it used its considerable social, political and economic means to divide the countries from each other, to sow the seeds of distrust among them, as if nothing of value could be obtained unless it came from the North. Historically it has been in the interest of the United States' political hegemony and the interest of corporate capitalism, which amount to the same, that the Latin American and Caribbean nations have weak states, both administratively as well as politically, thus fostering dependency.
ALBA is a state-centred instrument to counterbalance this. Nevertheless, it also gives a participating and significant role to the social movements in the countries, hence the word "people" in its title, which is broader than the words nation or state.
The dream of Latin American unity and independence is ALBA's rich historical background. First of all, the original native people's struggles against the Spanish invaders, against genocide, enslavement, oppression, colonization, exemplified by the heroic deeds of indigenous leaders such as Guaicaipuro, Cuactemoc, Tupac Amaru, Leonardo Chininos, Lautaro, Tupac Katari, Lampira, Urraca -- to name a few -- and the millions of their people who died for liberty.
Then the heroes of Latin American independence, Francisco de Miranda, Simón Bolívar, Jose Martí, José de San Martin, Antonio José de Sucre, Miguel Hidalgo, Bernardo O'Higgins, José María Morelos, José Gervasio Artigas, Simón Rodríguez, Francisco Morazán, and many others that understood the geopolitical need of union if the region were to be free.
In modern times, many progressive and revolutionary leaders have advocated and worked for a more independent and integrated relationship between the nations of the region -- notably, Che Guevara. These fighters and thinkers are the background of a revolutionary Indo-Latin American doctrine of integration that runs like a thread throughout the decades.
However, ALBA is itself an original project, a model that breaks the mold of previous relationships between nations. There have been many historic alliances between countries before, but these have been either for war (like NATO) or for pure commerce like the European Union which, we have clearly seen in recent times, has just made Europe safe for corporations and banks, and has beggared its peoples, especially in those European countries that presented weaker capitalist economies. Indeed, one of the implicit thrusts of the European Union economic policies has been to weaken the welfare state infrastructure and increase privatization.
ALBA is different. It is a cohesive alternative vision of international trade and mutual aid based on complementarity and solidarity not domination or exploitation and its purpose is to help each country develop and overcome the conditions of poverty. It is an egalitarian relationship between the countries, an integration that has a deep respect for each country's sovereignty. It has a strong trade component, but focused on the real economic needs of the population.
ALBA has no equal in the world. The countries of the ALBA seek social, political, and economic integration in so far as these help them vanquish poverty and increase the social welfare of their peoples through projects of mutual aid and complementary trade. ALBA does not act in isolation, it has strong links to the other instruments of regional integration: the Bank of the South, UNASUR and CELAC. 
This integration is not just words and beautiful sentiments. The ALBA countries are using the rich natural and human resources of their region to promote the potential of its people, to lift them out of poverty and create happier and healthier lives for them helping each other in the most pressing of their needs. Thus they have established 12 types of public Grand Enterprises that are multi-national between the ALBA nations, in order to strengthen their economies, including the following areas: Food production, including preservation of seeds; microcredits; Energy, petroleum and gas -- working with PetroCaribe; literacy and post-literacy education; telecommunications; production of medicines that Big Pharma neglects or overprices; infrastructure such as cement, sanitation and clean water; alliance of universities and research; ministerial Council for Women; cultural foundation for preserving and promoting cultures; a sports alliance; and, health and education policies.
These projects count on two key ALBA institutions: its own currency, the Sucre, and its own Bank of ALBA. The ALBA countries can now circumvent the use of the U.S. dollar because they have their own virtual currency, the Sucre, named after Bolivar's famous Field Marshal. Much economic thought and planning has taken place to allow the use of the Sucre in such a way that it is equitable and represents true value of the exchanges. This is a very real defense against the financial crisis that now besets Europe and the U.S., and it de-couples the national currencies from the dollar, saving them millions by not having to use a foreign currency for international exchanges. There are countries that have expressed the wish to use the Sucre even if they are not members of the alliance.
The ALBA countries no longer need to go begging to the World Bank or International Monetary Fund for needed funding, credit or capital, for their development, because now they have their own Bank of ALBA, created in 2009, that contrary to those dubious international organisms, does not come with strings attached, conditions to the loans, to manipulate the countries' domestic affairs or conditions of usury. This year -- 2013 -- so far, there have been 1,500 transations with the Sucre, equivalent to $670 million (US), for prefabricated houses, medical equipment, medicines, and vehicles. 
The loans and exchanges in ALBA recognzie each country's strenghts, their unique path of development: "These exchanges allow each nation to pursue its own development objectives in a far more sustainable and equitable way than if it were forced to rely solely on its own resources or respond to global market imperatives." 
This is also a defense against the world's financial crisis.
Multinational corporations exploiting the natural resources of Latin America have had deadly environmental impacts that include destroyed biodiversity and ecosystems as they have trampled on the human rights of indigenous peoples. The ALBA countries wish to preserve their natural environments and very significantly have made a forceful declaration denouncing climate change and the attitude of the richer nations to it. They have had a strong voice in recent environmental and climate change summits. They have said: "Nature is our home and is the system of which we form part, and therefore it has infinite value, but it does not have a price and is not for sale."
The ALBA countries will undoubtedly learn a lot from Cuba about protecting the environment because Cuba has the distinction of being the only country in the world with the smallest ecological footprint and at the same time the highest indicator of human wellbeing. It is a genuine example to the world that a country need not destroy its natural habitat in order to live well.
In the last week of July 2013, the XII Summit of ALBA took place in Guayaquil, Ecuador, with the particpation of the presidents of the nations. These meetings are not simply a meeting of presidents and their staff, it is also a meeting of the social movements, who send formal delegates. All the presidents meet with hundreds of them to interchange ideas and projects. It is a vastly different encounter than than the exclusive and security obsessed summits of the G8 and UN. True to its philosophy, ALBA is profoundly participatry and democratic.
At this recent meeting, a ninth country was incorporated into ALBA, St. Lucia. ALBA has spurred the interest of other countries in the region such as Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Grenada, Surinam and Haiti, but also countries outside the region such as Russia, China, Syria. The summit concluded, among other issues, to place a demand before the UN against the USA for its massive global scale spying, to increase the cooperation with Haiti in health and education, to take a stand against international arbitrors that favour corporations, and to deepen the relationships with social movements. 
It is a new dawn. Latin America is waking up to its own strengths and its own capabilities. It is walking down its own chosen path.
A long time ago the great Cuban hero, José Marti, said: "Where is Latin America going, who unites it and who guides it? Alone, as one people it will rise up. Alone it will fight. Alone it will triumph."
Maria Paez Victor, a Venezuelan sociologist currently based in Toronto, has written and spoken extensively in support of Venezuela's Bolivarian process. She is a member of the Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle, Toronto. This article is based on a talk given at a meeting on ALBA: "Solidarity in Action: ALBA a Model of People's Collaboration," at OISE, Toronto, organized by the Latin American Solidarity Network, Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle, and Toronto Bolivia Solidarity, OISE, Toronto, July, 31, 2013.
 Census Bureau report 2011, quoted in Karen Weise, "Record US Poverty Rates Hold as Inequality Grows," Bloomberg Buisnessweek, 12 September 2012.
 European Public Health Alliance, EPHA, www.epha.org.
 Amenothep Zambrano, Executive Secretary of ALBA, quoted by Matt Murray in "Stunning Achievements of Latin American Alliance ALBA celebrated," Liberation.com, 20 February 2011.
 Amenothep Zambrano, op.cit. 2011.
 UNASUR is the asociation of Ministries of Defence aimed at preserving the defense of the region and CELAC aims to displace the OAS as the genuine political representatives and deciders of the region.
 "ALBA countries conducted $670 m. in trade using common curency in 2013," Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Washington DC..
 Martin Hart-Landsberg, "Learning from ALBA and the Bank of the South: Challenges and Possibilities," Monthly Review, 2 August 2013.
 Sally Burch, "El ALBA hacia una zona libre de miseria," Rebelión, 2 August 2013.