Tuesday, February 21, 2012

ALBA in the UN: Voting en bloc against condemnations of violence in Syria

The United Nations passed a resolution last Thursday condemning the violence in Syria. A relatively straightforward resolution, it condemns violence in all its forms and calls for a "Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system..." The text is very close to the draft that was vetoed by both China and Russia a few weeks ago.

Resolutions presented to the whole UN assembly are not subject to veto (as they are in the Security Council), yet they also lack the legal weight that a Security Council resolution carries.

The vote was 137 in favor, 12 against, and 17 abstentions. Who voted against the resolution this time? You'll be as tickled as I was when I read it, I can assure you. What follows is a veritable Who's Who in world despotism:
Syria, Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Cuba.

Some were obvious to me. Syria, Russia, and China should naturally have the support of Iran. Throw in North Korea, because-- well, duh. Zimbabwe is in good company here, as Robert Mugabe is a shining example of an aging autocrat whose time is way over due. Cuba? Yep. Belarus? Wait, you mean the country that is nicknamed "The Last European Dictatorship"? Yeah, that makes sense. Venezuela? Hugo Chavez will probably instruct his UN representative to vote against anything that the US is remotely in favor of. Again, this is no surprise.

What struck me as odd were the other South American nations on this Axis of Autocrats list: Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Now I must admit, I don't follow South American politics very closely (read: at all), and I think that I can consider myself a somewhat fair representative of the average educated American and thus declare without too much shame, "What the hell is happening in South America?"

After a cursory amount of research, I discovered that Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, and Nicaragua (along with Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) all belong to an association known as the "Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas".

Hugo Chavez is the founder of ALBA, which initially only included Venezuela and Cuba. Today, ALBA is a socialist (not a dirty word) international organization, whose aim as stated on their website, translated into English:
"ALBA is based on the principles of solidarity, genuine cooperation and complementarity between our countries in the rational and based on the welfare of our peoples, natural resources, including energy-potential, in the formation and intensive human capital development and requires our attention to the needs and aspirations of our men and women. "

The goal of the organization is economic and social development of the nations involved, and the information given on the website tends to focus on economic ideas and projects. However, one can't help but notice that there is a strong anti-US message throughout the website and in the literature. For example, a new unit of currency has been instituted for trade among the members in order to "free us from the yoke of the dollar" and there is a reference to the Yankee "imperialists" right on the homepage ("imperialismo yanqui").

Obviously, ALBA is meant to be the alternative to a US dominated economic model (the acronym originally stood for "Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas"). Fair enough. But where does anti-US sentiment end? Is ALBA against the US's economic policies, or against the US in other respects as well?

Based on the fact that the entire bloc voted against a resolution condemning the wanton violence in Syria, a resolution which enjoyed the support of the US and its Arab allies, I don't think that ALBA is restricting its coordination strictly to the economic field.

Hugo Chavez's and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa's ties to Iran should also be noted. Are we seeing the development of Iranian proxies in South America? I don't think so. Chavez is much too proud to be a stooge of Iran. However, their interests do overlap in many ways (oil, relations with the US, suppressing democratic impulses...).

I think the relationship should be noted, as should ALBA's political-- rather than economic-- aspirations.

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