Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, left, and other CARICOM leader at the ALBA summit (Internet photo).

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, Cuba’s Raul Castro and the leaders of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua sat stony-faced in Caracas Saturday night as Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves appeared to depart from the general thrust of a discussion about a single economic space within ALBA.

According to the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), Gonsalves asked for more detailed work before the eight-nation Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) formed a new economic area.

But despite the reservation of Gonsalves, who Chavez described as “ALBA’s lawyer”, the grouping later that night approved ECOALBA, a new economic integration system for the bloc.

ECOALBA, is being pitched as an alternative to trade and economic links dominated by the United States and the U.S. Dollar and emphasises bartering and payments among ALBA members through the Sucre — a virtual currency.

Gonsalves, speaking ahead of the approval of ECOALBA, said that the proposal for creating a “single economic space” was a “possible way forward” but “not the only way forward” through “a dangerous phase” of the world economy.

He was at the time speaking at the 11th summit of the eight-year-old ALBA, whose formation was inspired by Chavez.

Gonsalves told ALBA leaders that he was not speaking on behalf of his Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) counterparts Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda’s Baldwin Spencer.

He, however, said that the proposal for an ALBA economic area required a “significant juridical framework” that needed to take into account other regional economic and monetary arrangements, including the newly-formed OECS economic union and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market — CSME.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez -- in black -- at the ALBA summit (Internet photo).

Chavez later acknowledged the complex legal issues facing the body but pressed the need for political will to overcome any bureaucratic obstacles the economic area might present.

Gonsalves said he welcomed the ALBA proposal’s “excellent provisions” for “special and differential treatment” — a reference to concessionary support for small, open economies such as those in the Eastern Caribbean.

“The world economy has entered a dangerous phase,” said Gonsalves quoting the International Monetary Fund’s world economic outlook report.

But he also noted that three Eastern Caribbean Currency Union members – Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis – were involved in “structural adjustment” programmes of a “schizophrenic” IMF that at once proposed both “stimulus and austerity,” according to the CMC report.

Meanwhile, according to other media reports, the ALBA summit ended on Sunday with the approval of the accession of Suriname and St. Lucia, and the confirmation of Haiti as an observer.

The ALBA leaders signed on Saturday a declaration to back Argentina in its dispute with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas Islands) and at the closing session adopted a statement to support the Syrian government against “the interference” of foreign powers.

On Saturday, China and Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution backing an Arab League call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up power and start a political transition.

The veto came as Syrian forces continue to bombard Homs, the city that has become a centre of armed opposition to al-Assad.

Also at the conclusion of the ALBA meeting, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales proposed the creation of an ALBA Defence Council to establish a new doctrine for the armed forces, “to make the military serve the interests of the peoples rather than the (U.S.) empire’s,” according to media reports.

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