In Venezuela, the date April 19th is known as the “Signing of the Act of Independence”, a major move towards separation from Spain. The full declaration of independence came the next year, on July 5, 1811. This was followed by a decade of bloody battles in which Simón Bolívar rose to fame, finally defeating the Spanish in June, 1821. For nearly the next ten years the Republic of Gran Colombia was ruled as one entity, constituting the countries we now know as Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela.
President Hugo Chávez spoke on Sunday, declaring that Venezuela is entering a new chapter of its history. In the next twenty years he stated that the country will consolidate “the socialist revolution, full independence and unity between the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean”. His message also included the common refrain, “Fatherland, Socialism or Death!” According to the BBC, Russian-made Sukhoi jets flew overhead as large numbers of red-clad government supporters marched through the streets.
Yesterday, the leaders of other members of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for Latin America and the Caribbean, also gathered in Caracas to celebrate the bicentennial. They included, among others, Raúl Castro of Cuba, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. One of ALBA’s main goals at present is the creation of a common currency. Beyond the formation of political alliances they are also working together on social issues including health and education. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina, spoke to a special session of the Venezuelan National Assembly, and described a second era of independence in Latin America.
What will be made of these statements in the coming years? Chávez has once again made his intentions clear: socialism will continue full-steam ahead. However, does ALBA represent an ideological coalition that acts as a counterweight to US influence in the region, or are its members merely held together by Venezuelan oil?