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The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA): A Network for the Regional Projection of Authoritarianism?

Comparative Politics
Foreign Policy
Government
International Relations
Ximena Zapata
German Institute of Global And Area Studies
Detlef Nolte
German Institute of Global And Area Studies
Ximena Zapata
German Institute of Global And Area Studies

Abstract

In the context of a “reverse wave” of democratization, recent research has focused on the promotion of autocracy and authoritarianism at the international and regional levels. There are growing concerns that “authoritarian”, “autocratic” or “hybrid” governments like Russia, China and Venezuela are deploying ‘aggressive’ foreign policy strategies and using international cooperation, as a mean for promoting authoritarian rule in neighbor countries and regions, and spreading norms, practices and values towards a democratic reversal. While such academic efforts are deemed important, it is argued here that in the case of Venezuela and the ALBA this approach is problematic both at the conceptual and empirical level. Conceptually, we consider that the debate should go beyond the “democracy promotion approach” that most literature on the international dimension of authoritarianism has so far adopted. The inclusion of an international relations (IR) perspective would contribute to a better understanding of these countries’ engagement with their regions of influence. Empirically, the promotion of authoritarianism as a national regime type should not be taken as a given objective of a country’s foreign policy. Rather, the nature of the country´s international cooperation practices in the region should be the focus of an empirical analysis. The main argument that will be developed here is that there is no evidence that shows that ALBA constitutes a network used by Venezuela to spread authoritarian practices in the region. Our findings demonstrate instead that geopolitical, commercial and economic interests represent the main drivers that sustain Venezuela’s foreign policy and international cooperation strategy and explain its involvement in South American and Caribbean. Additionally, we argue that the creation of the ALBA responds to a counter-hegemonic attempt by Venezuela to revitalize an old third-world integrationist agenda in Latin America. However, this cooperation project failed to constitute itself as a conceptually coherent and operational model of regional integration and even less as an alternative to the liberal market-oriented democracy (and the corresponding integration schemes). The structure of this paper is as follows. The first part will refer to the debate on the international dimension of authoritarianism/autocracy and highlight the international and regional context in which Venezuela’s international cooperation strategy and the creation of ALBA are inserted. Then the nature of the ALBA will be examined taking into account its main dimensions: social, economic, commercial and financial, and energetic cooperation.