Published: Wednesday 31 May 2006

-- (Credit: Reuters)Bolivian President Evo Morales recently signed a pact with the heads of Cuba and Venezuela in Havana to endorse a trade alternative to the us- backed free trade.

Bolivia joined the group -- Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (alba) -- a regional integration initiative based on cooperation, solidarity and common will among Latin American and Caribbean nations for development and to preserve their independence, sovereignty and identity.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez promised to supply 150,000 barrels of diesel every month to Bolivia. "I won't accept you paying us a cent, you are going to pay us in agricultural products," said Chavez, adding that the offer was worth us $180 million a year. Venezuela will also set up a us $100 million fund for development programmes and a us $30 million fund for other projects. Cuba and Venezuela also agreed to buy all of Bolivia's soybeans, recently left without a market after Colombia signed a free trade pact with the us .

alba was initiated by Venezuela and Cuba, a year ago, in reaction to the us F ree Trade Area of the Americas (ftaa), an extension of the us North American Free Trade Agreement. ftaa has been criticised by Chavez as an "annexation plan" and a "tool of imperialism" for the exploitation of Latin America. Morales, too, felt the pact was "an agreement to legalise the colonisation of the Americas".

alba provides Cuba preferential financing for Venezuelan oil and payment for more than 20,000 Cuban doctors and other professionals working in Venezuela. It helped Cuba emerge from a downturn. Now Bolivia will be able to access Venezuelan energy resources and financing and Cuban professionals.

Morales has, meanwhile, gone a step further. He has nationalised oil and gas fields in the country, sending in troops to signify his resolve.

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