The inaugural summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was to have taken place in July, but the event was postponed due to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ treatment for cancer.
From Mexico to Tierra del Fuego in the far south, CELAC will bring together every country in the Americas – with the pointed exception of the U.S. and Canada.
The U.S.-baiting Chavez has long been frustrated with what he views as the U.S. dominance of the hemisphere’s leading grouping, the Washington-based Organization of the American States (OAS), and during the Honduran “coup” crisis of 2009 he pitched the concept of an anti-OAS initiative.
The proposal took shape at a regional meeting in Mexico early last year, at which time then-State Department spokesman Philip Crowley expressed no concern at the idea of a regional entity excluding the U.S. and Canada.
“We think it’s a good thing when countries in the region come together to talk about how they can cooperate more effectively, and this can take place in many regional fora,” he said.
Cuba, which has been suspended from the OAS since 1962, will be a member of CELAC and is another strong supporter of the enterprise, with President Raul Castro hailing its “historical significance.”
(A 2009 OAS resolution moved to lift Cuba’s suspension that from body, with progress made dependent on a “process of dialogue.” Havana then said it was not interested in returning to the OAS, given its view of the organization’s history.)
Up to now Chavez’ regional foreign policy activity has focused largely on the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a leftist bloc he set up as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas and a vehicle for his “21st century socialism” vision.
By contrast to ALBA, which comprises eight countries and is dominated politically and economically by Venezuela, CELAC has the support of Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, the three most powerful states in the Americas if the U.S. and Canada are left out of the equation.
Chavez’ illness kept him away from the U.N. General Assembly this year, but on Tuesday his foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, read out to the U.N. session a letter from Chavez slamming “Yankee” foreign policy – particularly in Libya – and accusing the U.N. of serving U.S. interests.
The answers to the problems of “imperialism,” he said, lay in the hands of the “emerging powers of the south” especially.
“Only in this alliance of the south lies the possibility of a peaceful coexistence on the earth, for there is nothing to expect from the imperialist north, arrogant and violent,” Chavez continued, and then pointed to the forthcoming CELAC summit.
“The 33 countries that comprise Latin America and the Caribbean are currently preparing to give the historic step of establishing a great regional entity that groups us all, without exclusions, where we can design together the policies that will ensure our wellbeing, our independence and our sovereignty, based on equality, solidarity and complementarity,” his letter said.
“Caracas … is proud to host, the next December 2nd and 3rd, the summit of heads of state and government that will establish, definitely, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.”
Addressing the U.N. a day earlier, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla outlined the Castro regime’s view on the development.
“ALBA is a small but morally powerful group of peoples and the new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States is already a fact,” he said.
“The entire force of the Andes will very soon be expressed in a summit that will be an epoch-making event in Caracas, the epicenter of the independence of the Americas, where a Bolivarian people has conquered power and the stature of a continental leader, President Hugo Chavez Frias, is growing bigger.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales, a left-wing ally of Chavez, has predicted that CELAC will eventually supplant the OAS, and Ecuador’s likeminded president, Rafael Correa, has suggested that a grouping without the U.S. and Canada would unite the region.
Other countries in the region are likely to have more nuanced views on the aims and political vision of CELAC.
The foreign ministry of regional powerhouse Brazil describes CELAC as “a regional forum aimed at boosting Latin American and Caribbean integration.”
It says its objectives are to promote economic and social development of the region, deepen political dialogue and regional cooperation, and increase the region’s “international presence and bargaining power.”
CELAC’s nine stated principles are respect for international law, democracy, no threats of the use of force, sovereign equality of states, respect for human rights, respect for the environment, cooperation for sustainable development, integration and unity of regional states, and dialogue to promote peace and security.
The State Department announced Wednesday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to the Dominican Republic next week for a meeting government officials, business leaders and others aimed at promoting growth and prosperity in the hemisphere.
Other participants will be Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.