Building Unity in the Diversity of Our America

Successful 6th Summit of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States

On September 18 the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) successfully held its Sixth Summit of Heads of State and Government in Mexico City. The last summit was held in January 2017 in the Dominican Republic.

CELAC is an inter-governmental organization for dialogue and political coordination to foster the political, economic, social and cultural integration of Latin America and the Caribbean and the well-being of all the peoples of the region. Comprised of all countries of the Americas except for the U.S. and Canada, which were deliberately excluded, CELAC was founded in February 2010 as an initiative to promote unity in diversity and overcome divisions arising out of constant efforts of the U.S. to assert its hegemony in its "backyard" through its instrument for that purpose, the Organization of American States (OAS).

CELAC's founding declaration issued in 2011 at its first summit expressed a commitment to respect for international law, the peaceful settlement of disputes, the prohibition of the use and threat of the use of force, respect for the self-determination, sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries and non-interference in their internal affairs, and the protection and promotion of human rights and democracy. At the second summit held in Havana in 2014 CELAC members unanimously proclaimed Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace in observance of the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and international law.

Over the last four years, governments in the service of U.S. efforts to destabilize and impose regime change in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia and promote divisions of all kinds in the region, worked to obstruct CELAC's ability to hold any summits or even carry out work. However since assuming the pro-tempore presidency of the organization in January 2020, the government of Mexico has worked to get CELAC and its regional integration project back on track.

Setting the Stage for the Sixth Summit

The stage for the September 18 summit was set with a meeting of CELAC foreign ministers held in July as part of celebrations in Mexico of the 238th Anniversary of the Birth of the Liberator Simón Bolívar. In a speech for the occasion Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said Bolívar was an example and inspiration for today. He then put forward for consideration replacing the OAS with "a truly autonomous organization that would be no one's lackey," arguing that "The policy of the last two centuries, characterized by invasions to install or remove rulers at the whim of the superpower, is already unacceptable. Let's say goodbye to impositions, interference, sanctions, exclusions and blockades."

The Sixth summit was itself held on the heels of another auspicious event: the September 15 celebration of the Bicentennial of the independence of Mexico and Central America from Spain and the 211th anniversary of the beginning of that struggle in Mexico known as the Grito de Dolores. The Mexican government honoured Cuba's President Miguel Díaz-Canel with an invitation to speak at that celebration -- an acknowledgement not only of the historic ties between Mexico and Cuba going back centuries, but of "the special case" of Cuba, as the Mexican president called it, for having asserted its independence by politically confronting the United States for over half a century. In his speech Díaz-Canel recognized the important work done by Mexico to defend CELAC's purpose of building "unity in the diversity in Our America" in the face of attempts to impose a neoliberal re-colonization project on the region.

Bolivarianism vs. Monroeism

These events set the tone for the sixth summit, held three days later at the historic Palacio Nacional in Mexico City, to deliberate on the way forward for Latin America and the Caribbean -- whether it should be guided by the principles associated with Bolívar's liberating project for the Americas or the hegemonic Monroe Doctrine of the U.S. The practical expression of this was the agenda item proposed in advance by Mexico and seconded by Argentina, for consideration of the need for "in-depth reform of the Organization of American States (OAS) or the creation of a new organization to replace it." Other topics on the agenda included discussion of urgent matters such as the need to confront the pandemic and for everyone to acquire the needed vaccines and medications, the problem of climate change, of the punishing unilateral coercive measures applied to certain countries and the lack of fairness and transparency in the way the international financial institutions do business.

The meeting was attended by 17 heads of state, two vice presidents and other high level representatives of CELAC's 32 members. (Brazil suspended its participation as of 2020 by decision of President Jair Bolsonaro.) Also in attendance were Charles Michel, president of the European Council and Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Chinese president Xi Jinping addressed the summit as well by video link.

Virtually all members of CELAC intervened at the plenary session, expressing a commitment to regional integration, despite their different views on what that should involve, to tackling common problems like the health emergency and climate change together, and to strengthening CELAC, regardless of their stand on the OAS and whether it should be replaced or reformed. A notable exception was Colombia that did not send a high level representative, and instead issued a spurious statement "rejecting" the presence of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. It was similar in tone and content to the many declarations churned out by the U.S. and Canada's failed Lima Group before it descended into irrelevance and fell silent some eight or nine months ago.

The presidents of Uruguay and Paraguay were the only other ones who openly countered the spirit of the summit, doing the bidding of the U.S. by singling out Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua for criticism. (The U.S. had already issued an uncouth public reminder as President Maduro was en route to Mexico that a $15 million "reward" for him to be captured and turned over to them was still on offer.) The two presidents were quickly put in their place by the presidents of Cuba and Venezuela. President Maduro commented after the summit ended that Venezuela had not gone there to throw stones or to get provoked only to play into the hands of those hoping to destroy CELAC by getting its members to fight one another. Instead he called for revitalizing CELAC with a "new institutionality" and an international policy in the service of all humanity and of international law, and not to be a battleground of differing ideologies.

The Cuban and Venezuelan presidents also made a point of expressing appreciation to Mexico for hosting the dialogue taking place at the time aimed at achieving agreements between the Venezuelan government and the country's opposition forces.

A number of countries made special mention of Cuba, thanking it for its assistance in fighting COVID-19. During his intervention President Díaz-Canel offered further help in the form of Cuban-produced vaccines. There were calls from others for lifting of the U.S. blockade of Cuba and an end to its attacks on Venezuela and Nicaragua. The role of the OAS and its Secretary General in instigating the 2019 coup in Bolivia that had repercussions for CELAC was also denounced. Peru's newly elected president Pedro Castillo made a point of saying he brought greetings from the country's many Indigenous peoples whose voices had always been excluded from the country's official discourse and expressed support for concrete action to advance the region's integration.

Future Prospects

The successful sixth summit concluded with the issuing of the 44-point Declaration of Mexico as well as five other special declarations — on the need to put an end to the U.S. blockade of Cuba, in support of Argentina's claim to the Malvinas Islands, on bringing a common position to the upcoming COP26 Conference on Climate Change and other matters of mutual concern. Many of the leaders used the platform of the General Debate and other high level meetings held during the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York, including the meeting of the Group of Friends of the UN Charter, which took place immediately following the Mexico summit, to reiterate important stands of CELAC. In those venues they called for an end to unilateral coercive measures, including the U.S. blockades of Cuba and Venezuela; they called for equitable access to COVID vaccines and treatments, more action against climate change and an end to other injustices that go against the spirit of one humanity, one struggle that has emerged as the clarion call at this time.

While the thorny question of what to do about the OAS remains for future discussions, there are favourable prospects for tackling this burning issue for the peoples of Our America and CELAC in the coming period. An impetus for this will be the continued failure of the U.S. to impose regime change in countries it has targeted, as well as the defeat in 2022 of the deeply unpopular, reactionary governments of Duque in Colombia and Bolsonaro in Brazil and possibly others, which the peoples' forces in those countries are working towards by building united fronts for that purpose.

This article was published in

Volume 51 Number 10 - October 10, 2021

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