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Historic Latin American and Caribbean Unity Summit

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Historic Latin American and Caribbean Unity Summit

Latin America's Path to Independence

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Historic Latin American and Caribbean Unity Summit

Following on from yesterday’s WDIE which denounced Britain’s provocative and colonialist actions in unilaterally drilling for oil in the South Atlantic north of the Malvinas Islands, we are today including material on the formation of the new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELC) which will ultimately replace the Organisation of American States (OAS). As detailed below, the CELC took a very principled and firm stand in support of the sovereignty of Argentina and against Britain’s belligerent actions. WDIE assesses the formation of CELC as an important and historic development, which is to be greatly welcomed by the world’s progressive forces, including the working class and people of Britain. The CELC is a vigorous expression of the Latin America and the Caribbean peoples' desire for regional solidarity and national sovereignty free from outside interference. The proposal for such a body expressly excludes the US and Canada which are viewed as undermining the national sovereignty of Latin American and Caribbean nations.

The CELC was formed at the Latin American Unity Summit held from February 22-23 in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. It will be formally established on July 5, 2011 at a summit in Caracas, once its charter has been developed. The new body will amalgamate the Summit of Latin America and the Caribbean and the Rio Group, while it will co-exist with other sub-regional organisations. The normal functions of the Group of Rio and the Latin American and Caribbean Congress will continue until the new organisation's institutions are completely formed.

On Monday, in his opening speech to inaugurate the summit, Calderón emphasised plans to create a new united organisation for the region, saying that hopes of unity across the Americas was a dream in the early 19th century, when the region's leaders began to fight for their independence from European colonial powers. "The dream of unity is part of the independence we are celebrating," Calderón said, referring to the start of Mexican celebrations to mark 200 years of its independence. "And this summit represents an important increase in our integration."

"Today we will be examining the first step, the jumping off point for a new future," Calderón said. "Today we have the opportunity to create a common space for all the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean."

The Rio Group and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) together comprise 33 countries. Of these 32 were represented at the summit (Honduras has notably been excluded from Rio Group functions since the coup), 26 of them by their presidents or prime ministers, including Raúl Castro of Cuba, René Préval of Haiti, Mauricio Funes of El Salvador, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Luiz "Lula" Da Silva of Brazil, Evo Morales of Bolivia, as well as Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, President-Elect of Uruguay José Mujica, Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, amongst others. Peru, the Bahamas, Guyana, Saint Lucia, Surinam and Trinidad and Tobago are represented by members of their cabinets.

Besides the Rio Group and CARICOM, several other regional bodies were represented at the summit: the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA), the Latin America Integration Association (LAIA), the Latin American Parliament, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), the Andean Community. Altogether, more than twenty representatives of international bodies took part as observers.

At the conclusion of the summit, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, indicated that Community of Latin American and Caribbean States was a provisional name that might change at future meetings. "We have decided to create an organisation CELC that includes all the organisations of Latin America and the Caribbean. We have decided to base an organisation on shared values including sovereignty, opposition to the use of force including threats of force, international cooperation, ever closer integration of Latin America and the Caribbean and permanent political dialogue," he said.

In his closing speech to the summit, Cuban President Raúl Castro began with a fraternal message from the Cuban people to Mexico, a country that gave shelter to many Latin Americans, including the pioneers of the Cuban Revolution. Castro emphasised the historical significance of the creation of such a mechanism, pointing out that to be an independent nation is an indispensable requirement to join this body, which will be characterised by the respect for cultural diversity and for the different geographic and economic dimensions, the political system adopted by each country, the disparity in natural resources and differences in social development, he pointed out. The next summit in Caracas will be a great opportunity to conclude the work to make the organisation operational and Cuba will work hard to ensure this takes place, he added.

President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, also pointed out the historic significance of the decision to create a new regional integration bloc without the presence of the United States. "Wherever the United States is present, democracy is not guaranteed, peace with social equity is not guaranteed," he said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez stated: "The peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean are trying to retake the path of our own republics, we are taking the path taken by Simon Bolivar." He welcomed the summit's unanimous decision to give his country "the great task of starting to organise the [next] summit in July, 2011". He expressed his hope that next year in Caracas it will be possible to approve the basic principles of the organisation, the community, the unity of states or republics which has begun to be born. "We expect that in a year, with hard work, the articles of incorporation and basis of the organisation can be approved. Whether it is in Caracas, next year, or in Santiago, two years later, it does not matter. What matters most is a good start to what is developing," Chávez stated.

President of Brazil Luiz "Lula" Da Silva said: "It is important to remember that this Summit does not represent a minor historic deed. I would rather say that it is a historic event of large dimensions. [... We are affirming] our personality as a region that has decided to create a Community of Latin American and Caribbean countries [...] We are discovering ourselves as a region, from the smallest island to the largest country." President Da Silva pointed out that it is necessary to consolidate regional integration in order to achieve real development in the individual countries. "We have progressed in an extraordinary way, because we are consolidating democracy as ever with this meeting," he added.

As part of the summit's proceedings, President Calderón on handed over the pro tempore secretariat of the Rio Group to Chile, which will coordinate the regional mechanism until 2012. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in accepting the post, affirmed Chile's commitment to build regional unity and solidarity. On the creation of the new regional body, Bachelet declared countries have the task of consolidating the integration into a fundamental political forum. She pointed out that countries in the region are at a crucial juncture in which the socio-political development of the peoples is a challenge for governments. In her acceptance speech, President Bachelet told those assembled that Chile was taking on the task of Rio Group secretariat at a time that marks a watershed in world history. "The international community has abandoned the idea of laissez faire, the idea that the market can completely regulate itself," Bachelet said. "In the words of Mexican poet Octavio Paz, the market has no mercy and no conscience."

The summit approved two main declarations, the Declaration of Cancun, and the Declaration of the Unity Summit, which establish the main programmatic commitments to political and economic coordination and cooperation.

In addition, several other special documents were passed on the following concerns: migratory cooperation, solidarity with Haiti, a declaration on the Malvinas issue backing Argentina's legitimate rights in its dispute with Britain, a resolution against the economic, trade and financial blockade the US government has maintained against Cuba for almost 50 years, as well as a declaration congratulating Guatemala for the outcome of investigations by the International Commission against Impunity. Likewise, the meeting passed a resolution supporting Ecuador's commitment not to exploit 846 million barrels of oil that lie under the subsoil of Yasuní National Park. Yet another document expresses solidarity with Ecuador after the Financial Action Task Force included it, in a manipulative move, on the list of countries that have failed to adequately address money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Also on the agenda was a discussion of Honduras' status within the Rio Group and its successor organisation because of the illegitimacy of the current Porfirio Lobo regime put in place by the coup.

Firm Commitment to Rebuilding Haiti in Respect of Its Sovereignty

In his speech to open the summit, President Calderón described the work to rebuild Haiti as the "cause of all Latin America and the Caribbean". He thanked President Préval of Haiti (a Rio Group and CARICOM member) for taking time to come to the conference when there are so many urgent needs in his nation.

On Sunday, Mexico hosted a summit with CARICOM leaders where Préval expressed his thanks to member nations for their support. He reported that the death toll from the quake may reach 300,000 and that with the rainy season on the way, shelter for the nation's 1.5 million homeless was Haiti's highest priority.

President Bachelet, in accepting the secretariat of the Rio Group remarked, "We are all working to face the difficult situation that is taking place in one of our member nations, Haiti." Bachelet added that the body would ensure that the nation can be rebuilt better than before "as all Haitians deserve".

President Da Silva called for strengthened solidarity and concrete support for Haiti, noting that even before the earthquake it was already facing huge structural problems.

Cuban President Raúl Castro declared that the rebuilding of Haiti requires and merits long-term international aid of great magnitude and that help should be unselfish, with complete respect for the country's sovereignty and to its government and carried out under UN authority.

He cited the example of Cuba's solidarity, which has collaborated for more than a decade in Haiti, during which time its doctors have carried out 14 million consultations, 200,000 surgeries, 100,000 births and 45,000 eye operations.

President Castro pointed out that President Hugo Chávez, with his particular sensitivity and generosity, as well as Cuba and other countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, plan to maintain and increase their efforts.

Presidents Calderón and Chávez each said the grouping had committed new funds to Haiti. Calderón noted that Haiti would get $25 million from the Inter-American Development Bank and the Andean Development Corporation, while Chávez said that the island nation would receive $30 million directly from members.

US Blockade of Cuba Denounced

President Castro expressed Cuba's appreciation for the approval of the special document demanding the end of the unjust US economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, as well as the solidarity towards his country expressed at the summit. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez who was part of Cuba's delegation to the summit stated: "There is a unanimous position of all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean condemning the US blockade against Cuba and they urge the US Government to immediately lift it."

In his closing remarks, President Da Silva also criticised the US blockade against Cuba and expressed optimism for its prompt end, as demanded by the international community.

Support for Argentine Claim over Malvinas

On the first day of the proceedings, participants in the Unity Summit gave their support to Argentina's claim of sovereignty over Las Malvinas (also known as the Falkland Islands) and rejected the exploitation of oil resources in the area by Britain. "There continues to be systematic violation of international law that should be respected by all countries," said Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, addressing the plenary of the summit. "On behalf of our government and my people I express thanks for the support this meeting has thrown behind our claims."

Fernandez added her country will continue its efforts to make Britain observe all the resolutions reaffirming Argentina's sovereignty over the southern archipelago that was forcibly taken from the South American country in 1833. She pointed out that the deployment in the Malvinas of the Ocean Guardian, an oil drilling platform belonging to British firm Desire Petroleum, "is a violation of all of the United Nation's previous dispositions".

Several speakers in the first session expressed their solidarity with the South American country regarding the unilateral decision of Britain to engage in oil prospecting in the area. "That is one of the clearest demonstrations of neo-colonialism," said President Chávez. President of Bolivia Evo Morales also spoke out in support of Argentina's just claim.

President Da Silva also underscored that it was necessary to demand that the United Nations reopen the debate over the Malvinas. He also urged the United Nations to undertake its mandate in a democratic manner and take an appropriate decision on the Malvinas, which "are and have to be Argentinean".

Exclusion of Honduras

Regarding the absence of Honduras at the Summit, President Da Silva stressed that the country was not invited because it does not have a legitimate representative.

"Honduras is not here, and will not be, for a simple reason, because even if Hondurans went to elections, they were called by cutting short the presidency of a man [President Zelaya] who was democratically elected. We cannot accept that those experiences of military juntas in Honduras prevail in other Latin American and Caribbean countries," the President of Brazil emphasised.

In related news, the National Front of Popular Resistance to the Coup in Honduras on February 19 issued a communiqué addressed to the summit, which is posted below.


To the State and Government representatives who comprise the Permanent Organisation for Consultation and Political Coordination meeting in Cancun, Mexico in the context of the 23rd Summit of the Rio Group, we declare:

Honduras continues to live under a de facto regime, installed and supported by force of arms since June 28, 2009 to date, a period during which the Honduran people have been subject to constant human rights violations.

In a vain attempt to mask the illegitimacy and illegality of the actual regime the faces of the figures who administer the state are being changed, but they are not succeeding in fooling anybody because it is public knowledge that these people obey the same powerful groups that are ordering the repression and assassinations and preventing the development of a true democracy.

The electoral process, with which the new ombudsmen of the dictatorship attempt to validate themselves, was clearly illegal, having been organised and administered by the authorities complying with the coup d’état, who prevented the free participation of the opposition and ignored the predominating atmosphere of terror. For these reasons no credible institution, government or regional integration organisation sent observers to the process.

The illegitimacy of the process was reinforced by the abstention of the vast majority of the Honduran population from voting and consequently the results are unknown. It is no accident that the people are continuing their non-violent struggle to defeat the current totalitarian regime and return to democratic order.

The human rights situation is desperate and is deteriorating. More assassinations, hostage-takings and persecution against the people organised in the Popular Resistance have been registered -- particularly since those charged with directing the State security organs announced a military offensive to put an end to the opposition to the regime.

Various sectors of the international community, friendly governments, social organisations and defenders of human rights have expressed their refusal to recognise the current regime.

For these reasons:

a. We call on the representatives of the government and State members of the Rio Group to maintain your position of refusal to recognise the Honduran dictatorship as long as the democratic constitutional order is not re-established and the violations of human rights are not ended.

b. We will continue our struggle regardless of the acts of terror committed by the State controlled by the coup.

c. We thank the friendly governments and social organisations for your concern about the serious situation our country is going through and for your acts of solidarity to overcome the crisis.

(source: TML Daily, with material from Prensa Latina, Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, Xinhua, Mercopress)

Article Index

Latin America's Path to Independence

Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian, February 25, 2010

Latin America took another historic step forward this week with the creation of a new regional organisation of 32 Latin American and Caribbean countries. The United States and Canada were excluded.

The increasing independence of Latin America has been one of the most important geopolitical changes over the last decade, affecting not only the region but the rest of the world as well. For example, Brazil has publicly supported Iran's right to enrich uranium and opposed further sanctions against the country. Latin America, once under the control of the United States, is increasingly emerging as a power bloc with its own interests and agenda.

The Obama administration's continuation of former President Bush's policies in the region undoubtedly helped spur the creation of this new organisation, provisionally named the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Most importantly, the Obama team's ambivalence toward the military coup that overthrew the democratic government of President Mel Zelaya in Honduras last summer provoked deep resentment and distrust throughout the region.

Although the Obama administration was officially against the coup, numerous actions from day one – including the first White House statement that failed to condemn the coup when it happened – made it clear in the diplomatic world that its real position was something different. The last straw came in November 2009 when the Obama administration brokered a deal for the return of Zelaya, and then joined the dictatorship in reneging on it. Washington then stood against the vast majority of the region in supporting the November elections for a new president under the dictatorship, which had systematically repressed the basic rights and civil liberties necessary to an electoral campaign.

Arturo Valenzuela, the US state department's top official for Latin America, said that the new organisation "should not be an effort that would replace the OAS [Organisation of American States]".

The differences underlying the need for a new organisation were clear in the statements and declarations that took place in the Unity Summit, held in Cancun from 22-23 February. The summit issued a strong statement backing Argentina in its dispute with the UK over the Malvinas (as they are called in Argentina) or Falklands Islands. The dispute, which dates back to the 19th century and led to a war in 1982, has become more prominent lately as the UK has unilaterally decided to explore for oil offshore the islands. President Lula da Silva of Brazil called for the United Nations to take a more active role in resolving the dispute. And the summit condemned the US embargo against Cuba.

These and other measures would be difficult or impossible to pass in the OAS. Furthermore, the OAS has long been manipulated by the United States, as from 2000 when it was used to help build support for the coup that overthrew Haiti's elected president. And most recently, the US and Canada blocked the OAS from taking stronger measures against the Honduran dictatorship last year.

Meanwhile, in Washington foreign policy circles, it is getting increasingly more difficult to maintain the worn-out fiction that the US's differences with the region are a legacy of President Bush's "lack of involvement", or to blame a few leftist trouble-makers like Bolivia, Nicaragua, and of course the dreaded Venezuela. It seems to have gone unnoticed that Brazil has taken the same positions as Venezuela and Bolivia on Iran and other foreign policy issues, and has strongly supported Chávez. Perhaps the leadership of Mexico – a rightwing government that was one of the Bush administration's few allies in the region – in establishing this new organisation will stimulate some rethinking.

There are structural reasons for this process of increasing independence to continue, even if – and this is not on the horizon – a new government in Washington were to someday move away from its cold war redux approach to the region. The US has become increasingly less important as a trading partner for the region, especially since the recent recession as our trade deficit has shrunk. The region also increasingly has other sources of investment capital. The collapse of the IMF's creditors' cartel in the region has also eliminated the most important avenue of Washington's influence.

The new organisation is sorely needed. The Honduran coup was a threat to democracy in the entire region, as it encouraged other rightwing militaries and their allies to think that they might drag Latin America back to the days when the local elite, with Washington's help, could overturn the will of the electorate. An organisation without the US and Canada will be more capable of defending democracy, as well as economic and social progress in the region when it is under attack. It will also have a positive influence in helping to create a more multipolar world internationally.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.

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