Community of Latin American and Caribbean States

Another Step for Latin American and Caribbean Sovereignty
By Rachel Boothroyd

Coro, April 28th 2011 - On Tuesday at the Melia Caracas Hotel, 29 representatives from Latin American and Caribbean states attended a meeting to organise the preliminary agenda and structure of CELAC – The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, an organisation that hopes to counter the influence of the U.S in the region.

The meeting was convened in order to establish the foundations for the first summit of the recently formed organisation - due to be held on the 5th of July in Caracas. In a meeting that lasted several hours, the 29 delegates out of CELAC’s 33 member states deliberated on the principal issues that will constitute the main points of discussion at the July conference. The delegates also paid specific attention to CELAC´s constitution.

The meeting ended with the signing of a structural document that defines the CELAC. This document will be considered over the next 30 days by the delegates and member heads of state for approval before the July summit.“This political event is the most important, and has more potential, than any others that have taken place in our America in a hundred years or more,” said Chavez at the beginning of the meeting.

Some of the key issues to be addressed in the July summit are the approval of a human rights charter and a fund to finance poverty eradication. Other topics on the agenda include; food security, health, education, technology and sports strategies. Chile and Venezuela, who are jointly presiding over the forum, will be in charge of drafting up any further documents in the interim.

The official inauguration of CELAC in July will coincide with the bicentenary of Venezuela’s independence and denotes a significant milestone in regional integration and autonomous organisation - independent of representatives from the U.S.A and Canada.

The Architects of an Alternative
CELAC was first initiated in February 2010 at a Latin American and Caribbean Unity Summit in Cancún, Mexico, just eight months after the coup which ousted democratically elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.

Citing a need for a forum which ‘consolidates and projects the Latin American and Caribbean identity’, the organisation is founded upon the following principles - which the organisation describes as the “common values” of Latin American and Caribbean culture.

Respect for International Law and the Charter of the United Nations: The sovereign equality of states
The non-use, nor the threat of use, of force, Democracy, Respect for Human Rights, Respect for the environment, taking into consideration the environmental, economic, and social pillars of sustainable development International cooperation for sustainable development. The unity and integration of Latin American and Caribbean countries. An ongoing dialogue that promotes peace and regional security. Similar to projects such as the ALBA (The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), CELAC is another organisation aimed at promoting regional cooperation and at offsetting Western dominance in the region, particularly that of the USA.

However, unlike the ALBA - an economic bloc based on mutually beneficial trade agreements and which rejects the economic paradigm of neo-liberalism – CELAC is a representative body that will include all Latin American and Caribbean nations and aims to become ”the region's most representative interlocutor vis-à-vis main international actors, other groups of countries and regional organizations” CELAC is specifically designed to represent and increase Latin America and the Caribbean’s presence and influence on the international stage – or to enhance the “Latin American and Caribbean agenda on global forums”. Theoretically, membership of CELAC should not depend on whether the right or left win at the ballot box as is the case with ALBA. However, although not of a strictly leftist agenda, CELAC clearly has progressive tendencies.

Different to the Organization of American States (OAS)?
Whilst the U.S. government has denied that CELAC is of any detriment to the regional influence of the OAS (Organisation of American States, which includes all of the CELAC countries as well as the U.S. and Canada), some observers have remarked that the organisation could eventually end up replacing the OAS; or, if not replacing it entirely, then certainly act as a counter-balancing agency. A brief comparison reveals important differences between the two organisations.

In contrast to the OAS, whose “four main pillars” are; democracy, human rights, security, and development, CELAC stresses its commitment “sovereignty”, “multilateralism”, “the right of any state to establish its own political system” and specifies its dedication to ”sustainable” development.

Furthermore, whereas the OAS does not make reference to economic factors, interestingly CELAC’s declaration hints at certain economic concepts that have come to be related to the development of the democratic left in recent years.

Although economic models are not mentioned explicitly, CELAC highlights that the organisation will strive for “social welfare”, “equality and the widest social justice” ”independent development”, whilst taking into account “the importance of ensuring favourable treatment for the small vulnerable economies and land-locked and island developing states” – clearly rejecting the neo-liberal consensus.

Finally, the inclusion of a democracy clause seeks to prevent any further coups, such as the recent coups in Honduras and Haiti and the attempted coups in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Changing Relations; Bolivar Unites America’s ‘Back Yard’
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects in the development of CELAC is not the rhetoric employed by some of the more radical currents in the region, but that used by centre or centre-right administrations. Although certainly not an admission of any socialist tendencies, quotes such as the following suggest at least a tentative commitment to regional unity.

“We are here constructing the basic regulatory architecture for the functioning of this new institution…We are constructing the dream of integration that the Liberator [Simon Bolivar] sought for all of Latin American and the Caribbean,” said Fernando Schmidt, Chile’s centre-right Vice-Chancellor.

Whether this is purely pragmatism; representing the right’s attempts to respond to changing power relationships in the region, the creation of CELAC may suggest that a real unison of Latin American and Caribbean nations is not only becoming a reality, but also that serious changes in the political dynamics of the region and hemisphere are taking place.

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