Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez welcomed presidents from across Latin America and the Caribbean last weekend, as they arrived in Caracas to attend the official inauguration of CELAC, The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.
Cuban President Raul Castro hailed the long-awaited inauguration as the most important event to have taken place in Latin America for the past 100 years and was widely celebrated as a step towards realising Simón Bolivar’s project to unify the Latin American continent. Comprised of all of the 33 states that make up the Latin American and Caribbean region, the newly created union will now form one of the world’s largest regional blocs.
The organisation is aimed at increasing hemispheric cooperation in social, economic and security matters, and is also expected to become the main representative body of the region, providing a space to amplify the continent’s voice on the international stage. Unlike the Organization of American states (OAS), the U.S. and Canada are not represented within the bloc, which also aspires to neutralise U.S. influence within the region.
“For how long are we going to be the backwards periphery, exploited and denigrated? Enough! Here we are putting down the fundamental building block for South American unity, independence and development. If we hesitate, we are lost!” said Venezuelan president and official host of the inauguration Hugo Chávez, citing Venezuelan Liberator Simon Bolivar.
During the summit, representatives from the region’s 33 states discussed the founding principles of the organisation, as well as its structure and the development of a series of cooperative projects in education, energy, and technology. Each head of state was also given the opportunity to address the summit and make proposals with regards to issues pertinent to the Latin American and Caribbean region.
One of the issues most cited by the presidents was the region’s problem with the international drug trade, with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner criticising drug consuming countries for not having done enough to the stem demand for illegal substances.
“It seems that Latin America ends up with all the deaths and guns, and others end up with the drugs and the money,” said the South American president.
For his part, Rafael Correa, the leftist president of Ecuador, emphasised the need for a new inter-American organisation to replace the OAS and a new international human rights body.
“It is clear that we need a new inter-American system. The OAS has been captured historically by North American interests and vision, and its cumulative bias and evolution have rendered it inefficient and untrustworthy for the new era that our America is living,” stated Correa.
The current global financial situation and its impact on Latin America also figured highly on the agenda, with the indigenous president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, speaking of a “terminal and structural crisis of capitalism”.
“We have to establish the bases for a new model, for socialism, neo-socialism, living well, 21st century socialism or whatever you want to call it,” said Morales, who also encouraged Latin American leaders to reconsider their position with regards to North American military bases within their country.
“With respect to the presidents [here], we cannot allow United States’ military bases in our territory. Now is the best moment to put an end to certain impositions that are coming from above with regards to our armed forces,” he said.
Plan of Action
The inauguration came to an end with the ratification of a Plan of Action document, as well as the approval of a text outlining the official purposes of the CELAC. The plan of action elaborates on a number of social programmes and energy and environmental projects, as well as proposing the construction of a “new regional financial architecture, based around solidarity, justice and transparency”.
Within the field of trade and finance, the plan also proposes the establishment of preferential trade tariffs for CELAC countries, and says that the newly established organisation would “promote more of a voice for developing countries” within the international financial arena.
Many of the proposals relating to the environment and technology are based around shared experience and mutual cooperation. Plans include the sharing of experience and knowledge with regards to bio-fuels and the creation of a forum for environmental matters to develop and implement communal and regional environmental projects. In terms of social welfare, the CELAC has pledged to try and eradicate illiteracy on the continent by 2015 and to create a commission that explicitly addresses social problems such as poverty and hunger.
The CELAC body also released a number of official communications linked to proposals made by the various heads of state, including a statement condemning the illegal U.S. blockade against Cuba and the high levels of speculation on the financial market.
Chile, Venezuela, and Cuba will now form a troika for the CELAC in order to develop the organisation’s objectives and projects, whilst Chilean mandate Piñera will assume pro-tempore presidency of the bloc.
“Current problems cannot be resolved individually…they require unity, collaboration and teamwork,” said the Chilean president, who added that the “best of CELAC is yet to come”.