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CELAC Strengthened by Second Annual Summit

Merida, January 29th 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The recently formed Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) met last weekend with the European Union (EU) for a Business Summit, before holding its own annual summit over Sunday and Monday.

II CELAC Summit

On Monday, the 33 heads of state and foreign ministers who were present at the second CELAC summit in Santiago, Chile, ratified their commitment to continue building the regional block.

The CELAC brings together all countries in the Americas except the US and Canada. Many see it as an alternative to the Organisation of American States (OAS), which does include the US and Canada, but not Cuba.

Countries approved the Santiago Declaration, a document with 73 points. The document sees the CELAC as an emerging forum and political actor for the economic, political, social, and cultural integration of the region. It expressed solidarity with the Venezuelan people and president Hugo Chavez, support for the process of dialogue between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, and concern for the situation in Syria.

“We also agreed to collaborate more in protecting the environment and in improving the rights of people who migrate from one of our countries to another,” Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said.

Venezuelan vice-president Nicolas Maduro read out a letter from President Hugo Chavez to the summit. Chavez has been one of the key campaigners behind the formation of the CELAC, and presided over its founding conference in Caracas in December 2011.

In the letter Chavez expressed his regret at not being able to attend the summit, as well as Venezuela’s “active commitment” to the historic cause of unity in Latin America. 

“Thanks to CELAC, we’re slowly starting to look like what we once were [one continent fighting for independence] and what we want to be... we’re starting to look like the Pachamama... the mother of Republics,” Chavez wrote in the letter.

“Since December 2011, when we founded the CELAC in Caracas, world events have done nothing but ratify the extraordinary importance of that great step forward that we took. A crisis is hitting the U.S and Europe hard and hurling misery at thousands of human beings...[who] have lost their houses, their jobs, their social security, their basic rights. While the US and Europe, to paraphrase ...Ernesto Laclau, are committing a collective suicide, we are weathering it out... we are...an example for the world of unity in diversity, for justice, social well being, and happiness,” he continued.

“Latin America isn’t divided because it is ‘under-developed’ but rather it is ‘under-developed’ because it’s divided…and that’s why it’s vital to resolve the question of Our America over the next few years; we count on all the objective and subjective conditions to do it,” he wrote.

Concretely, Chavez stressed two key goals from the Caracas Action Plan that he thought were most urgent to implement; the development of the Latin American and Caribbean Literacy Plan, and the plan to eradicate hunger in the continent. He suggested that the CELAC can maintain economic growth with strong social investment, and mentioned the right of all citizens to receive free health and education.

He also urged consensus for a common energy agenda, citing Petrocaribe as an example of a successful experience in that regard. Finally, he said that for Cuba to now occupy the presidency pro tempore of CELAC was an “act of justice” in light of the “criminal imperialist blockade” against it.

Along with assuming the pro tempore presidency of the block, Cuba will form part of the CELAC’s Triumvirate with Haiti and Costa Rica. Ecuador was designated pro tempore president for 2015.

Venezuela’s communication minister, Ernesto Villegas said that the scenario of the 33 countries working together in CELAC was “unimaginable” before Chavez, and added that the summit was also responding to new historic circumstances and other new leaders in the region.

Coming out of the summit, Venezuela will host a CELAC ministers summit against poverty and hunger this year. Venezuela’s foreign minister, Elias Jaua, announced the meeting this morning on his way back from Chile, saying that Venezuela could use the success of its social missions as a “basis to create a regional plan so that the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean can gradually overcome poverty”.

Jaua said the CELAC conference had been positive, as debate had allowed the 33 countries to “find common positions and themes of regional interest”.

EU – CELAC Summit

The EU - CELAC Summit brought together around 60 countries and their leaders on Thursday for bilateral meetings, then for themed meetings from Friday to Sunday.

The summit ended with the release of a Final Declaration and a Plan of Action 2013 – 2014 for multilateral cooperation between the two regions, with over 30 points of agreement reached.

Agreements included establishing policies to promote greater commerce and investment between the two regions, at a moment when Latin America is enjoying broad economic growth and EU countries are experiencing sluggish growth or economic crises.

The two regions also agreed on a joint statement condemning the US blockade against Cuba, describing it as an example of “unilateral measures with an extra-territorial effect contrary to international law” and “a grave threat to multilateralism”.

Chile’s Piñera said at the summit’s closure, “The commitment we’ve all shown here is to renew our faith in a new strategic alliance between Latin America and Europe”.

Further, the president of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, expressed his opinion that between both regions “we now have a more balanced and mature relationship that allows us to face great challenges as friends”.

There were also criticisms directed at the summit. Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla said to media on Sunday that he felt the summit had both “virtue” and “disappointment”.

Among the summit’s positive aspects, Rodriguez mentioned the joint declaration on the blockade against Cuba and an agreement for EU countries to aid Caribbean nations to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

However, he argued that a strategic alliance between Latin America and Europe was “a dream, not a reality” and spoke of the importance of Europe looking upon Latin America “respectfully, as equals and not as old colonies”.

He also criticised the lack of media access to the discussions at the summit, an observation shared by Bolivian president Evo Morales. The Cuban diplomat compared this with the more open nature of the CELAC-only summit on Monday, arguing, “This indeed is a united summit, which reflects a common will, a common space, diverse but united”.

The second EU – CELAC summit is billed for 2015 in Brussels, Belgium, the EU’s administrative headquarters.

Published on Jan 29th 2013 at 6.19pm