Venezuela Takes Centre Stage at Heated CELAC Summit in Mexico

The organization voiced its “rejection” of US-led sanctions and promised greater action against climate change and for better Covid-19 vaccine access.


Mérida, September 20, 2021 ( – Mexico hosted a tense VI Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit of Heads of State over the weekend.

The summit brought together the region’s 33 nations, 18 of which were represented by their respective heads of state. The region’s largest country, Brazil, was absent, however, after President Jair Bolsonaro pulled out of the CELAC last year in a move described as “negative and divisive.”

Brazil’s ally Colombia also turned its back on the summit, with President Iván Duque cancelling his participation at the last minute in protest against a surprise participation from Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and sending Transport Minister Ángela María Orozco in his stead. In a statement, Bogotá expressed its commitment to regional integration but claimed the region should not stay silent in the face of “excesses” committed by a “dictatorship.” In response, Venezuela accused Colombian President Iván Duque of “running away” from the summit, claiming his government is “more isolated than ever in its warmongering.”

Maduro’s presence sparked a war of words with his Uruguayan and Paraguayan counterparts, Luis Lacalle Pou and Mario Abdo Benítez, respectively. Both Lacalle Pou and Benítez used the summit to attack Venezuela, clarifying that their participation alongside Maduro did not constitute a recognition of his government. Both Montevideo’s and Asunción’s rightist administrations have resisted global backtracks and continue to recognize Venezuela’s under-fire opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as the country’s legitimate leader.

The southern leaders took aim at Venezuela’s democratic credentials, separation of powers, and an alleged “repressive apparatus to shut up protests,” while targeting Cuba and Nicaragua as well.

In response, Maduro fired back and challenged his counterparts to a debate, strongly urging them to “set a day, place and time.” He additionally defended Venezuela’s “protagonistic democratic model.”

Following the war of words, Maduro told reporters that he considered to have successfully countered the “provocations” which looked to “line us up against each other so that [the summit] would fail and we would start throwing rocks at each other and return home bruised (…) Latin American and Caribbean unity is more important than any other problem or difference [between member nations].”

Agreements reached

Structural changes were high on the agenda in Mexico, with a number of presidents backing calls for reform which may see the CELAC line up to replace the controversial and US-backed Organization of American States (OAS), which Bolivian President Luis Arce described as “obsolete and ineffective.”

For his part, Maduro proposed the creation of a CELAC general secretariat and three councils of ministers to address social, economic and diplomatic affairs. In criticism of the OAS, Maduro also explained that “There is a contradiction between the OAS and the CELAC. It is the same contradiction as that which exists between Monroeism and Bolivarianism,” in reference to US President James Monroe and the Monroe Doctrine and South American independence hero Simón Bolívar’s integrationist agenda.

Likewise, Mexican President Andés Manuel López Obrador reiterated his push to build “something similar to what was the economic community that was the beginning of the current European Union” in place of the Washington DC-headquartered OAS. In the absence of pro-Washington representatives from Colombia and Brazil, only Uruguay defended the OAS.

Following the summit, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard announced a 44-point Declaration of Mexico.

In it, member states voiced their “rejection” of unilateral coercive measures, including the blockades against Venezuela and Cuba, with the declaration describing them as “contrary to international law.”

Equally agreed was the creation of a Latin American and Caribbean Space Agency (ACLAE) and respective investment fund. The ACLAE looks to “strengthen regional capacities and push for cooperation, collaboration, investigation, development and technological transfer between Latin American and Caribbean states for peaceful space exploration.”

Additionally, nations agreed to push for greater Covid-19 vaccine access and general medical production and coverage. Specifically, representatives called for the “democratization of the production and elimination of obstacles which block fair and equal access to vaccines” as well as an end to patents and the creation of an “internal market” for vaccine production.

Climate change was also on the table, with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández calling for the creation of a regional body to tackle the problem. Nations agreed to set up a general disaster fund with a starting balance of US $15 million for climate-related issues, as well as to “increase climate actions based around the Paris Agreement.”

The statement went on to reaffirm Latin America and the Caribbean as a “zone of peace” and “free of nuclear weapons,” while also backing Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas Islands (Falkland Islands), the Puerto Rican independence movement and a collective condemnation of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July. For his part, Arce called for debt relief for poorer nations.

Finally, the CELAC reiterated its commitment to fight for “a fairer, more inclusive and harmonic international order based on respect, international law, and the principals of the UN Charter which include sovereignty equality between states, peaceful resolution to controversies, international cooperation, (…) no-intervention in nations’ internal affairs, (…) and the right of each member to construct their own political system free of threats, attacks and unilateral coercive measures.”

The summit failed, however, to assign the body’s next pro-tempore president after objections were voiced against the proposal that Argentina take on the baton. Argentinian president Alberto Fernández canceled his participation due to a last-minute cabinet reshuffle which saw outgoing Foreign Minister Felipe Solá sacked mid-air en route to Mexico City.

The regional body was founded in 2011 in Venezuela to push for Latin American and Caribbean integration. It includes every country in the two regions and, unlike the Organization of American States (OAS), excludes the United States and Canada. The Mexico summit followed repeated failed attempts to hold the meeting since 2018.