Latin America and the Caribbean Approve New Regional Group, Without U.S.

Country leaders approved a regional organisation that will unite the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean but that will not involve either the United States or Canada.
The Unity of Latin America and the Caribbean Summit (ABI)

Merida, February 25th, 2010 ( – Country leaders approved a regional organisation that will unite the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean but that will not involve either the United States or Canada.

The organisation, tentatively called Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, will unite members of the Rio Group, an annual summit which was formed in 1986 and includes most Latin American countries and some Caribbean countries, with members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), a common market and cooperation organisation with 15 member countries.

The decision was approved at the Latin America and the Caribbean Unity Rio Group Summit in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on Tuesday, and the organisation is envisioned to function parallel to the Organisation of American States (OAS), a group which includes both North and South America, except Cuba, which was suspended in 1962 and Honduras in 2009, and which has been criticised for being dominated by a United States agenda.

At the summit Cuban President Raul Castro said the decision to create a community of Latin American and Caribbean countries was “historic” and “Cuba believes that the conditions are ripe for rapidly advancing” towards such an organisation.

He said there was no reason why they shouldn’t strengthen unity and cooperation among the countries but also said that within unity there should be respect for the different cultures and political systems that each country has.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez said the organisation was important as a continuation of the dream of liberation fighter Simon Bolivar and as a resumption of the path towards a union of the countries in one single political body,

“We have faith [in this] because we have amassed strength, because history is on our side and because the people are waking up,” Chavez said.

He said that just a few years ago, the governments of Latin America had been like an orchestra conducted by Washington, “a choir or an orchestra that sang to neoliberalism” but now the map is considerably different.

However, Chavez said there could be obstacles, “Without doubt we’ll have strong opponents to achieving unity…[such as] the North American empire and its large capacity for open and hidden actions to generate …friction.”

Mexican president Felipe Calderon said, “Essentially what we’re seeking is to create a mechanism that unites and organises all the countries in America Latina and the Caribbean, without exception”.

There are currently a range of alliances in South and Central America that aim at regional integration and cooperation, including ALBA, UNASUR, MERCOSUR, and the aforementioned Rio Group and CARICOM, but none of these include all the countries.

While the summit agreed to form the new organisation, it will not be formally constituted until July 5, 2011, during the Caracas summit of the Rio Group, and at a time when Venezuela will be celebrating 200 years of independence. In the meantime, statutes and rules for the organisation need to be written and countries agreed to continue promoting such integration and mutual development through various forums.

The summit agreements on Haiti and on the Falkland Islands dispute

The summit participants signed a number of other agreements. Calderon read out the final declaration of the summit, which had 87 points and covered a range of themes, from economics to energy, infrastructure, science and technology, migration, and human rights, among others.

The president of Haiti, Rene Preval, requested an international alliance to help those affected in his country by the earthquake in January, and the summit agreed on plans to help with the reconstruction of Haiti, including a further $25 million on top of donations already made by member countries and alliances, an amount which will be available this week.

Also, following the request of Argentine president Cristina Fernandez, the summit signed a joint declaration rejecting Desire Petroleum’s intentions to exploit oil in the Falkland Islands, or the Malvinas as Argentineans call them, and unanimously backed Argentina’s claim over the British owned islands.

The heads of state also approved a declaration of solidarity with Ecuador around the pronouncement by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) putting Ecuador on a list that hasn’t fought hard enough against the financing of terrorism.

Venezuela’s relations with Colombia and Mexico addressed at the Summit

During the summit there was a brief altercation between the presidents of Venezuela and Colombia, where the president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, accused Venezuela of having a commercial blockade against his country.

Mid last year the Chavez government began seeking alternative import sources to Colombia when the country granted the United States access to seven of its military bases.

Chavez said it was “absurd” to talk about an embargo and that all Venezuela had done was look for better prices in other markets. He said the verbal altercations with Uribe were regrettable but didn’t affect the achievements of the summit.

Chavez added that he wanted to return to “calm and normal relations” with Colombia and that dialogue between the heads of state of “Republics made up of the one people” was an obligation but that Colombia was lacking a government that respected Venezuela and respected its legitimate and democratic revolution.

“If Uribe needs to sell a larger amount of goods produced in Colombia to Venezuela… we’re open to evaluating that, but with respect,” Chavez said.

When press questioned Chavez over Venezuela’s relationship with Mexico, referring to the use of his image in the 2006 presidential campaign in Mexico, Chavez said the last thing he would ever do was use the image of a foreign president for good or bad. “This should be written in the codes of conduct and ethics of parties, and political leaders and figures. It isn’t valid.”

However, he said he was ready to move on and that he leaves Mexico happy given the results of the summit and also the rescued relations between Venezuela and Mexico, “We’ve achieved a level of normality, affection and respect with our bilateral relations,” he said.