Maduro made the comments during a 40-minute interview on the public television station, Venezolana de Television (VTV).
The summit is scheduled to take place on December 2-3 in Caracas, Venezuela. It was previously scheduled for July 5-6, marking the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s independence, but was postponed when President Hugo Chavez underwent emergency surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.
Maduro said Celac’s 33 member countries have five major topics to discuss at the summit: The formal establishment of Celac as an organization, including its decision-making process and political structure; energy independence and a common energy policy for the 21st Century; social development, including food, health, and education policies; environmental development and the prevention of climate change; and the world economic crisis and its consequences, as well as independence from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
In the short term, the organization will focus on social programs that address the most urgent and concrete needs of their populations, while in the medium term, it will promote multilateral collaboration to expand regional infrastructure, according to Maduro.
Strength in Diversity
Maduro described Celac as “a current that advances toward union in political, ideological, and cultural diversity, but rooted in the common identity of Latin America and the Caribbean”.
Noting that Celac includes governments with both left and right leanings, Maduro commented, “It is the region’s strength that, in ideological diversity, its leaders have placed integration and union as the supreme objectives, and this demonstrates the region can advance toward its objectives in a dynamic democratic debate”.
Maduro also assured Venezuela’s solidarity with Puerto Rico, which Venezuela considers a potential member of Celac. “The organization will be waiting for our Puerto Rican brothers to take the step of independence [from the United States]”, he said.
Celac represents the culmination of a series of regional integration efforts that began more than a century ago. Several economic and political integration organizations exist currently, including the Community of Andean Nations, the Common Market of the South, the Caribbean Community, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), PetroCaribe, and the Union of South American Nations (Unasur).
Maduro said these existing organizations are “processes that share the same historical current moving toward unity in diversity”, and each one “responded to a distinct historical moment”. Celac will not formally replace any of them, but will act as “the mother organization that gathers them together and allows for the diversity of organisms and proposals and ways of thinking can be developed and consolidated”.
Celec’s Historical Moment
Celac was born during the aftermath of the US-backed military coup d’etat in Honduras, which deposed President Manuel Zelaya, a proponent of regional integration and of alternatives to the US-imposed neoliberal economic model, and later installed a pro-US president through elections ridden with human rights violations and repression of popular protests.
Celac intentionally excludes the United States and poses an alternative to the US-dominated Organization of American States, which condoned US interventions in Latin America during the 20th Century.
When asked if the US will attempt to sabotage the formation of Celac, Maduro stated, “Historically it has been so... there are no reasons to think otherwise”. However, the minister said current conditions permit the countries in the region to effectively resist US domination.
“Today there are certain very favorable circumstances, which are the great political will of the governments in the region and the great political consciousness of our peoples”, Maduro said. “Celac’s moment is now because the conditions have matured. We have a continent that is more awake, more independent, that acts with greater liberty”, he said.
The Bolivarian Project
Many Venezuelan government officials have referred to Celac as the continuance of the regional integration efforts heralded by independence hero Simon Bolivar in the early 19th Century.
Bolivar organized the Panama Congress in 1826 with the goal of pulling together nascent independent Latin American republics into a single bloc, but the conference was weakened by the absence of several delegations. In the ensuing years, local elites struggled amongst each other for power and the region remained divided in separate nations.
Meanwhile, the US developed its Monroe Doctrine, which painted Latin America as a zone of US hegemony, laying the basis for dozens of interventions and outright overthrows of popular governments across the region. This policy of “impeded our peoples from re-taking the path of independence, of prosperity, of peaceful and electoral political construction”, according to Maduro.
“Today, we are arriving at a special moment in our history where the progressive, democratic, patriotic, transformative, revolutionary, diverse forces of the continent have been able to place on the region’s agenda a fundamental point: Advancing toward a project of unity”, Maduro said during last week’s interview.
The summit will host 33 countries representing 597 million people – more than 8.5% of the world population – and cover 21.4 million square kilometres touching the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
Many of the region’s leaders have already put their own unique proposals on the table. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said he will propose the creation of a Human Rights Commission – “a new commission that addresses the issue of Human Rights from Latin America’s own perspective”, according to the Ecuadorian Foreign Relations Ministry.
The new commission will serve as an alternative to the OAS’s Inter-American Human Rights Commission. “Celac in a way is assuming some roles that the OAS has not been able to assume precisely because it has been managed under the tutelage of the United States for so long”, the ministry said in a statement.
Uruguayan Foreign Relations Minister Luis Almagro said his and President Jose Mujica’s objective at the summit will be “to strengthen Celac’s work, so that it may constitute a valid interlocutor of Latin American and Caribbean countries in the international arena”. Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman emphasized, “Even just the fact of having achieved unity among all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean is in itself something that will be recorded in history”, adding that “the inclusion of the Caribbean is a fundamental piece in the process of recuperating a region that had been divided”.
In an interview with AVN, author and intellectual Atilio Boron referred to Celac as “one of the most important initiatives taken on a wide scale in Latin America in a long time”. “To be able to count on having an organization without the US and Canada is a guarantee to the process of emancipation and of liberation to which almost all the governments of Latin America are committed”, Boron said.
More than 400 media outlets have applied for accreditation to cover the event. It will be the bloc’s third major summit since its founding in February 2010 at a summit in Mexico.
Meanwhile, the Latin American Union of News Agencies will be holding a summit in Montevideo, Uruguay this week in which state-owned news outlets will discuss their role in public communications. Participants in the meeting include Cuba’s Prensa Latina, Mexico’s NotiMex, Paraguay’s IPP, Venezuela’s AVN, Bolivia’s ABI, Ecuador’s Andes, Brazil’s EBC, and Guatemala’s AGN. The organization formed last June.