CELAC and EU Hold Summit After Eight-Year Absence Amid Strong Disagreements

Venezuelan delegation leader Delcy Rodríguez said Europe’s energy crisis was due in part to its support for sanctions.
Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez (second right) poses alongside European leaders on the sidelines of the 2023 EU-CELAC Summit. (@NicolasMaduro / Twitter)

Mexico City, Mexico, July 18, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Representatives from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held a summit in Brussels with their European Union (EU) counterparts after an eight-year absence where leaders discussed “a new beginning” amid talks dominated by political disagreements and economic issues.

“This EU-CELAC Summit felt like a new beginning between old friends. These are times of great geopolitical change and like-minded friends like the EU and Latin American and Caribbean partners need to get closer,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.

Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the current holder of the CELAC presidency, called the meeting a “historic gathering” and spoke about strengthened relations between the two blocs.

The cordial closing remarks from von der Leyen stood in contrast to earlier disagreements between European and Latin America and Caribbean leaders. The EU-CELAC Summit was nearly derailed over the EU’s embrace of controversial opposition figures from Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.

A European Parliament resolution passed days before the start of the summit criticized the Cuban government for alleged human rights abuses and called for political exclusion of various countries. A similar move was tried by the United States as hosts of the 2022 Summit of the Americas that saw Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua deliberately excluded, a decision that ultimately cast a shadow over the proceedings.

Heading the Venezuelan delegation was Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez who criticized the application of sanctions and the economic blockade imposed on Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, detailing the severe impact of US and EU sanctions and calling for them to be lifted.

The CELAC bloc also disagreed with the EU’s unilateral decision to invite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to give an address. Leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean have been hesitant to wade directly into the Russia-Ukraine conflict, despite heavy lobbying by European leaders. Leaders from the region such as Brazil’s Lula da Silva have sharply criticized Europe’s arming of Ukraine, calling instead for a negotiated peace agreement in order to end hostilities as soon as possible.

Zelensky was ultimately not allowed to address the summit, nonetheless EU officials sought a clear condemnation of Russia in their final communiqué but were unsuccessful in achieving consensus between all states.

Meanwhile, CELAC leaders pushed for language in the statement concerning the impact and legacy of slavery. Gonsalves said he wanted to see language that included reparations though he received pushback from EU delegates. Ultimately the statement expressed regret over the slave trade, calling it a “crime against humanity” and expressed support for a 10-point reparation plan laid out by the Caribbean Community.

One of the major topics of discussion was the EU’s Global Gateway initiative, which is widely seen as Europe’s answer to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have built strong economic and political ties with China in recent years, becoming the second biggest trading partner and instilling confidence among the region’s leaders.

For its part, the EU is seeking to develop new sources of energy from CELAC countries as a result of the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine that saw European countries limit their oil and natural gas purchases from Russia.

European Commission President von der Leyen spoke of the need for countries to “de-risk” their supply chains, language that Western political leaders have adopted when talking about China’s growing commercial ties with much of the world. Von der Leyen announced at the close of the meeting that the EU would seek an investment of €45 billion (US$ 50.5 billion) over several years for Latin American and Caribbean economies through the Global Gateway program.

Parallel to the official summit, international activists hosted the Peoples’ Summit in Brussels, and issued a final statement that welcomed progress toward a multipolar world, condemned unilateral sanctions and warned about the rise of far-right movements.

Representatives from the Venezuelan government likewise held a meeting with opposition leaders on the sidelines of the main event, alongside the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and France. Talks between the two sides have been paralyzed for months, with little progress on agreed upon items, such as the US $3 billion social fund drawn from Venezuelan assets seized by Washington that was to be used to invest in education, healthcare and infrastructure repairs.

Venezuela’s National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez recently announced that there would not be a European Union electoral observation mission for the 2024 presidential elections in response to an European Parliament resolution in support of barred far-right candidates.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro nonetheless said during his weekly television program that he hoped for improved relations with Europe, softening his position from earlier this year.

CELAC was formally founded in 2011 under the leadership of then President Hugo Chávez but was pushed into irrelevance after the election of right-wing figures throughout the continent who worked to sabotage regional integration initiatives. CELAC reemerged as a regional body thanks to the leadership of Mexico and subsequently Argentina, who occupied the pro-tempore presidency of the organization. It last held its summit in January.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.