Leaders of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held a summit in Mexico on Saturday, which criticized the OAS, requested that the United States change its relationship with the region, and raised questions of the presence of the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, which generated divisions among the attendees.
The VI Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States began with the surprise arrival of Maduro and the absence of Argentine President Alberto Fernández.
The blows of the political crisis facing Argentina were also evidenced in the meeting when the person Fernández had appointed to represent him, Felipe Solá, was dismissed as foreign minister in flight to Mexico, and the government’s spokesperson had to be assumed by the undersecretary for Latin America, Juan Valle.
Immediately, Valle faced the questions of the Nicaraguan foreign affairs minister, Denis Moncada, who openly rejected handing over the pro tempore presidency of the bloc to the South American country, saying that it interfered in the internal affairs of the Central American country.
When opening the meeting, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador demanded that the United States end the embargo policies and a “new and vigorous relationship between the peoples of America.”
“It seems to me that it is time to replace the policy of blockades and mistreatment with the option of respecting each other, walking together and associating ourselves for the good of America without violating sovereignty,” said López Obrador.
Addressing his counterpart Joe Biden, the host of the summit said that his US counterpart would win the support of the United States Congress if he allocated resources for the benefit of the peoples of the region to reduce inequality and the violence that he claimed are the causes of the migratory flows.
A non-agenda item, Maduro became a big part of summit
Plans to combat the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, the role of the Organization of American States (OAS), economic difficulties and the defense of democracy and human rights dominated the debate agenda, as well as did direct criticism of Maduro’s participation in the summit.
The re-election in 2018 of the Venezuelan leader was not recognized by the United States, the majority of Latin American countries and the European Union, which alleged that the voting process was carried out without meeting the minimum democratic standards.
“My presence at this summit in no sense or circumstance represents recognition of the government of Mr. Nicolás Maduro. There is no change in my government’s position, and I think it’s gentlemen to say it head-on,” said Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez, looking at the Venezuelan President, who was seated at one end of the room.
As he spoke, Maduro interrupted him and snapped: “Not mine with yours, abuser.”
“There is no other way than democracy,” said Abdo Benítez. He added that respect for democracy is not only given at the polls but also in the exercise of power, without the manipulation of justice or the persecution of opponents.
His Uruguayan counterpart, Luis Lacalle Pou, added to Abdo Benítez’s statements, and directly questioned the presence of the Venezuelan, Cuban and Nicaraguan leaders, pointing out that it was not possible to be complacent when “there is no full democracy, separation of powers and the State apparatus is used to silence protests, when opponents are imprisoned.”
With “a calm but firm voice, we must say with concern that we seriously see what is happening in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela,” Lacalle stressed to his colleagues the complaints of human rights violations in those countries.
In responding to the accusations, Maduro said that “we must turn the page of the divisionism that was inserted in Latin America, of the harassment of the Bolivarian revolution and now of the incessant harassment of the Cuban revolution and the Nicaraguan revolution. That is not the way.”
The South American President said, citing his mentor, the late Hugo Chávez, that “international politics must be at the service of international law, of the great interests of the community, of the region.”
Maduro asked for support from all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to continue with the dialogues that his government maintains with the Venezuelan opposition under the mediation of Norway and invited his CELAC colleagues to go and observe the November elections so “that they see the “dictator” Maduro calling the 29th election.”
Maduro challenged Benítez and Lacalle to set “the date and place for a debate” on democracy.
“Venezuela is ready to debate democracy, freedoms, resistance, revolution and whatever needs to be debated; of neoliberalism, in the face of the peoples, in live and direct transmission, in private, as they wish.”
The presence of the Venezuelan President was surprising; Maduro arrived in the Mexican capital on Friday night accompanied by his wife Cilia Flores and his son Nicolás Maduro Guerra, after it had been announced that he would not come to the summit and that he would be represented by Vice President Delcy Rodríguez. After his re-election in 2018, the Venezuelan President reduced his tours abroad and only traveled to Russia in 2019.
Since the United States presented charges against Maduro and 13 other senior officials for drug trafficking and terrorism in March of last year, and it was announced that cash would be offered in exchange for information that would lead to the arrest or conviction of the President and his relatives, including rewards of up to $15 million, it is not known of any official exit from the country made by Maduro since that time.
Colombia, another meeting attendee, expressed its rejection on Saturday of Maduro’s participation in the summit.
“The Government of Colombia, like other countries that have ignored the de facto power that Nicolás Maduro exercises in Venezuela as a result of the presidential election of May 20, 2018 (…), expresses its rejection of his participation at the VI Summit of Heads of State and Government of Celac,” the Colombian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Organization of Political Persecuted Venezuelans in Exile (Veppex) declared the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, “persona no grata,” “for his support and recognition of the dictators Nicolás Maduro and Miguel Díaz-Canel”.
In a statement, the organization alluded to the reception that the Mexican President also made to the Presidents of Cuba, at the VI Summit of Celac.
“It is unusual for a democratically elected president to receive with honors an assassin like Miguel Díaz-Canel, who has continued the tyranny of the Castro brothers (Fidel and Raúl) on the island of Cuba,” said Veppex President José Antonio Hill.
Lasso says Celac needs to look at EU, addresses Maduro
Early in the meeting Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso pushed CELAC members to move from speeches to actions. Lasso proposed a true integration in order for Celac to become a weighty bloc, “relevant in the international arena.”
Latin American leaders agree on the need for regional unity during the summit, but Lasso urged that, beyond shared elements and differences, the member governments should move towards regional economic integration.
“An integration that transcends organizations and events like these,” because the benefits of political summits “are hardly known by our citizens,” said Lasso. He added that the benefits and mutual benefit of integration should be felt by citizens, “at their tables and plates of food.”
Lasso gave the European Union (EU) as an example, which after the Second World War, sought the unity of their States and began with the economic, to later give way to political integration.
“Europeans learned to unite beyond political statements…Their integration was first economic and then political, (…) first the citizens, then the governments. This is how they built the enviable influence that they enjoy today as a bloc, that is, gentlemen, presidents, what I consider to be true integration.”
The Ecuadorian President added that commercial ties between nations generate interest for the common welfare of States. That is why he called on his counterparts to work on economic integration first and then on politics, from the bottom up and not the other way around.
Lasso followed by asking why there is no greater Latin American and Caribbean integration, what has kept the countries apart or what should be done to deepen integration.
He questioned Ecuador’s previous governments for not having entered the Pacific Alliance and for the lack of a free trade agreement with Mexico, which he argued represents a potential market of more than 120 million people.
He added that Ecuador has a free trade agreement with the EU but not with Latin America except for the Andean Community (CAN) and stressed that the motto that guides his international policy is “more Ecuador in the world and more world in Ecuador.”
In what most took as a swing at Maduro, Lasso turned to the Venezuelan head-of-state and demanded what he called full democracy. He warned that the common future of the region can only be built through freedom.
“Freedom for our citizens, to open new markets, to trade, dream and grow together in a full democracy; where there are transparent elections, where freedom of expression is respected, where human rights and political freedoms of opponents of our governments are respected.”
OAS draws debate
The first to raise his voice against the OAS was the president of Bolivia, Luis Arce, who said that the organization “instead of acting under the mandates of the Democratic Charter, acts against the principles of democracy,” and maintained that “Their growing interference in the affairs of the states does not contribute to the peaceful settlement of disputes.”
Arce urged the members of the bloc to strengthen CELAC to face the deficiencies of the OAS.
The Mexican undersecretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, Maximiliano Reyes, ruled out that the reform of the OAS is on the agenda, but in statements to the local station W Radio the day before, said that if any member suggests it, Mexico – in its capacity as president pro tempore of the bloc— will propose the formation of a working group to “reflect” on the case.
López Obrador has spoken out in favor of a transformation of the OAS, while his Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard has been stronger and has even stated that it is time to say “goodbye to the OAS in its interventionist, interference and hegemonist sense and that another organization comes along that lets us build politically in agreement with the United States.”
Since its creation in 2010, CELAC has promoted initiatives to try to reform the OAS, but none have been successful due to the lack of consensus among the 32 members of the bloc.
“CELAC is our path, that is why I propose that the constitution of a general secretariat of Latin American and Caribbean states be evaluated with a cold mind, with balance, and that we endow it with enough power to lead the construction” of a united community, proposed Maduro.
Reyes, the Mexican undersecretary, said that the meeting would discuss the formalization of the Latin American and Caribbean Space Agency, to cover the lag in the region and advance the proposal to place a satellite in space that attends to meteorological phenomena and serves to make mobile communication cheaper and more efficient.
Also on the table was the creation of a coordination between the four countries that test vaccines against COVID-19, to have a vaccine in the region next year and reduce dependence on large laboratories and donations from other countries.
Meanwhile, after the closing of the summit, the Mexican Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard, highlighted a document with 44 agreements reached by the 31 nations that participated in the event.
Among the points, he said, is the creation of an integrated fund to face the effects of climate change, for which they have raised fifteen million dollars from the countries of the region.
In addition, Ebrard noted the universal support of vaccines for Latin America, “so that we never again have a situation like the one we went through in 2020 and 2021,” through which, he said, many leaders wandered in search of vaccines.
It was also agreed upon to take a joint position before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to access short and long-term resources that reduce the burden of debt, as well as a common position before the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, in which they will demand financing to combat the climate crisis.