Created: Wednesday, 19 February 2014 14:16
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014
On 28-29 January 2014, Havana hosted the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in Spanish), with the participation of the heads of states and other representatives of all 33 independent nations in the region. The Summit ended Cuba’s one-year presidency of CELAC, which focused on combating regional poverty, hunger and inequality. Cuba is part of CELAC’s three member troika, along with Chile, which held the presidency in 2012 and Costa Rica, which takes over in 2014. Over 30 documents were drawn up for discussion and analysis, including a Plan of Action, and standards and principles to govern co-operation. The Summit was preceded by two days of discussions by national experts on 25-26 January and a meeting of ministers on 27 January. HELEN YAFFE reports.
CELAC was launched with the Declaration of Caracas in December 2011. It is the first organisation in the 200-years since Latin America’s formal independence to integrate all sovereign nations in the region, without either being convened (or attended) by the United States, or other foreign powers, and without excluding Cuba. Indeed, the insistence on Cuba’s inclusion is a prime motive for CELAC’s foundation. CELAC stands as a rejection of, and alternative to, the Organisation of American States (OAS), set up in 1948 with its headquarters in Washington. In 1962 Cuba was expelled from the OAS because it ‘officially identified itself as a Marxist-Leninist government’ which, the OAS stated, was ‘incompatible with the principles and objectives of the inter-American system’. As Cuban academic Luis Suarez Sálazar pointed out to BBC Mundo: ‘the restoration of relations with all nations of the region and the presence in this gathering of their Heads of State demonstrates clearly that the US failed in its policy of isolating us.’
In 1994, following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, when imperialism stepped up its neo-liberal offensive, the OAS held its first Summit of the Americas. It was a political forum for the US to pursue its economic agenda: the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a neo-liberal treaty that would undermine national sovereignty and facilitate the pillaging and looting of resources by US and international capital. The Spanish acronym for the FTAA was ALCA. Direct opposition to this led then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to propose an alternative: ALBA (which means dawn in Spanish); the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. While the 2005 deadline for the implementation of the FTAA came and went, US imperialism witnessed rebellion in its ‘backyard’. At the last Summit of the Americas in Colombia in 2012, the final declaration draft condemned the US blockade of Cuba and demanded an end to Cuba’s expulsion from the hemispheric events. This was vetoed by US and Canada so no agreement was reached.
CELAC’s other distinguishing characteristics are that it binds the Caribbean with Latin America, realising the vision of independence heroes such as Simon Bolivar and Jose Marti for ‘Our America’, and that it is not constituted as an narrowly economic mechanism for establishing free trade between member states. The general function of CELAC is to promote sustainable development, social and environmental investments, and create a ‘zone of peace’ where differences are resolved through dialogue and diplomacy. Securing the latter would not only benefit the region’s nearly 600 million inhabitants; it would also undermine the ability of imperialist powers to provoke confrontations in their own interests.
Tensions between left, centre and right governments within CELAC are evident and are constantly aggravated by US machinations; for example the recent push to create the Alliance of the Pacific, so far formed of Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru – right-wing governments allied to the US. However, CELAC aims to undermine divisive manipulation through open democratic discussion in which each participant’s views have equal weight. The Havana Declaration issued at the end of the Summit contains 83 progressive action and position points which are irreconcilable with a neo-liberal agenda. The preamble summarises the aims as: ‘To strengthen our democracies and all human rights for everyone; to give greater opportunities to our people; build more inclusive societies; improve our productivity; strengthen our trade; improve our infrastructure and connectivity and the networks necessary to increasingly unite our peoples; work for sustainable development, to address inequalities and for a more equitable distribution of wealth, so that each and everyone feels that democracy brings meaning to their lives.’ The subsequent points expand on these, with special emphasis on eliminating hunger, poverty and social exclusion and on recognising the rights and contribution of indigenous peoples, those of African descent and migrants.
The Declaration calls for special consideration for: ‘subregions of greater vulnerability in economic, social and environmental terms, and we propose to promote trade, investments and projects, and cooperation actions that are complementary and solidarity-based, aimed at overcoming distinct challenges and difficulties associated with their vulnerability.’ (point 23). Here the influence of ALBA is clear. Likewise it commits to action on climate change and its consequences, continued special assistance for Haiti and support for Puerto Rican independence. It calls for debt restructuring, supports Argentina’s demand that Britain returns Las Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) to Argentina, condemns the US blockade of Cuba and rejects Cuba’s inclusion in the US list of states that support terrorism. It supports the peace process in Colombia, democratisation of the United Nations and nuclear disarmament. Point 3 expresses sadness for the death of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez on 5 March 2013: ‘one of the main founders and drivers of CELAC, an inexhaustible humanist and promoter of Latin American and Caribbean union, who struggled against social exclusion, poverty and fostered the integrated development of the region.’
Cuba had focused the Summit on strategies and policies to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger and provide access to free health and education. In this, Cuba is the regional leader par excellence. Its achievements are not just domestic. In Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine thousands of students from the region study for free. Millions of people have benefitted from its ‘Yes I can’ literacy programme. Through Cuba’s Operation Miracle, set up with Venezuela, between 2005 and 2011, two million people in Latin America and the Caribbean had their eye-sight restored in 60 eye hospitals which Cuba had donated to 35 countries.
The importance of the goals set out for the Summit cannot be underestimated. Despite recent progress, Latin America remains the most unequal region in the world. This reality, and the suffering which accompanies it, is especially brutal given the abundance of mineral, forestry, water and agricultural resources. Within CELAC are the world’s greatest supplies of mineral resources: copper (Chile), iron (Brazil), silver (Mexico) tin (Bolivia and Peru). Venezuela has the world’s greatest proven oil reserves, 18% of the total. And the Guarani Aquifer, located beneath the surface of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, is one of the world’s largest aquifer systems and sources of fresh water. Latin America and the Caribbean produce more food than required by their populations, and yet 8% of Latin Americans and 18% of Caribbeans suffer from malnutrition. The question is who controls the resources and in whose interests.
Significantly the CELAC Summit was attended by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, the first holder of that office to visit Havana since Cuba was expelled from the OAS. Also present was UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon, who visited the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) and strolled through Old Havana stopping to get his hair cut in a local barber’s shop. Also during the Summit, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff participated with Cuban President Raul Castro, and other heads of states, in the inauguration of the first stage of the new Mariel Port, which has been enlarged and modernised with Brazilian technical and financial assistance. Raul stated: ‘From this moment, Mariel is part of the Cuban and Latin-American port system’. The Port will have an annual capacity of one million containers and its geo-strategic location will seriously challenge the US blockade of Cuba.