THIS article was written as Caribbean Community (Caricom) heads of government and foreign ministers were returning home from participating in last week’s two-day second summit of the fledgling but already well-recognised influential Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Havana, Cuba.
The final communiqué was not yet released but
the draft declaration highlighted firm commitment to ensuring the region as a
“zone of peace” and committed to strengthening economic and cultural integration of all the 33 nations that comprise its membership.
It would therefore be interesting to learn what Caricom heads of govern-
ment—among them Prime
Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar—have to report
to their respective countries on the outcome of the summit.
Inaugurated in Caracas in December 2011, with then president Hugo Chavez as host and one of the prime initiators, CELAC is defined as a “counterpart” to the Washington DC-based Organisation of American States (OAS), with the distinguishing difference that neither the USA nor Canada is among the 33 member states of the Caribbean/Latin American region.
Promoting closest possible co-operation, CELAC’s commitment to
peaceful development was
underscored by its end-of-summit draft proclama-
tion, recognising the region as a “zone of peace”.
With Cuba as host and then formally handing over the rotating annual chairmanship to Costa Rica, the CELAC summit further highlighted the dismal failure of more than
half a century of strategies
and tactics by the USA—including clandestine activities launched from some nations of the hem-
isphere—to isolate Cuba,
which last month officially marked 55 years of the Fidel Castro-led revolution.
As if to dramatise the impact of CELAC and the
diminishing influence of the OAS, both Secretary General of the United
Nations (Ban Ki-Moon) and the Secretary General of the OAS (Chile’s Jose Miguel Insulza) were in
attendance at the summit
—the latter as an observer.
It was the first time since 1962, when under enormous “cold-war” pressures from the USA, Cuba was expelled from the hemispheric body—to which it chose not to return—that a serving OAS secretary general
had arrived in Cuba for a public event of international significance.
And as if to further underscore continuing significant changes—political, social, economic and cultural—away from the domineering influence of the USA—Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff took the opportunity of the CELAC summit to formally inaugurate the first phase of Cuba’s modernised deep-water seaport at Mariel, funded by her country, at a cost of US$957 million.
To say that was a prac-
tical manifestation of solidarity, as Cuba continues to combat the negative consequences of half a century of the US economic blockade, may be an
understatement. But the
UN secretary general was
ready with a very encoura-ging message of his own:
“It is especially meaningful,” Ban Ki-Moon told
the summit, “to be in atten-
dance on the anniversary of the birth of the great Jose Marti.... He was an inspiration not only for
this country’s indepen-dence but for shaping the Latin American identity....”
Declaring the region continues to face some serious challenges, the secretary general said he was however pleased to see a region “determined to tackle its obstacles toge-ther.... This summit”, he added, “is proof of just that”.
He pledged the support of the United Nations “in all aspects of our shared agenda”.
The CELAC summit, representing 33 nations with a combined popula-
tion of some 600 million multiethnic, multicultural peoples, was an history-making event in various ways.
And President Xi Jin-
ping of China—principal
rival of the USA for com-
mic influence in Latin
America—was ready to
hail last Thursday, in a congratulatory message to host President Castro, the decision in Havana to establish a “China-CELAC Forum”.
This forum initiative is viewed as a prelude to CELAC’s already de-
clared intention to access membership of the BRIC
bloc of five major countries
—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—whose economic agenda includes creation of a special bank to cater to the specific needs of poor and developing nations.
The vibrancy of initia-
tives by CELAC in streng-
thening co-operation for economic and cultural integration could, in the assessment of informed hemispheric watchers, further marginalise the OAS, which has tradi-
tionally been subjected to orchestrated political influence by successive administrations in Washington DC—even long after the expiry of the “cold war”.
In this context, the
birth and defined policies
and programmes of CELAC mark a signifi-
cantly new beginning for
the peoples of Latin Ame-
rica and the Caribbean.