Thursday, December 14, 2017

Celac’s rising influence

 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-

peting political/econo-

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.