People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 05

January 29, 2012



CELAC: New Challenge to US Hegemony


Yohannan Chemerapally


THE new regional economic grouping----the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was formally launched in the Venezuelan capital Caracas in the first week of December. All the top leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean were present on the historic occasion. The summit was originally scheduled to be held in July but the dates had to be changed to allow president Hugo Chavez to recover from his treatment of cancer. Chavez has since announced that he is now cancer free. He is now back to his old self and once again following a hectic work schedule. Chavez is also girding up for the presidential elections later this year where he will be facing a united opposition.


The United States and Canada have not been invited to join CELAC. The aim of CELAC is to be the voice of the region and eventually make the discredited Organisation of American States (OAS), a creation of Washington, irrelevant.


President Chavez and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro described the occasion as the “most important event in the continent” in the last hundred years. Many of the leaders present at the summit said that CELAC would fulfil the dreams of the liberator, Simon Bolivar of creating “a united America”. Two hundred years ago, Bolivar, born in Caracas, had liberated most of South America from colonial yoke. He had wanted a united Latin America but the US saw to it that his dream was sabotaged. In 1823, US president James Monroe invoked the “Monroe Doctrine” to ensure that the region remains within Washington’s zone of influence. In the 19th and the 20th century, the US regularly intervened militarily in Latin American countries. To create the Panama Canal, a new country was created. Panama was forcibly carved out of Colombia in 1903. Mexico lost much of its territory to American conquests in the 19th century. Puerto Rico too became a colony of the US.


Till the end of the 20th century, barring Cuba, most of the governments in Latin America were under American dominance. The US interfered freely in the internal affairs of countries, propping up military dictators and riding roughshod over democratically elected governments. The Venezuelan president cited Bolivar in his opening speech saying that “the fundamental building blocks of South American unity, independence and development” have been put in place with the formation of CELAC. All the 33 states in the region are members of the new regional bloc. It will now be ranked among the biggest regional groupings in the world. 600 million people reside within the borders of CELAC member states.


The OAS was formed in 1948 as the cold war began. The stated aim of the OAS at the time was to “defeat communism”. Till the late nineties, Washington virtually laid down the ground rules for the OAS. At its bidding, Cuba was excluded from the OAS soon after it was liberated. At the same time, the OAS winked at military coups and large scale human rights violation that had taken place in the continent from the fifties onward. The role played by the OAS after the 2010 coup in Honduras had come in for a lot of adverse comments. According to the Venezuelan writer and commentator, Luis Britto Garcia, Washington has a plan to militarise the Central American region in a bid to perpetuate its hegemony. He points out that Latin America is not only the richest in biodiversity but also has 60 per cent of the world’s water resources. “Washington has a plan to make Venezuela and Colombia go to war. But relations between the two countries have improved since a new government has come into power”, said Garcia.


The US state department spokesman while trying to downplay the significance of CELAC insisted that the OAS remains “the pre-eminent multilateral organisation speaking for the hemisphere”. His confidence seems to be misplaced. The US sponsored “Free Trade Area of the Americas” is a non-starter. Only a few states in the region have bothered to sign free trade agreements with Washington. The US, of course, will keep on trying to regain its influence through diplomatic and military means. President Barack Obama had said that he does not want to be remembered as the man who lost America’s “backyard”. The main goal of the US is to control strategically scarce resources and markets and secure the help of Latin American countries on issues like climate change and reforming the international financial system. Washington also does not want a powerful independent power bloc to emerge. US influence has been waning in the region. The majority of the countries have turned their back on the neo liberal economic policies prescribed by Washington.


CELAC was initially the brainchild of the former Brazilian president, Lula da Silva and Chavez. The idea was first mooted by the two leaders at the Rio Group Summit held at Cancun in 2010, soon after the OAS under the US influence refused to intercede in Honduras following the military coup there. CELAC has the potential to speed up genuine economic and political integration of the region based on sustainable development, justice and equality.  However, many of the leaders present in Caracas warned that the road towards meaningful integration will be a difficult one. There are ideological differences still to be overcome. This is evident from some of the views expressed by the leaders at the summit.


The presidents of the Left oriented governments want CELAC to serve as a forum to resolve regional conflicts. The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa stated that he wants CELAC to replace the OAS. “It is clear that we need an inter-American system. The OAS has been captured historically by North American interests and vision and its cumulative bias and evolution have rendered it inefficient and untrustworthy for the new era that our America is living”, he said in his speech. Chile which holds the rotating presidency of CELAC in the first year on the other hand wants the focus to be on promoting human rights and democracy.  


The leaders attending the founding summit of CELAC issued a “Caracas Declaration” besides approving 22 other important documents. The Caracas Declaration stated that the member countries will put forward “a concerted voice for Latin America and the Caribbean” on all important issues. A separate Statute of Procedures drafted jointly by Venezuela and Chile, which has a Right wing government, called for the coordination of common positions between member countries in multilateral forums, political spaces and spaces of international negotiations to promote the Latin American and Caribbean agenda”. The Caracas Declaration calls on all the member countries to jointly advance “the political, economic, social and cultural integration” of the region.


With this goal in view, members of the new grouping will be encouraged to develop “programs, projects and initiatives on integration” within the region. CELAC will develop mechanisms for coordination with “sub-regional  integration mechanisms” like the trading bloc Mercosur (Common Market of the South) and the South American regional grouping—UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). UNASUR is already playing an important role in the region. It helped defuse serious internal tensions in Bolivia in 2008 and helped prevent hostilities from erupting between Colombia and Venezuela after a tense border stand-off in 2010. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Latin America (ALBA) another grouping of ideologically like minded states like Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and many small Caribbean island nations has also made great strides. There already exists a high level of cooperation in economic, social and cultural areas between ALBA members.  


The Caracas Action Plan approved during the summit envisages closer interaction among member states in the fields of energy cooperation, hunger and illiteracy eradication and jointly overcoming environmental and humanitarian challenges. The top most priority will be given to find solutions to the grave economic challenges that the new international financial crisis has brought about. The way forward for Latin America, according to the Caracas Action Plan is for CELAC to find ways to “strengthen and deepen the integration of our economies”. 


Most of the leaders present at the summit were critical of the US role in the region. The president of Argentina, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner said that the people of the region are paying a huge price because of the impact of the trade in drugs. Fernandez criticised drug consuming countries for not doing enough. The US is the biggest consumer of illicit narcotics. “It seems that Latin America ends up with the deaths and the guns, and others end up with the drugs and the money”, she said. The Bolivian president, Evo Morales said that the US should not be allowed to set up military bases in the region. “Now is the best moment to put an end to certain impositions that are coming from with regard to our armed forces”, he said. Morales also referred to the global financial situation and its impact on Latin America. He said that the world was witnessing “the terminal and structural crisis of capitalism”. The CELAC communiqué also sharply criticised the continuing US economic blockade on Cuba and supported Argentina’s territorial claims on the Malvinas (Falklands).  The special communiqué on the Malvinas calls on the UK to engage in talks with Argentina in the “shortest time possible”.