Birth of CELAC, a new regional body
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Birth of CELAC, a new regional body
Saturday, 24 December 2011 04:01

Emanuele Schibotto* has shared with us a report on his recent visit to Caracas, Venezuela, as the country hosted on 2nd and 3rd December the multilateral summit which paved the way to the setting of the Comunidad de Estados Latino Americanos y del Caribe (CELAC), an initiative which has Venezuelas' President Hugo Chavez as main sponsor.   

The city was dressed up for the occasion: fireworks, additional security checks, extra cleaning service and a symphonic concert. All Latin American heads of State and Government attended the event, including the Mexican President Calderon and Brazilian's newly elected President Roussef. The presence of high profile politicians, representatives of both socialist and conservative governments, highlights the significance of the initiative on a regional level. Only the United States and Canada were not asked to attend.

At first glance CELAC might be considered as Chavez' creation. On the contrary, the idea took form last year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, at the Group of Rio Summit. There, Latin American countries decided to set a new body to represent both the Group of Rio and the Caribbean Community. Caracas is not even set to become the organization's headquarters, which will instead be established in Panama. That said, Chavez is the first and most enthusiastic advocate of the project and the Caracas summit set the guidelines for the organization. CELAC, as written on the Declaracion de Caracas, shall be “a mechanism representative of political planning, cooperation and integration of Latin American and Caribbean States”, with the development of a coordinated, regional answer to the economic crisis as the most important short-term goal.

Why setting up a new regional body? Let's take three readings out of it. Firstly, CELAC is conceived by its proponents as a viable alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS), a regional organization historically called to greater ambitions but which has rather suffered from Washington's dominant influence (Cuba is not a OAS member). The Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, referring to the current significance of the OAS, has recently declared: “We believe in the necessity of a radical change in the inter-American system towards a Latin-American direction, as the gravitational power of the United States is too evident”. A second reading takes into consideration the declining political leverage the US is experiencing all over Latin America. That is not to say that US influence is vanishing, rather that major economic players start to listen less to Washington and more to others – China, for instance. CELAC formally excludes the United States according to geographical criteria, as it is located in North America. Actually, the United States is left out for it is believed to be responsibile for the financial and economic crisis that is still hitting on the region (furthermore Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador justify Washington's exclusion on the grounds that it is an “imperialist” country). Finally, CELAC may be viewed as a Mexican, Venezuelan and Argentinian attempt to challenge – better say, to face - the emergence of Brazil as a regional power: a sort of collaborative effort to check Brazil's actions and ambitions stemming from the countries currently playing a comparatively minor economic and political regional role. The Brazilian case is noteworthy. Should it continue the current pattern of sound economic development in the years ahead, Brazil may be compared to the German case: a country too big for Europe yet too small for the world.

As regards Chavez and CELAC's utility to Venezuela, opinions are divergent. Opposition strongly criticizes CELAC, labelling it nothing less than a useless initiative. Zeta, a local weekly magazine close to the opposition, considers it just “the creation of a forum, not a real regional organization”. Luca Marfè, a journalist and professor of Italian Studies at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, underlines instead the positive outcome of the Caracas summit. “Beyond the main elements that have characterized his political propaganda for 13 years - Marfé said - I may state that in this occasion President Chavez, Caracas and Venezuela have played a leading role within the context of the South American continent”.

CELAC, as any other initiative aimed at fostering multilateral dialogue, has to be positively welcomed. The benefits which the organization could provide are remarkable – just think of increasing trade relations, a regional strategy against drug-traffiking and enhanced freedom of movement. Nevertheless, conditions such as a clear leadership, the setting of both long and short-term viable goals and an efficient governance mechanism shall be set to secure the functioning of the organization. CELAC would otherwise end up a project with huge potential yet fully unexpressed. Latin American countries shall be warned by a recent European failure: the Union for the Mediterranean.

* The author is PhD candidate in Geopolitics at the Guglielmo Marconi University in Rome. He also is Editorial Coordinator of our knowledge partner, www.equilibri.net, an Italian think tank on Geopolitics and International Relations.

 


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