Havana hosts important regional summit

Por: Helen Yaffe*

On 28-29th January 2014, Havana hosts the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in Spanish), with the participation of the heads of states, chancellors and other representatives of all 33 independent nations in the region. The Summit rounds off Cuba’s one-year presidency of CELAC, which focussed 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 are being drawn up for discussion and analysis, including a Plan of Action, and standards and principles which will govern cooperation. The Summit was preceded by two days of discussions by national experts on 25-26 January and a meeting of chancellors on 27 January. The Summit is expected to emit specific statements, for example, demanding that Britain return Las Islas Malvinas (the Falkland Islands) to Argentina and that the US blockade of Cuba be lifted.

CELAC was launched with the Declaration of Caracas in December 2011. It is the first organisation in 200-years, since Latin America’s formal independence, to integrate the sovereign nations of 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 principal 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 Cuba’s revolutionary government, it stated, had ‘officially identified itself as a Marxist-Leninist government, [which is] 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 neo-liberalism went on its triumphant 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 (see http://tinyurl.com/pntnwbt). While the 2005 deadline for the implementation of the FTAA came and went, US imperialism witnessed rebellion in its ‘back-yard’. At the last Summit of the Americas in Colombia in 2012, the final declaration draft demanded an end to the US blockade of Cuba and 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 regions nearly 600 million inhabitants, it would also undermine the ability of imperialist powers to provoke confrontations in their own interests. In the last few years, tensions between the governments of Colombia, a strong, right-wing ally of the US, and the Bolivarian socialist government of Venezuela have almost led to military confrontation.

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. Cuban Foreign Minister, Burno Rodriguez Parrilla told a press conference on 24 January that during the Summit in Havana: ‘Decisions will be taken on the basis of full, participative and democratic process of debate and negotiation, which has been happening over many months and will conclude the in the next few days.’

Rodriguez also said that deliberations at the Summit would focus 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 literacy programme, ‘Yes I can’. Through Cuba’s Operation Miracle, set up with Venezuela, between 2005 and 2011 two million people in Latin American and Caribbean had their eye-sight restored in 60 eye hospitals which Cuba had donated to 35 countries. Cuba therefore has the moral authority and practical experience to set the CELAC agenda.

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, forestall, 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.

Luis Suarez Sálazar states that Cuba ‘was the first country in Latin America that included the goal of integration in its Constitution’. He sees CELAC as ‘the result of the existence of leftwing governments that seek to solve social problems and achieve more autonomy.’ There are multiple, overlapping and conflicting trade and cooperation agreements in Latin America and the Caribbean. ‘The great contribution of CELAC is that everyone could now converge in the same forum’, says Suarez. At CELAC’s invitation, the event will be attended by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza. This will be the first visit to Havana by the holder of that office since before Cuba was expelled from the OAS.

*Dr Helen Yaffe, completed her doctorate in Cuban economic history at the London School of Economics. She is the author of Che Guevara: the economics of Revolution, first published by Palgrave MacMillan in English in 2009 with subsequent editions appearing in Spanish, Korean, Indonesian and Turkish. In 2009 she interviewed Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa about the procress of Latin American integration and the Citizens’ Revolution in Ecuador. In 2013 the Ministry of Communes in Venezuela invited her for consultations about the Communal Economic System and to give a series of lectures about Che Guevara and the transition to a socialist political economy.

(Taken from: Helen Yaffe)


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