US Maneuvers to Displace CELAC

Sair Sira, Orinoco Tribune, September 5, 2023 —

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was established as a mechanism for political dialogue, aimed at creating a space for discussion among the 33 countries of the region, in order to address issues of common interest. These objectives contravened the strategic agenda of the United States, which has always seen the area not so much as in its sphere of influence but as its backyard.

In the first five years of its operation, and with the aforementioned objectives in mind, CELAC facilitated the addressing of a good number of issues that affected Latin America and the Caribbean in a variety of ways. Based on that, CELAC supported the construction of positions that reflected the spirit not of a country, or group of countries, but of a specific and particular region.

Today, despite the “renewal” of the regional political scene with the incursion of governments of a more “leftist” or “progressive” tendency, it is evident, with the call for regional conferences outside of CELAC, what little importance CELAC is given as a platform for regional dialogue. All of this strengthens the politics of the right in recent years and plays into the hands of the United States.

The emptying of CELAC
In November 2022, after a bilateral meeting in Mexico City, the presidents of Colombia and Mexico announced, through a joint statement, that the two countries would convene an “International Conference of Latin American leaders with the objective of redesigning and rethinking the policy of drugs” (point 13), without making any mention of CELAC as the natural space within which to discuss the issue.

Months later, but at a meeting of foreign ministers, it was announced, through another joint statement, that both governments would work on convening a Latin American Conference on Migration and another conference on drugs. On this occasion, a very brief mention was made of the 7th Celac Summit, which had just been held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and which touched on the immigration issue.

Such omission in the convening of these conferences is made knowing that, during other pro tempore presidencies, high-level meetings on migration and drugs were held, and keeping in mind that point 70 of the Buenos Aires Declaration of January 2023 refers expressly to the importance of the “reactivation of the CELAC meetings on migration.”

Colombia and Mexico could reactivate these bodies by requesting the pro tempore presidency of CELAC, today in the hands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and led by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves—a leader also committed to these issues—to reactivate the aforementioned meetings, but they seemed to privilege an approach that makes the regional mechanism invisible and plays into the US policy, which is designed in an self-interested way.

Behind these reasons
It is difficult to conclude that the reason for such omission was the simple carelessness of the Colombian and Mexican foreign ministries, because, in the region, they are heirs of a rigorous foreign service, along with their Brazilian and Argentinean counterparts. Perhaps the strategic selectivity maintained by the state –Colombian, Mexican, and others– could also have had an impact, through its institutions, which ends up favoring conservative positions (even in foreign policy) and which privileges scenarios, such as the OAS, and traditional relations such as with USA.

If the facts are analyzed, the dependence that these countries maintain on the United States when addressing “regional” matters arises, always directed, protected, and sponsored by the White House, manifestly or covertly, ignoring CELAC and with it its historical, political, and symbolic weight.

Immigration and drugs are topics of high interest for US national security policy. To think that possible solutions will be addressed bilaterally with the United States is to deny the dimension and complexity of the phenomenon. On the contrary, confronting these issues on a regional basis would facilitate tasks, positions, and proposals. Let us remember that the US and Latin American/Caribbean agendas are not, nor will they be, shaped by the same reality.

Signs that should alert us
Beyond the fact that the conference initiatives are carried out by Colombia and Mexico, there is a political fact that should not only generate suspicion but rather set off alarms: CELAC is not being thought of as the gravitational center of Latin America and the Caribbean, which is not a minor fact.

CELAC is the only regional space made by and for Latin Caribbean people, called and converted, until a few years ago, into the main regional forum where Latin America and the Caribbean addressed and provided answers to the collective challenges that were presented to them, and thus established their own voice and their position as a unified region towards other geographical areas.

Replacing the natural area of discussion in the region with a “Latin American and Caribbean Conference” not only takes away the preponderance of the meeting, emptying it of interest in topics that are relevant because they are common, but also undermines the legitimacy of CELAC as a space, which itself was difficult to build and consolidate.

Although Jair Bolsonaro or Iván Duque could not be asked to defend the Latin Caribbean sovereign space, the “progressive and left-wing” governments can be called on to defend it, asking them to put aside the laxity and political naivety that has characterized their international positioning in relation to the region.

Above all, because this action, intentional or not, could be revealing a new device or operation in process based on which the United States, in a deliberate manner, contributes to the “irrelevance” of CELAC as a regional forum and pays tribute to the narratives that present it as a club of friends—an action already seen with UNASUR, which almost meant its extinction—which also encourages, consequently, the apathy that will end in its fossilization.

Although the way in which the US assumes CELAC is a matter of each sovereign foreign policy, it is important to keep in mind that the defense of this space necessarily depends on the empowerment of the countries through their link with the activities of the international concert. Making it invisible, omitting it, and ignoring it constitute collaborating with abandonment. It is strategic within a sovereignist conception of the Latin Caribbean region to appeal in all forums to this platform for political consensus.

Much more so when the pro tempore presidency, for the first time in the existence of CELAC, is in the hands of a nation from the eastern Caribbean, belonging to ALBA-TCP and led by Ralph Gonsalves, a leader who has been working for Latin Caribbean integration.

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