The II Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) opened in Cuba on January 28, 2014, birthday of Cuban national hero and Latin American integrationist Jose Marti. The 33 heads of states on hand represented all Western Hemisphere nations south of the Rio Grande River, the region Marti called “Our America.”
United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon and José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, attended as guests. The OAS, loyal to U.S. dictates, ejected revolutionary Cuba from its membership in 1963. By serving as CELAC president pro tem during 2013 and hosting this summit, Cuba made clear its return to the community of nations.
Cuban President Raul Castro opened the Summit and indirectly took note of OAS’ altered status in the region: “Step by step we are creating a [CELAC] that is currently recognized in the world as the legitimate representative of the interests of Latin America and the Caribbean.” CELAC has a “heritage of 2000 years of struggle for independence.” Its “ultimate goal” is “development of a spirit of greater unity amid diversity.”
Castro called for “creation of a common political space … where we can exploit our resources in a sovereign way and for our common well being and utilize our scientific and technical knowledge in the interest of the progress of our peoples; where we can assert undeniable principles such as self-determination, sovereignty and sovereign equality of states.”
Observing that Latin America and the Caribbean is the “is the most unequal region in the planet,” he lamented that an overall 28.2 percent poverty rate co-exists with the “10 per cent richest in Latin American receiving 32 per cent of the total income.” He detailed children’s lack of schooling and health care. Castro highlighted the region’s abundance of natural resources, fertile land, and water, pointing out that “all that wealth should become the driving force to eradicate inequalities.”
Castro had asked for a minute of silence in honor of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who convened the founding CELAC congress in Caracas in 2011. Chile hosted the first summit in early 2013 after a term as president pro tem. Costa Rica becomes CELAC president following this summit. Responsibility for ongoing CELAC affairs rests with a committee comprising the past, current, and upcoming CELAC presidents and a Caribbean-area president. Foreign ministers and their staffs perform administration.
At its conclusion on January 29, the CELAC Summit declared the region a “zone of peace” subject to international law and principles of the United Nations Charter. Member states vowed to “banish forever the use of force and to seek a peaceful solution to controversies,” also “to respect the inalienable right of each state to choose its economic, political, social and cultural system.” Interference in the internal affairs of another country is off limits, as are nuclear weapons.
The Summit issued a far-reaching, 83-point “Declaration of Havana.” The document reviews purposes and precedents and ratifies measures supporting the sovereignty of states, food sovereignty, sustainable and coordinated regional development, and protection of civil society and private institutions. It calls for solutions to climate change, poverty and hunger, drug addiction, and flawed United Nations governance. CELAC backs Haiti reconstruction, Puerto Rican independence, streamlined foreign investment systems, and Great Britain’s return of the Malvinas Islands to Argentina, The organization seeks rights for indigenous people and migrants and demands that the U. S. economic blockade of Cuba stop.
The U.S. government, on the outside, was not entirely silent. Diplomat Conrad Tribble tweeted from the U. S. Interests section in Havana asking, “Is any journalist here for CelacCuba going to look for independent voices on Cuba’s reality? It would be worth the trouble.”
The Continental Forum for Promotion of Democracy, a “counter summit,” took place at Florida International University on January 25. Cuban exiles in the United States and opposition politicians and publicists from Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua attended. Journalist Jean-Guy Allard claims the group organizing the event, the Buenos Aires – based Center for Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL), has CIA ties and is financed by the International Republican Institute. CADAL staged a summit-related forum in Havana on January 28 joined by leaders of domestic opposition groups.
Editorializing, Mexico’s La Jornada news service judged that “CELAC’s success in pulling off its summit shows, essentially, a political – diplomatic turnover in the continent…But governments have to work to consolidate this new deliberative political body for Latin America and the Caribbean and strengthen and maintain it, despite natural disagreements cropping up between governments and predictable attempts by U. S. diplomacy to distort this forum.”