CELAC and OAS: the two Latin America – El Tiempo Latino

The summit in Mexico revealed, more than ever, the political polarization of the subcontinent between liberal and populist governments. Efforts to replace the OAS to exclude the United States did not advance, but the future of this multilateral body remains in question.

By Leonardo Oliva *

“Set the date for a debate.” President Nicolás Maduro said it to his counterpart from Paraguay, Abdo Benítez, who claimed him for his democratic legitimacy as head of Venezuela. Those words resounded on Saturday at the CELAC summit and flew through social networks, news portals and TV channels all over the world. It was just one of the shots that crossed the two sides in which the governments of the region have divided. On the one hand, Maduro and others close to left-wing populism. On the other, liberals such as Benítez and the Uruguayan Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, who had thrown the first stone into the microphones of the National Palace in Mexico City: “In certain countries there is no full democracy and the separation of powers is not respected ( …). We seriously see what happens in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, “he said.

The sixth meeting of presidents of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, held on September 18 in Mexico, revealed this polarization to which no president seems to escape. These are two very different models for Latin America, whose confrontation has come to light in the 21st century. Although with nuances, their identities could be summarized in the degree of closeness or distance from the United States.

This relationship with the world superpower, always under the magnifying glass for those who see there more harm than good, led some to propose in the previous days the CELAC summit as the opportunity to create an institutional alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS ), without the United States or Canada. However, beyond the intentions of the host, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the final declaration signed by the heads of state was far from starting this path, due to the divisions that were revealed.

Thus, what at first seemed like a summit designed to advance a new Latin American axis, reinforced by Maduro’s surprise attendance plus the active presence of Cuban President Miguel Díaz Canel, ended in a timid pronouncement in the last article of the document. It supports “the effort to contribute to the strengthening and positioning of Latin America and the Caribbean, in the current regional and global political context.” But with immediate clarification: “(…) without detriment to the existing concertation groups, on issues of interest and relevance for the Member States of the Community”. This can be read as a concession from the ‘ruling party’ (backed by AMLO) to the ‘opponents’ (supporters of the OAS) so that verbal confrontations would not end up collapsing the summit.

Actually, it should come as no surprise that the summit has become a ring between presidents. The Mexican government, which thus closed its presidency for the time being of the body, had set a stage for disputes to flourish. First when, at the summit of foreign ministers in July, anticipated his intentions to propose to CELAC as an alternative to the OAS. And then when in the days before the meeting, AMLO had Díaz Canel as a special guest of the celebrations of the Independence Day of Mexico. Already on Saturday the 18th, when Maduro landed in the Mexican capital without prior notice, tempers ended up rising.

For the Venezuelan it was a unique opportunity to regain prominence. Since in March 2020 Washington offered a reward of 15 million dollars for his capture, accused of terrorism and drug trafficking, the Chavista president had not left Venezuela. But with AMLO as host he was not taking risks. So there Maduro traveled, seeking to revitalize CELAC, founded in 2011 – precisely in Caracas – under the influence of his mentor, Hugo Chávez. That time 33 countries joined to strengthen “the integration of the region.” Ten years later, this integration is still far from being achieved. So much so that only 17 presidents now attended CDMX and did not even agree on which country will assume the presidency for the time being in 2022. Without unanimity, that role will finally fit Argentina, whose head of state, Alberto Fernández, did not participate in the summit, hampered by a palace crisis in his country. He even dismissed his chancellor when he was waiting at the hotel in Mexico for the start of the meeting.

Under this rarefied climate the two Latin America were condemned to fight a duel. This is how Rafael Rojas, professor at the Centro de Estudios Históricos del Colegio de México, described it: “When the meeting of the highest subcontinental forum began with an ostentatious gesture of legitimation by Díaz-Canel, the López Obrador government placed the tone out of balance and the pluralism demanded by the summit. Despite the fact that Mexico has contributed to detente in Venezuela, being the seat of dialogue between Maduristas and opponents, and has minimally distanced itself from the Daniel Ortega regime in Nicaragua, its twisting of diplomatic etiquette in supporting Díaz-Canel fuels the regional dissent ”. This international analyst thus questioned the role that AMLO played at the summit: “Any regional leadership that aspires to be successful must place itself above ideological partisanship and sectarianism,” he told The country.

But the Mexican president does not seem to have been naive, quite the contrary. The electoral airs threaten to bring other perfumes to countries governed by leaders who do not agree with the neo-leftism of Mexico or Argentina, much less with the most stale of Venezuela or Nicaragua. We are talking about Chile, Colombia and Brazil, where leftist candidates lead the polls. In other words, the pro-CELAC and anti-OAS camp could be strengthened after the presidential elections in those three countries.

And in the United States, how do they view this situation? Its president, Joe Biden, still troubled by the stampede of his troops from Afghanistan, is determined to meet the challenge presented by China. But not in Latin America, where the Asian giant has an increasing presence with its companies and fresh capital, but in the very Chinese courtyard: the Indo-Pacific region. The pact with Australia and Great Britain has given Biden another headache, now with France, who rejects having lost a juicy submarine business with Australia. Faced with such problems, the autonomy movements that some Latin American presidents are trying do not enter Washington’s urgent agenda. Will Russia and China take advantage of this American absence? Many in our region are encouraged to answer affirmatively.

That is true in many fields, such as vaccine diplomacy, an issue in which Washington’s biggest geopolitical rivals have known how to mark their presence in the region. His Sputnik, Sinopharm and Sinovac have reached the arms of millions of Latin Americans.

That is why at the CELAC summit, vaccination was not among the issues of dispute for the presidents, taking into account that this issue has been added to the long list of inequalities that afflict Latin America. In the final document they make a call to “democratize production and eliminate the obstacles that hinder fair and equitable access to vaccines against Covid-19.” But sadly, this sample of integration between the governments was buried under the weight of the ideological interests that the leaders preferred to expose in Mexico, driven by their host.

Every week, the Latin American journalism platform CONNECTAS publishes analyzes of current events in the Americas. If you are interested in reading more information like this you can enter this link.

* Member of the editorial board of CONNECTAS


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