This month the second summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC for its initials in Spanish) is being held in Havana, Cuba. As expected, most of the mainstream English speaking media is giving little attention to this summit, despite 33 countries from the Americas belonging to this organization. Launched in late 2011 with the strong support of Venezuela’s late president Hugo Chávez, this bloc has consciously excluded the participation of Canada and United States given Washington’s long record of manipulating the Organization of American States (OAS) – the hemisphere’s dominant inter-American body – to suit its own interests. To the credit of the Washington Post, this influential paper today ran a short piece from the Associated Press which elaborated on the gathering stating that:
The summit’s main theme is fighting poverty, inequality and hunger. According to the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 28 percent of the region’s inhabitants live in poverty and 11 percent in extreme poverty.
Tuesday’s session of heads of CELAC states began with one minute of silence to remember the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who succumbed to cancer last March.
Chavez, an outspoken U.S. foe, was a driving force behind CELAC’s creation in 2011. It was conceived as an alternative to the Washington-based Organization of American States, which suspended Cuba’s membership in 1962 shortly after Fidel Castro’s revolution.
Proponents argued the OAS has historically served Washington’s interests rather than those of the region, and even Latin American allies of the United States have participated enthusiastically in CELAC.
OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza attended the summit Tuesday as an observer, believed to be the first visit by a secretary-general to Cuba since its founding in 1948.
“The integration of Latin America is a strategic project. ... CELAC does not impede bilateral relations within and outside of the region. On the contrary, it strengthens them,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in an evening address.
In his wide-ranging speech, Castro touched on the risk that global climate change poses to the region, especially low-lying Caribbean islands. He expressed solidarity for Argentina’s claim to the British-controlled Falkland Islands, known in Spanish as the Malvinas; for Puerto Rican independence; and for Ecuador in its legal battle with U.S. oil company Chevron.
He also criticized the 52-year-old U.S. economic embargo on Cuba as well as American surveillance targeting the communications of foreign heads of state, companies and individuals. The threats of outside interference, military invasion and coups remain present, Castro said.