Cancún summit creates new hemispheric group

The Latin America and Caribbean Unity Summit, a two-day meeting of 32 regional leaders in Cancún, Mexico, ended on Feb. 23 with an agreement that included the formation of a new hemispheric organization, provisionally named the “Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.” The leaders made plans for further meetings, in Venezuela in July 2011 and in Chile in 2012, to continue discussing the mechanics of the new group and to establish its final name.

The leaders also pledged $25 million for rebuilding Haiti, devastated by a Jan. 12 earthquake; supported Argentina‘s claim of sovereignty over the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands, currently held by Great Britain; and condemned the 50-year US trade embargo against Cuba.

The regional leaders seemed to have very different views of the new organization, which will include all the countries in the Western Hemisphere except Canada and the US, in contrast to the 62-year-old Organization of American States (OAS), which until last June included all the countries except Cuba. Bolivia‘s leftist president, Evo Morales, said the new group will be parallel to the OAS and shows that “the empire has lost.” The region’s people are now not “a kneeling chorus, subordinate to Washington,” Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez said, calling the group the “reborn…project and dream of [Simón] Bolívar,” the 19th-century Latin American independence leader.

But the summit’s host, right-wing Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, insisted that the new group “shouldn’t and doesn’t represent any threat or reason to worry for anyone…. We’re not thinking about whether we have an organization with or without another country. It’s not a question of an American organization without the US, as has been said.” Brazil‘s center-left president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva took a middle course. He compared the decision to form a new organization to a child who had reached adulthood and needed to follow his or her own path. (La Jornada, Feb. 24; Adital, Feb. 23 from Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias; New York Times, Feb. 24; The Guardian, Feb. 25)

A verbal dispute broke out between President Chávez and Colombian president Alvaro Uribe on Feb. 22 during a working lunch for the regional leaders. Although the argument took place at what was supposed to be closed-door meeting, reports quickly went out to the internet and the international media. The two presidents agreed to discuss their differences in a “respectful dialogue” mediated by Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, President Calderón told the media afterwards. (LJ, Feb. 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 28

See our last post on Latin America’s alternative integration.