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LatinNews Daily - 25 January 2023

ARGENTINA/REGION: Celac summit exposes rifts amid show of unity

On 24 January, Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández hosted representatives from 33 countries for a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) in Buenos Aires.

Analysis:

One of the focuses of the seventh Celac summit was regional integration. This was fitting given the 2023 meeting marked the return of Brazil after a four-year absence under former president Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2023), with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva making it clear he wishes to strengthen regional ties. Fernández stated that now was the time “to ensure the region defends the same interests”, and leaders did rally around many consensus points, not least the condemnation of the recent attacks on Brazil’s congress, presidential palace, and supreme court (STF). However, major disagreements were also visible, especially in relation to the current situation in Peru and the inclusion in the summit of the authoritarian governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Such points of tension, which often move along ideological lines, could pose a significant challenge to wide-ranging cooperation.

  • The leaders of the Celac countries released a 111-point ‘Declaration of Buenos Aires’ which laid out joint commitments and priority areas. The declaration focused on promoting “unity and the political, economic, social and cultural diversity of our people” as well as democracy, human rights, recovery from the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, environmental cooperation, migration, and education, among other things.
  • The declaration also celebrated the return of Brazil; expressed “deep concerns over the progressive deterioration of the public security and human rights situation” in Haiti; called for the US to end its embargo on Cuba; and expressed support for negotiations between Venezuela’s government and the opposition.
  • The statement also expressed a “firm commitment to the preservation of democratic values”, as well as a “commitment to democracy, the promotion, protection and respect for human rights”.
  • Uruguay’s President Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou provided a dissenting voice, stressing that despite the professed commitments to democracy, “clearly there are countries here [at the summit] that do not respect democracy, institutions or human rights”. This was a thinly veiled reference to the presidents of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, who were all invited to the summit. Although Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel attended, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro were represented by their foreign ministers.
  • Lacalle Pou, who finds himself rather isolated ideologically in the region given the recent shift to the left, called on leaders to prevent ideology from defining Celac and to focus on taking practical action. He also called for the establishment of a free trade zone “from Mexico to the south of South America”.
  • Leaders also disagreed on the reaction to recent events in Peru. Chile’s President Gabriel Boric, Colombia’s Gustavo Petro, Bolivia’s Luis Arce and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador are among those to have heavily criticised Peru’s President Dina Boluarte for the government’s crackdown on protests triggered by the impeachment of Boluarte’s predecessor, Pedro Castillo (2021-2022). López Obrador has also called for the release of Castillo, who has been in prison since 7 December. The situation in Peru remains a major challenge for the region.
  • The summit also took place in the midst of tensions between Argentina and Chile, following the leaking of an audio recording in which Chile’s Foreign Minister Antonio Urrejola called Argentina’s ambassador to Chile, Rafael Bielsa, an “idiot” in relation to criticisms of Chile’s decision to reject environmental permits for a major mining project.
  • Celac’s pro tempore presidency was handed to St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.

Looking Ahead: Amid hopes that Lula will boost regional ties, he is meeting with Lacalle Pou today (25 January) in Montevideo, which will test the temperature of bilateral relations under Brazil’s new government.

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