CELAC Launch Underlines Regional Cohesion Against U.S.
December 6, 2011 - WPR (World Politics Review)

By Guy Taylor
The recent formalization of a new regional cooperation bloc that includes every country in the Americas except Canada and the United States has been largely dismissed in the English-language media as little more than a new soap-box from which the region's more flamboyant leftists, namely Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, will now spew anti-American rhetoric.

To some extent, the potential for such an outcome exists.

But it is also worth noting that the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC by its Spanish acronym, has now been given an official stamp of approval from not just left-leaning heads of state, but from leaders across the Latin American political spectrum.

Alexander Main, a Latin America specialist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington,  contends that the "two biggest factors in CELAC so far have been Brazil and Mexico taking the key initiatives in the process that led to its creation."

Neither country represents the region's far left. "So, the two countries that are the biggest in terms of their economic weight and their populations have been key promoters of CELAC," Main told Trend Lines on Monday. "It's not just Chávez's baby."

Indeed, backing from Brazil and Mexico, coupled with the participation of every one of the region's other major players -- including Colombia and Chile, both also notably not pro-Chávez -- signals a level of unprecedented regional cohesion.

CELAC so far lacks a headquarters or a formalized funding mechanism. But last weekend saw heads of state and high-level representatives from every Latin American and Caribbean nation gather in Caracas to sign the "Caracas Declaration," establishing the group as a forum for adopting common international positions and calling for a deepening of regional integration. They also signed the "Caracas Action Plan," outlining an initial agenda focused on such initiatives as establishing transnational energy relationships, addressing hunger and literacy issues and deepening regional trade.

While it remains to be seen whether CELAC will emerge as an aggressive geopolitical counterweight to the Organization of American States -- of which both Canada and the United States are members -- a quick read between the lines seems to suggest a collective desire for something like that to occur.

The "Caracas Action Plan," according to Main, explicitly calls for an agreement among member countries on how the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Inter-American Development Bank should be reformed and restructured. "The document implies that members countries should try to come together as a group and agree on how to promote larger quotas for developing countries in the decision-making process for those international financial institutions," he said.

Also included in the formation documents are strong statements calling for an end to the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba and supporting the legalized chewing of coca in Bolivia and Peru.

"What's really interesting," said Main, "is that there's no way that the U.S. would ever subscribe to any of this. So it demonstrates what the whole region is thinking when the U.S. and Canada aren't there -- and that these countries of the region have a lot in common that the U.S. and Canada don't share."

"The U.S. has been overlooking the deep changes that have been occurring in the region for the past 12 years or so," he added. "You now have a very different region politically than you had back in the 1990s, and the U.S. hasn't come to terms with that. They don't understand it, and they don't want to see it, but CELAC is a manifestation of it."

Alexander Main offers regular analysis on Latin American affairs at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He authored this piece about CELAC's formation last year.