The nascent Community of Latin American and Caribbean States establishes relations with India and China with high-profile visits.
The creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in December last year was a clear signal that the region is no longer under the political and economic sway of the United States. For more than a century, Washington considered South America its backyard and freely exercised its power by installing puppet regimes and forcibly removing popular governments. It is still desperately trying to stem the left-wing tide that is sweeping the region. The soft coups in Honduras in 2009 and in Paraguay recently are illustrations. In both cases, serving Left-leaning Presidents were removed and replaced with politicians indebted to Washington.
The coming into being of CELAC was also a signal that the states in the region would strive to put up a united front on key foreign policy issues facing the international community.Relations with India
In the second week of August, the 33-member CELAC formally established relations with India and China, the two leading powers of Asia. The Foreign Ministers of Chile, Venezuela and Cuba visited New Delhi and Beijing to hold high-level talks with their counterparts. Their first stop was New Delhi. After the talks, it was agreed that CELAC and India would form a strategic alliance. There will be an annual meeting between the CELAC presidency and the Indian government. The meetings will be similar to the India-European Union summits held annually. Both sides also expressed a strong desire to increase bilateral trade, which is estimated to be at around $25 billion now.
Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno pointed out that the Latin American regions current annual trade with India stood at 4 per cent. (Chile currently holds the pro tempore presidency of CELAC. Cuba will take over charge in January.) This is only one-tenth of the regions trade with China. The Chilean Minister pointed out that Latin America and the Caribbean had the largest reserves of oil and many minerals and also a large agricultural market.
Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, speaking to the media in New Delhi after meeting the CELAC delegation, said that both sides had reacted positively to the idea of working together on issues relating to the reform of the United Nations, climate change, and the global economic situation, in the interest of developing countries. Krishna said that India and CELAC had a shared understanding on regional developments and threats to international peace and security.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said that among the important agreements signed in New Delhi was the decision to set up a business economic development forum, an agricultural working group and an energy forum. He described the agreements signed between the new regional grouping and India as historic. It is extraordinary to see how regions like India, one of the great emerging powers, are articulating themselves in the historic meeting with Latin America and the Caribbean, he said.
During the visit of the three Foreign Ministers to Beijing, diplomatic links between CELAC and China were duly formalised. The two sides agreed to strengthen commercial ties further. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao offered CELAC $5 billion in economic assistance and another $10 billion in loans for infrastructural development. The decision to set up a China-CELAC Cooperation Forum was also announced during the visit of the delegation. The forum will do the spadework for developing a working agenda for the deepening of relations.
In New Delhi and Beijing, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister emphasised the importance and urgency of building a multipolar world. He said that the strengthening of relations between CELAC and the two emerging Asian powers would hasten the shift away from the current unipolar state the world found itself in. We are quickly moving towards the formation of a multipolar world, where China is already undertaking a very relevant role as a principal emerging power, he said in Beijing. Latin America and the Caribbean is another emerging force, and both [China and CELAC] are configuring what is going to be the future world, he added.
Maduro said in New Delhi that CELAC as an organisation faced two important challenges that of integrating internally and respecting the political and ideological diversity that existed in the continent. Chile, for instance, has a Centre-Right government. Cuba and Venezuela are among the growing number of Latin American and Caribbean countries that have embraced a left-wing ideology. Ideological diversity in Latin America is a reality, said Maduro.
CELAC has proved that there is enough room for governments espousing varying ideologies to coexist. Even before CELAC came into being, the region had seen other political groupings such as Unasur (Union of South American States), which has 12 members and was created in 2008 at a meeting in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital; Mercosur (consisting of key states such as Brazil, Argentina and now Venezuela); and ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas).
Mercosur was mainly the initiative of the two big Latin American countries, Brazil and Argentina, and is a regional bloc. Venezuela was made a full member of Mercosur following the recent soft coup in Paraguay. The U.S. and some right-wing parties in the region did not want Venezuela to get the membership of the grouping but the coup in Paraguay, a Mercosur member state, hastened the process. Former President of Paraguay Fernando Lugo was in favour of full membership for Venezuela. His open support was a factor that led to his ouster from office. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that with his country joining Mercosur, the grouping would become the fifth world power, with a regional GDP of over $3.3 billion. Chavez said that his countrys membership would give the grouping much more life in the South American project of independence and the integral development of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.
ALBA membership has so far been confined to states having very close ties with Venezuela and Cuba such as Ecuador and Bolivia.
Another important grouping is Petrocaribe. Caribbean member countries can buy oil from Venezuela at preferential rates, which is a boon for the poor countries in the region that are adversely affected by the global economic downturn. The general aim of all these blocs, including CELAC, is to evolve independent foreign and trade policies for the region. Until the late 1990s, it was Washington that was calling the shots in Latin America, with almost all countries in the region embracing the mantra of neoliberalism and free trade.Move against imperialism
During an interaction with a small group of senior Left party leaders and intellectuals while in New Delhi, Maduro said that the creation of CELAC was a positive move against hegemonism and imperialism. He said that even the formation of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) was an expression of multipolarity. He described the meeting in New Delhi as very positive and said that it would help revitalise South-South relations.
Achieving unity in Latin America was a dream of Simon Bolivar, the Minister said. Bolivar, who was born in Caracas, was the 19th century liberator of Latin America from the yoke of Spanish colonialism. Bolivar talked about a Union of the Republics that had been under Spanish rule, said Maduro.
The articulate Minister pointed out that Latin America was now in the forefront of forging a new alliance that would be able to build a multipolar world, free from the influence of the empire [the U.S.]. Maduro emphasised that timing was the essence. We have to move fast. We must be prepared to play our cards so that a multipolar world emerges. Neoliberalism goes against the raison dtre of humanity, he averred. The U.S., he said, should not be allowed to use the trump card of war against the rest of the world as it was doing today.
Maduro had taken time off from his hectic election campaign schedule in Venezuela to visit India. He had, in fact, flown to India straight from an election rally. President Chavez is up for re-election in October this year.
Maduro underlined the importance of the coming elections in his country. He said that the election campaign had been transformed into a battle of ideas to protect the gains of the revolution that Venezuela had witnessed since Chavez was first elected to high office in 1999. Since then, according to Maduro, his country has been facing a permanent challenge from Washington. Maduro said that a victory at the polls for Chavez was crucial not only for Venezuela but for the entire region. The nation has regained its independence in the last 14 years. Before that, Venezuela was treated as an oil company by the U.S., observed Maduro.
Maduro said that Venezuela was witnessing the making of socialism for the 21st century. Cuba was the earliest model that inspired revolutionaries and progressive people in the region, but the goal in Venezuela was to build a new model of socialism. The Venezuelan government, Maduro said, had defined the way to reach benefits to the grass-roots level. It will be socialism with Venezuelan and Bolivarian characteristics, said the Minister. Washington is pouring in money to aid the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, who seeks to defeat the Bolivarian revolution.
We are being subjected to a permanent media war orchestrated by the U.S., said Maduro. Obama likes to dominate us with a smile. We keep smiling back at him as long as he is only smiling. Mitt Romney, however, is madder than Bush. We are ready to meet any eventuality, said Maduro.