By Odeen Ishmael
Ecuador will host the fourth summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on January 27. The country’s foreign minister Xavier Lasso said in Quito on January 6 that 22 out of the 33 CELAC leaders already confirmed their attendance while his country was expecting to receive confirmation by some others. Ecuador is currently the pro-tempore president of the bloc.
Dr Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador Emeritus (retired), historian and author, served as Guyana’s ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela 2003-2011) and Kuwait (2011-2014). He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs. He actively participated in meetings of UNASUR from 2003 to 2010 and has written extensively on South American integration issues.
The summit will convene in the headquarters of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), located at Mitad del Mundo, a tourist resort some fifteen kilometers north of the capital Quito.
Lasso revealed that the summit will discuss various issues such as technology transfer, connectivity and actions to alleviate the impact of climate change. In addition to a political declaration to be issued at its conclusion, the forum is also expected to reach agreement on some 20 documents on specific issues, he explained.
He said that during his country’s chairmanship of CELAC during the past year, efforts were made to strengthen the grouping. He agreed that strong economic challenges face the region, but it must revitalize efforts to lower high poverty levels especially since the area suffers from the widest economic inequalities compared to other world regions.
A main focus for discussion will be the importance of the UN 2020 Agenda in the effort to reduce poverty and hunger, and to improve the region's education, science and technology, environment. The agenda, which has undergone thorough discussions by CELAC representatives over the past four months at the UNASUR headquarters, also covers objectives in respect to climate change, infrastructure and connectivity. With the expectation that it will be approved at the summit, this will enable the implementation of a regional action plan to bring more than 70 million Latin American and Caribbean citizens out of poverty.
UNASUR Headquarters in Ecuador, the site of the CELAC summit
Also as part of the summit’s agenda, Cuba will introduce a declaration demanding the return of the territory occupied by the US naval base at Guantanamo while Argentina will propose another asserting its sovereignty over the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands. Resolutions supporting Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas have also been approved at previous summits.
It is not yet known if Caribbean Community (CARICOM) members of CELAC have proposed any items for the summit agenda. However, it will be interesting to hear how they will respond to the Argentine proposed declaration since some of them are unabashedly supportive of British ownership of the South Atlantic islands.
Guyana, under the current post-May 2015 administration, will be participating in the CELAC summit for the first time and, no doubt, will look forward to contribute effectively during the deliberations. At previous regional summits, such as those of UNASUR, Guyana made positive interventions on issues such as climate change, poverty reduction and food production and it is expected that this trend will continue when the CELAC leaders meet in Ecuador.
The upcoming summit will, no doubt, assess the organization’s achievements over the past year. At its third summit held in Costa Rica in January 2015, CELAC agreed to major decisions, including a plan of action to eliminate hunger by 2025 in the bloc’s aim to reduce poverty and inequality in the region.
It praised the decision by the United States and Cuba to restore diplomatic relations and urged President Obama to end the blockade on Cuba. But it also called for an end to US “meddling” in member countries and reiterated its proclamation from its 2014 summit declaring Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace.
At the same time, it called on the international community to “respect this proclamation in its relations with the member states of CELAC, including the commitment to non-intervention, direct or indirect, in the internal affairs of any other state and to respect the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights, and the self-determination of peoples.”
Significantly, the regional leaders also approved 27 special declarations covering a wide range of topics affecting the region, including a proposal to erect a permanent monument to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.
Established in 2010, CELAC is an intergovernmental mechanism for dialogue and political agreement, which includes 33 sovereign nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, (with the exception of the United States and Canada.). As the successor of the Rio Group and the Summit of Latin America and the Caribbean on Integration and Development, its creation was widely perceived as a means to counter the “US-dominated” Organization of American States, which does not include Cuba as an active member.
The organization was created with a commitment to advance the gradual process of regional integration and unity and carefully balancing political, economic, social and cultural diversity of the 650 million people of Latin America and the Caribbean. It has since helped to deepen dialogue among its members in areas such as social development, education, nuclear disarmament, food production, small scale farming, culture, finance, energy and the environment.
By mandate of the heads of state and government, CELAC has become the unified voice of the region on issues of consensus. With this directive, it now takes the lead on behalf of the member-states to discuss and negotiate mutual political and economic issues with other countries and regional blocs, such as the European Union, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, the African Union, China, India, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and Japan.