Celac calls for regional integration promoted by Lula
The representatives of the 33 countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) have received unanimous applause on Tuesday the return of Brazil to the regional forum, after the then president Jair Bolsonaro withdrew the country from it in 2020. “A Celac without Brazil is a much more empty Celac”, said the Argentine president, Alberto Fernández, at the opening of the VII summit of the bloc held in Buenos Aires. Three weeks after assuming the presidency of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was the star of a meeting that sought to promote the integration of countries that are going through multiple political and economic crises. The violent repression of the protests in Peru, the absence of the Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro and the tension over the future of Mercosur also marked the continental meeting that concluded with the election of Ralph Gonsalves, head of the small Caribbean state of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and an ally of the regime of Daniel Ortega, as the new pro tempore president of the organization.
In his two previous presidencies, Lula increased Brazil’s political weight by building bridges between emerging countries and industrialized nations through the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group and promoting Latin American forums such as Unasur and Celac. Now, from Buenos Aires, Brazil has renewed calls for regional integration, but that desire runs up against a great diversity of national agendas.
“Brazil is back in the region and ready to work side by side with all of you, with a very strong sense of solidarity and proximity,” declared the Brazilian president in his speech at Celac. “Brazil once again looks at its future with the certainty that we will be associated with our neighbors bilaterally, in Mercosur, Unasur and Celac”, he added.
A day earlier, in the framework of Lula’s first official visit in his third term, Brazil and Argentina announced an ambitious financial, energy and technological integration agenda that marks a change of direction after the disagreements between Fernández and Bolsonaro in recent years. . However, it remains to be seen if the harmony is maintained with the successor to the Argentine president, who will be elected at the polls next October.
Crisis in Mercosur
The biggest obstacle on the horizon for the integration promoted by Lula is in the negotiation of a free trade agreement between China and Uruguay. Uruguayan Luis Lacalle Pou is seeking a bilateral free trade agreement with the Asian giant, something prohibited by Mercosur, which forces its members —Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay— to negotiate jointly with countries outside the bloc. He has decided to move forward on his own after the bloc’s difficulties in reaching significant common agreements, such as the one negotiated for two decades with the European Union, which was closed in 2019 and is pending ratification.
Mercosur will be the central theme of the meeting that Lula will hold tomorrow with Lacalle Pou in Montevideo. The Uruguayan president defends that the bilateral negotiation with China is not at odds with its belonging to Mercosur and that once an agreement is reached they will offer the other members of the bloc to join it. “If it is better with Mercosur, no one escapes the strength that it can have,” Lacalle Pou declared at a press conference. The president defended that “Uruguay needs to open up to the world,” in a veiled criticism of the protectionist policies of its neighbors Argentina and Brazil.
Faced with the calls for regional integration headed by Lula, Lacalle Pou launched an ordeal in Celac: “Isn’t it time to open up these relations and for CELAC to promote a free trade zone […] from Mexico to southern South America? Lacalle Pou urged the rulers to think about integration projects that leave ideologies aside because, otherwise, they will be “short-lived.”
The president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, celebrated the change of course after years in which the voice of Latin America has been “less and less heard.” For Petro, the climate crisis offers a great opportunity to create regional projects, given the importance of the Amazon rainforest, the largest lung in the world, to combat it and the ability of many Latin American countries to generate clean energy that contributes to the decarbonization of economies. world.
The call for heads of state in Buenos Aires has finally been less than expected, with important absences, such as that of the president of the second largest Latin American economy, the Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Maduro gave up traveling at the last minute for security reasons, amid protests called against him and the rejection expressed by the Argentine opposition. Without Maduro, the number of protesters at the gates of the event venue did not exceed one hundred.
Among the 13 presidents present are the aforementioned Lula da Silva, Lacalle Pou and Petro, the Chilean Gabriel Boric, the Bolivian Luis Arce and the Cuban Miguel Díaz-Canel.
advance of the extreme right
In his inauguration speech, Fernández called for strengthening institutions and democracy in the face of the advance of “a recalcitrant and fascist right” and gave as examples the assault on the Brazilian Congress and the failed attack against the Argentine vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The host has positioned himself against the economic blockades suffered by Venezuela and Cuba, but has made no mention of the lack of freedoms in both countries.
The Argentine president has also made no reference to the deep institutional crisis that Peru is going through, with a succession of presidents in recent years. The repression of the protests in the streets against the current president, Dina Boluarte, has already caused close to fifty fatalities.
During his speech, the Chilean president, Gabriel Boric, criticized the violent police eviction of the protesters camped in the main university of Lima: “It is also unacceptable that the universities of America revive the sad scenes of the times of the dictatorships of the Southern Cone as happened recently with the violent entry of the Police into the University of San Marcos”. Boric has stressed that the deaths should “scandalize” Latin American leaders and has offered to contribute to a negotiated solution.
López Obrador also expressed his solidarity with the Peruvian people through their remote participation: “A statement must be jointly signed to demand that the repression cease, that dialogue be opened, that it be the people who decide in democracy, that is, in clean, free elections on the destiny of Peru”.
The meeting of Celac representatives was held behind closed doors amid heavy security deployment. With the exception of Fernández’s, the speeches of the Celac representatives are not broadcast live, but several have been disseminated —totally or partially— a posteriori by the different presidential press teams.
In the middle of the regional meeting, the leak of a recording of the Chilean Foreign Minister, Antonia Urrejola, and her team, was revealed, in which they were angry about the public complaint of the Argentine ambassador in the trans-Andean country, Rafael Bielsa, after the cancellation of the Dominga mining project. The leak caused the resignation of the head of communications of the Chilean Foreign Ministry, but for now there has been no public response from the Argentine side.
The summit ended this afternoon with a joint declaration of one hundred points and the announcement of the successor to Alberto Fernández at the head of Celac. The head of the Caribbean State of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, was elected by consensus. In a brief press conference, Gonsalves was confident that the size of his country will not be an obstacle for Celac to have international relevance. When asked about his position on human rights violations in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, Gonsalves avoided condemning the abuses and asked to respect the situation in each country.
Subscribe here to the EL PAÍS America newsletter and receive all the latest news in the region.