Friday, December 2, 2011

Venezuela Hosts CELAC Summit, its Future Uncertain

The two-day inaugural summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) kicks off in Caracas today, which will gather representatives from 33 countries in the hemisphere (minus the U.S. and Canada) in order to explore methods of deepening economic and political ties. The official web page for the summit, which currently profiles the arrival of several heads of state and their statements in support of the event, will be posting regular updates over the next two days.

AFP reports that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met separately with Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff on the eve of the summit yesterday to discuss bilateral ties between their respective countries. After Chavez and Fernandez signed a series of agreements on trade, technology and food policy, the Venezuelan president presented his counterpart with a painting he allegedly made himself which depicts him standing side by side with Fernandez’s late husband, Nestor Kirchner. His meeting with Rousseff was less theatrical, and was marked by mutual pledges of economic cooperation, especially between the two countries’ oil industries.

As the AP and Wall Street Journal points out, however, the CELAC summit is bringing together heads of state from across the political spectrum, not just progressive leaders like Rousseff and Fernandez and the leaders of the ALBA bloc. Conservative presidents such as Mexico’s Felipe Calderon, Honduras’ Porfirio Lobo and Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos will also be in attendance. Chile’s Sebastian PiƱera, however, will be represented by Foreign Affairs Minister Alfredo Moreno.

While the ideological diversity among the summit’s attendees is impressive, the future of CELAC is far from clear. Some member states, especially the ALBA countries, have expressed hope that the body will push the region further away from U.S. interests. However, as noted in the Miami Herald, the United States remains the economic and political powerhouse of the hemisphere, so both the practicality and longevity of a regional body that excludes the U.S. are uncertain.

Others hope that CELAC will at least replace the Organization of American States in function. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, for instance, has voiced interest in creating a human rights system in CELAC which would serve as an alternative to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), due to the perceived influence of the United States in the latter organization. Human Rights Watch, for its part, has railed against this proposal, issuing a statement declaring that the region "has benefited greatly from the Inter-American human rights system" and insinuating that Ecuador is only pursuing an alternative because of the recent condemnation it received for crackdowns on press freedom.

Another unresolved matter for CELAC is the issue of a “Democracy Clause,” which would establish a democratic regime as an essential requirement for membership. The governments of Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica have all been vocal advocates for this, but debate over including such language in the organization’s constitution was tabled in April. Yesterday Mexico’s sub secretary for Latin American and Caribbean relations announced to Mexican press that such a mechanism would be included in CELAC, but gave no details about its specific wording. Considering that Cuba has already been announced as the site of the CELAC summit in 2013, whatever democracy clause exists is not likely to have teeth.

News Briefs

·         In a last-minute development, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala announced yesterday that he would not attend today’s CELAC meeting in Caracas, nor a separate regional summit in Mexico scheduled for the 4th.  Humala will be sending the Peruvian foreign minister in his stead. La Republica claims that the president cited a conflicting “internal agenda,” likely an allusion to the ongoing protests against mining projects in the northern Cajamarca state.

·         Over at Bloggings by Boz, analyst Bosworth argues that the media should be less drawn to CELAC and more focused on the UNASUR meeting happening currently in Caracas, which he argues is a more “viable alternative regional organization.”

·         The latest issue of the Economist is out, and features two interesting pieces on Brazil. The first takes a look at the politics of conserving the Amazon rainforest in the South American country, while the second examines a plan to split up an Amazonian state into three smaller ones. The U.K.-based publication also features a tidy overview of the recently-released ECLAC report which found poverty to be significantly reduced throughout the region.

·         The New York Times reports on trans-border “narco-tunnels,” which U.S. and Mexican authorities seem to describe as more complex with every new find. The latest such discovery, in Tijuana, was nearly half a mile long and featured hidden steel elevators, a motorized cart system and air conditioning.

·         Mexican officials have taken apart a sophisticated telecommunications system organized by the Zetas which reached across the four northern states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and San Luis Potosi. El Universal reports that military confiscated 167 antennas, 1,466 radios and 166 power supplies which members of the cartel used to monitor troop movement.

·         After a French court ruled on Nov. 23 that former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega could be handed over to Panama in order to serve out a sentence there, the AP says that the ex-strongman will be extradited to Panama “within weeks.”

·         According to El Colombiano, intercepted internal communications amongst the FARC secretariat indicate that the Colombian rebel group’s new leader, alias “Timochenko,” was reluctant to accept his new role.

·         With the results of Monday’s parliamentary elections in Guyana now in, Donald Ramotar of the ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP) will lead a minority government, the first since the South American country gained independence in 1966. As the BBC points out, if the opposition parties decide to coordinate, it would mean tough times for the ethnic Indian-backed PPP.

·         The World Bank has approved a $255 million plan which it claims will help house 22,500 Haitians who lost their homes in the January 2010 earthquake. AFP reports that the fund will also go to support neighborhood development projects, provide school tuition for 100,000 children, train 8,000 teachers and provide hot meals five days a week for 75,000 youngsters.

·         As mentioned in Wednesday’s post, a Chilean judge has requested the extradition of former U.S. navy officer Ray E. Davis for his alleged role in facilitating the death of two U.S. citizens in the aftermath of the 1973 coup which put General Augusto Pinochet in power. While initial news reports stated that his whereabouts were unknown, his wife told the Associated Press yesterday that her husband is living in a nursing home and suffers from an advanced case of Alzheimer’s disease.  She told the wire agency that Davis "doesn't open his eyes” and “doesn't speak,” meaning that he could be unfit for trial even if the extradition were approved.