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The February 2010 Latin America and Caribbean Summit brought about the creation of the provisionally called Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. What differentiates this summit from other regional meetings is that both the U.S. and Canada have been excluded from membership. This is an important development, with analysts calling into question the future of the inter-American system, including agencies like the Organization of American States. That much being clear, another issue that has yet to be resolved is whether the Community will have a permanent secretariat or if it will become a new type of Rio Group, which has an annual summit but no headquarters.
Certainly the establishment of this Community is an interesting development, though only the future will tell if this agency can evolve to be a relevant organization. For the time being, the Community joins a growing list of regional agencies, several of which have done little, after issuing pompous declarations, to justify their creation.
Regional blocs for all seasons
Besides not inviting the U.S. and Canada as members, another unique aspect of the community is that it will be the first such entity that will bring together Latin American states with those of the English-speaking Caribbean. Nevertheless, as previously stated, the Community joins a plethora of other such organizations created to bring about regional integration at different levels. Examples of these local agencies include: MERCOSUR, the Andean Community, the Central American Parliament, CARICOM, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the Association of Caribbean States, as well as the Hugo Chavez-initiated Alternativa Bolivariana para las Americas (ALBA). The latest such organization created was UNASUR, Union de Naciones Sudamericanas; the UNASUR Constitutive Treaty was signed on May 23, 2008, at the Third Summit of Heads of State, held in Brasília, Brazil. The same year, UNASUR created a NATO-style security wing (at least on paper), called the South American Defense Council (SADC).
Other groups include non-hemispheric actors, such as the Ibero-American Community of Nations, which seeks to promote integration between Latin America, Spain and Portugal. Then there is the Group of 77, a loose alliance of Third World countries throughout the world founded in 1964 to which most Latin American Caribbean states are members (Mexico left in 1994). The Group of 24 (officially named the Intergovernmental Group of Twenty-Four on International Monetary Affairs and Development) is a wing of the Group of 77, established in 1964. It includes Latin states like Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Guatemala and Venezuela.
Other specialized regional organizations which are not organically linked to other major agencies can be included, for example ALCOPAZ, the Latin American association of Training Centers for Peace Operations (Asociacion Latino Americana de Centros de Entrenamientos para Operaciones de Paz). Another such organization would be OPANAL, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, which was created after the Tlatelolco Treaty.
It should be stressed that, besides regional blocs, there is a wide array of meetings that annually bring together the heads of state of the region. Some of the most high profile meetings comprise the Latin American and Caribbean Integration and Development Summit, as well as the summit between countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union. The February summit in Mexico was preceded by the first Mexico-CARICOM summit. The Rio Summits are an example of an organization that never fully developed to its full potential. Originally created from the members of the Contadora Group and Contadora Support Group, the Rio Group was an attempt at bringing Latin American states together, however, the idea never managed to prosper. The group is now a loose organization that sponsors a summit every year.
Why is the OAS bad?
One of the issues raised with the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States is the future of the Organization of American States, the only agency that has all hemispheric states as members (with the exception of Cuba, suspended in 1962). The ongoing belief is that having the world’s superpower as a member makes the U.S. “first among equals” when it comes to deciding what the OAS will and will not do. An early example was Guatemala in 1954, with the OAS ostensibly unable, but more likely unwilling to deal with the CIA-organized overthrow of Presidentt Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. Latinamericanists have called the incident the death of the inter-American system. Most recently, the OAS maintained unnerving neutrality during 2002 protests that removed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez from power for two days and the 2004 protests in Haiti against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Regarding the the 2009 incident in Honduras that toppled President Manuel Zelaya the OAS gave mixed signals, first threatening to suspend Honduras if Zelaya was not restored to power, eventually accepting the results of the new presidential elections. Such events helped cement the long-standing idea that the OAS was under Washington’s control. As a sign that the Community will not be under Washington’s influence, the new agency has accepted Cuba as a member.
Another issue dealing with the OAS is that it’s regarded as a place of rest for politicians, such as former heads of state. Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, OAS Secretary General from 1994-2004 is regarded as a prime example of this. With only one exception, the OAS heads have historically been the candidates chosen by Washington. The rule changed in 2005 when the Chilean Jose Miguel Insulza was elected over Washington’s preferitti, former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores. Insulza himself as been critiqued for using the OAS as a launching pad for an eventual candidacy for the Chilean presidency. The Chilean did work to re-admit Cuba in June 2009 after there was a major momentum by Latin American states to do so, but in the end Havana stated that it had no interest to join the OAS at this time.
Finally, some OAS agencies are usually under fire for irrelevancy, if nothing else. An example of this is the Inter-American Defense Board, located in a vintage mansion in downtown Washington. Nevertheless, it should be stated that one OAS agency seen as very successful in its work is the Pan American Health Organization, PAHO. Other decentralized and/or autonomous organs of the OAS that are generally acceptably regarded include the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism.
The New Community – Issues to be addressed
The announcement of the Community’s creation has raised a number of questions regarding what it will look like. According to reports, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Jamaica, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic form the task force that that will discuss the basic issues revolving the Community. Questions that arise include:
. Will the Community have headquarters, and if so, where? Or will it be a loose organization whose members will occasionally meet?
. What will the charter of the Community look like?
. What will the agency’s goals be? Promote economic, political, cultural and security integration? Will wing organizations be created?
According to Ecuadorian Foreign Affairs minister Ricardo Patiño “[Community members] are going to commission a task group so that in one year and four months time they can prepare the statutes, and by July 2011 in Caracas we can proceed to approve them.”
The creation and upkeep of headquarters is a particularly important issue. It’s not just about where the Community’s secretariat will be located, but also with what funds it will be built. Considering how most members of the new agency are Third World Nations (exceptions would be countries like Brazil and Mexico, even though they continue to have significant numbers of citizens living in poverty), generally do not have deep money reserves, and are already making payments to different organizations (UN, OAS, CARICOM etc), it could prove difficult for some states to have to pay additional funds to maintain the Community’s daily expenses. In a Miami Herald article by Andres Oppenheimer, the commentator states that “Mexico doesn't want to create a new organization, nor a binding agreement,” Rafael Fernandez de Castro, Calderón's top foreign policy advisor, told him. “We don't want to spend money on new international bureaucracies.”
Then comes the issue of staff. Regional blocs have been known for giving employment to a huge amount of individuals, ranging from the agency’s head down to the administrative staff. The question that arises is if the individuals to be sent to the Community will be the “cream of the crop” of a country’s diplomatic corps, or retired and junior officials and personnel who did not get a position in one of the more coveted locations (i.e. UN, OAS, embassies and consulates in the U.S. and European countries). If the Community is to have a permanent secretariat and become a viable alternative to the OAS, its secretary general and staff should be some of the most qualified individuals that member states can offer. The last thing the new agency needs will be another Gaviria-type Secretary General or less-than professional staff members that would hinder Community initiatives.
New Organizations, Same Problems
As interest and hope among Latinamericanist idealists in the Community grow, so will the reminders of failed attempts at integration, namely, the traditional Latin habit of making overly quixotic declarations that bring about little change. The Rio Group’s lack of development is an example of this. If the Community actually proves to work, it may serve as the impetus to get rid of the Rio Group, or at the very least annex it into the Community as to not have a redundancy of summits. Furthermore, UNASUR is another example of an agency that has yet to yield fruit after its foundation. The South American bloc did take a leap forward during the 2008 protests against Presidet Evo Morales in Bolivia, when UNASUR was quick to rally around the head of state, something that the OAS failed to do (as Morales is not well-regarded by Washington). Unfortunately, the agency has been generally mute on other matters ever since, and its Defense Council exists only on paper and has no charter to or staff to explain its goals. It should be stressed that UNASUR is the only South American agency that actually has all 12 states as members, including Guyana and Suriname, who traditionally focus their integration efforts towards the Caribbean more than with the mainland.
Just by looking at the Community’s members, one can see the potential for power struggles that may arise as different regional powerhouses seek to attain leadership roles. Brazil may see itself as the natural leader, but Chile may try to gain the chairmanship of the new agency, making it a diplomatic trifecta as Santiago already has Insulza in the OAS and will preside the Rio Group for the next two years. Furthermore, if Santiago seeks to take a leadership role in the Community, we may see a negative reaction from Bolivia and Peru.
In addition, it is doubtful that Venezuela’s Chavez will follow other nations silently, and he could rally his ALBA members for support. In addition, even if it is clear now that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will not run for a second reelection, it remains to be seen if the next Colombian head of state and Chavez can get along, or if they will attempt to counter each other’s initiatives in the Community (particularly if a single vote has veto power). Likewise, Mexico may want to expand its relations not just by focusing its diplomatic efforts on Washington, but also by becoming a powerhouse in the Community, and could rally the Central American states for support. Finally, the Caribbean states tend to vote as a bloc, as evidenced by the OAS elections in which they are the king makers, resulting in vetoing initiatives that benefit the mainland more than the whole Community.
Finally, relations between the U.S. and different Latin American states may affect the cohesion within the Community. This was evidenced when Chavez pulled Venezuela from the Andean Community because Colombia and Peru were negotiating free trade agreements with the U.S. Later on, it was Bolivia and Ecuador’s turn to reject a free trade agreement between the Andean Community and the European Union. The attempted bloc-to-bloc negotiations stalled and Brussels is seeking individual agreements with Bogotá and Lima.
A Suggestion: Start Simple
The current trend in regional Latin American politics is to focus on three major issues: politics, security and trade. If the goal for Latin America is to become one day like Europe, we should remember that the EU had its beginnings with the European Coal and Steel Community, from which it expanded to touch on other issues. The ECSC, created in 1952, was the higher authority overseeing the unified market of coal and steel of member states. The agency was a de facto security-building agency, as coal and steel were two critical materials for weapons manufacturing. Hence, by overseeing their production and movement, member states could be sure that no other country was militarizing for a potential aggression.
Even though taking a slow and cautious approach to the meetings may not be a popular idea, it may be the most appropriate one. Thus, the Community could begin with small but important confidence-building and relevant initiatives, such as creating an international emergency response group to provide aid after natural disasters, something that is, unfortunately, very common in the region. Such a response group, made up of firefighters, search and rescue teams as well as medical workers, would be very valuable to have in place when the next disaster strikes. For example, strong earthquakes are usually common in the region, as they struck Peru in 2008, and so far Haiti and Chile in 2010. The constant possibility of destructive earthquakes, combined with hurricanes and tropical storms that annually strike the Caribbean, mean that such a regional emergency response force is a necessity. There is already a body that can be used as blueprint to be expanded upon, called the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency. Perhaps heads of state could be ambitious enough to create a fleet of planes ready to move emergency workers, as well as perhaps a ship that could sail the hemisphere providing free medical aid, similar to that of the USS Comfort. Again, while the OAS is widely discredited, its medical wing, PAHO is generally well-regarded. Indeed, just like Europe used coal and steel, Latin America and the Caribbean can use natural disasters and civilian emergency response teams to come together.
In addition, the Community can serve as an umbrella organization for regional organizations that could benefit from more interagency cooperation and increased recognition. Examples of such “orphan” institutions include ALCOPAZ and OPANAL. Like the Inter-American Defense Board within the OAS, these two agencies do not need to be under Community control, but be autonomous wings within it. This would help the agencies’ goals of maintaining a nuclear weapons-free area in Latin America (for OPANAL) and promoting the use of regional militaries as peacekeepers (for ALCOPAZ).
Aiding with the freedom of movement is another example. Already, there are Community passports issued to citizens who live in CARICOM and the Andean Community. Maybe the next step could be to create a Latin American community passport which is accepted in the Caribbean, with the ultimate goal of creating a common Latin American and Caribbean passport. A common passport, or a visa-free system accepted by all Community members would promote the free movement of people, leading to increased tourism and integration at the grassroots level.
Considering that Latin Americans are particularly sensitive regarding national sovereignty, it would be too ambitious at this time to try to use defense as a catalyst to bring countries together. An example of this can be found in Peru’s attempt to propose last year to UNASUR a three-step process to stop military spending: signing a peace and non-aggression agreement, creating a regional peace force and decreasing military spending over the next five years. According to reports, countries like Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay (all small military spenders) and Colombia (a medium military spender with major internal security problems) have reportedly shown themselves in favor of the proposal. Countries like Chile have rejected it. This dilemma represents how security integration is, for the moment, an unachievable goal, it may be better for the Community to avoid going the same route and focusing on smaller projects like a joint civilian emergency response force, which, when deployed, would not be perceived as violating any member states’ territorial integrity or national sovereignty.
Integration as an achievable goal
While the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states appears to be a good idea, the OAS should not be forgotten as it has had occasional successes – i.e. the mediation of OAS Sec. General Joao Clemente Baena and Argentina president Raul Alfonsin in the 1987 Colombia-Venezuela incident involving the Colombian Caldas warship. If nothing else, the OAS serves as a discussion forum that brings the U.S. and Canada together with the rest of the hemisphere. Also, as previously stated, OAS agencies like PAHO are well regarded for the work they do and should continue to operate.
The premise that without the U.S. and Canada as members, a Latin American and Caribbean Community could succeed is a complicated one. Certainly, regional blocs have had some successes, as exemplified by the Andean Community’s and CARICOM’s community passports. Speaking to the Caribbean Media Corporation, Dominica Prime Minister and current CARICOM chairman Roosevelt Skerrit argued, “We must not throw cold water on a number of great things which CARICOM over the last 30 plus years have achieved for the Caribbean region.” That being said, regional blocs have also had their share of failures, with some bordering on irrelevancy or duplicity. If groups with only a few members have issues finding common grounds (the norm that one state can veto an entire bloc’s initiative can be troublesome) a regional bloc compassing all Latin American and Caribbean states, each with varying national interests, will certainly have its work cut out for it.
W. Alejandro Sanchez