On February 28-29 most Western Hemisphere heads of state will meet under the umbrella ofthe Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).Not much has happened in terms of regional integration over the past year; if anything, Latin America and the Caribbean seem to be breaking into smaller factions. Nevertheless, the 2014 summit will be a memorable event, which includes high-profile guests, and will occur at a notable location: Cuba.
A Memorable Meeting for CELAC
In theory, the CELAC summit (the 2ndin the group’s short history) has much on its side to be a historical event. Practically all of the Latin American and Caribbean leaders are expected to attend: Peru’s Ollanta Humala, Mexico’sEnrique Pena Nieto, Uruguay’s Jose Mujica, as well as Guyana’s Donald Ramotar. Also present will be Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, an important development considering the leader’s infrequent public appearances due to concerns about her health.
Even more, there will be two distinguished guests: Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, and Ban-Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. Insulza’s trip to the Caribbean state is noteworthy as it is the first time in more than 50 years that a sitting leader of the OAS will visit the island.
Nevertheless, neither President Obama nor Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will attend, as neither the U.S. nor Canada are members of CELAC.
With a mostly full list of heads of state in attendance, an idealist would hope that the heads of state will draft a “Declaration of Havana” that could serve as a blueprint for a new era of Latin American and Caribbean integration. That is the difficult part.
Officially the focus of the CELAC summit will be combatingpoverty and social inequality. However, the real “essence” of the multinational gathering will be the issues that will be discussed either during the speeches of the heads of state or during sideline meetings throughout the summit’s two days.
One interesting issue to watch out for is whether Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will take her time at the podium to critique the NSA. The Brazilian leader cancelled a trip to Washington this past October after it was revealed that the NSA had spied on several prominent leaders, including herself. President Barack Obama gave an important speech on reforming the NSA on January 17, and President Rousseff may use her time in Havana to offer the U.S. leader a rebuttal.
Additionally on Monday January 27, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) gave its ruling regarding a maritime dispute between Peru and Chile. In 2008, Peru turned to the ICJ to get a third-party ruling on the 38,000 square kilometers of rich sea life that both countries contest and thisMonday the ICJgave its final ruling. Presidents Humala of Peru and Pinera of Chile will both attend the summit in Havana, and it can be assumed that the two will either meet during the summit or at least mention the maritime dispute during their respective speeches. This will give an idea of the future of Peruvian-Chilean relations.
There is one confirmed country whose head of state will not attend the CELAC summit: Panama.Floreal Garrido, Director of Foreign Policy and the “fifth-ranking official in Panama’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” will travel to the Caribbean island instead of President Ricardo Martinelli.
The reason for Martinelli’s absence is not because he is needed in his country –the crisis over the Canal’s expansion notwithstanding–but rather due to tense relations between Panama and Cuba.
Namely, in July 2013 a cargo ship originating from Cuba and bound for North Korea (which could be a violation of the international weapons embargo on the Asian country) was stopped as it passed through the Canal. Upon inspection, it was revealed that the vessel carried “20 tons of anti-aircraft radarsand missile parts, MiG jets, motors for the warplanes and other munitions.”
The Cuban government has argued that the weaponry was going to North Korea to be repaired and then would be returned to the island. A team of United Nations specialists is currently analyzing the weaponry.
Is Latin America More Integrated?
Ultimately, CELAC’s goal of promoting integration among its members, is not an easy task given its 33 member states with different national interests.
Recent commentaries by Latin American analysts highlight how the region has fractured into two groups. On the one hand, we have free trade-friendly (and generally U.S.-friendly) governments in Peru, Mexico, Chile and Colombia, which have created the Pacific Alliance. Conversely, Venezuela and the ALBA bloc, the brainchild of the late Hugo Chavez, has begun losing some of its relevance and influence due to the deteriorating economy of several of its members, particularly Venezuela.
Moreover, in Havana the 15 nations of the Caribbean Community may try to unite–as difficult as that may be nowadays–to speak as a single voice about Caribbean issues. One issue that could (and should) be addressed is the controversial law passed by theDominican Republic that removes citizenship from Haitian migrants.
The aforementioned issues could transform the CELAC summit into a place where we will hear a varied list of critiques and differing political and economic visions from leaders across the hemisphere. The key issue: whether a united Latin America and the Caribbean can emerge from these varying points of view, may be too much for any idealist to hope for, at least in the near future.