The VI Summit of the Heads of State of CELAC in Mexico in September 2021. The regional integration mechanism has grown in importance and strength in recent years with the victories of progressive governments in the region. Photo: CELAC
On July 17 and 18, heads of state from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the European Union (EU) will meet in Brussels, Belgium for the III CELAC-EU Heads of State Summit. The much anticipated summit is taking place after an eight-year hiatus and leaders are set to address key issues facing both regions as well as the relations between the two in the areas of trade, immigration, aid, development, and more.
The summit will also seek to “further strengthen the EU-CELAC partnership” and “demonstrate a shared commitment to upholding the rules-based international order”, according to the official post on the Summit.
However, days ahead of the historic meeting, as the final preparations are being made and draft delegations are being exchanged, Latin American authorities and civil society organizations have begun to raise the alarms over the conduct of the EU with regards to the format and content of the discussions, as well as the posture of the region towards Latin America.
European Parliament calls for sanctions against Cuban President
On July 12, 2023, days away from the CELAC-EU Summit, the European Parliament voted to approve a resolution which strongly condemns the Cuban government for a wide range of alleged human rights violations and called for the European Union to impose sanctions on Cuban officials, “starting with Miguel Díaz-Canel”.
The extensive resolution makes a range of strong accusations including that the Cuban government weaponizes the US-imposed blockade to justify its current socio economic hardship and to gain support from foreign governments. It alleges that the economic crisis is “nothing more than the result of the total failure of their economic and productive system”.
The resolution which passed with 359 votes in favor, 226 against, and 50 abstentions, completely disregards the innumerous reports prepared by international institutions, NGOs, and other third party organizations that have detailed how the catastrophic impacts of the US blockade on the Cuban economy, and above all on access to food, medicine, and other essential goods.
The European Parliament’s resolution also directly refers to the CELAC-EU Summit and attempts to put conditions on the participation from Latin America. It states: “autocratic regimes should not participate in such summits between countries that share democratic values and respect human rights; calls on the summit participants to issue a declaration demanding due respect for human rights in both regions, with particular attention to the lack of respect for democracy and fundamental freedoms in Cuba”
Climate of cooperation?
News also surfaced that the EU had invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to give an intervention in the Summit without consulting the CELAC block, currently presided over by Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In almost all international forums that Zelensky has participated in since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, the head of state has given speeches on the need to increase military aid to Ukraine and express total support behind its war efforts.
Tensions further increased when Latin American leaders received the draft declaration for the summit prepared by the EU block which explicitly condemned Russia and expressed support to Ukraine in its war efforts, a position not held by the majority of the CELAC countries who have remained neutral throughout the war.
Additionally, the parallel civil society forum, the “EU-Latin America and the Caribbean Forum: Partners in Change”, to be held from July 13-14 in Brussels, was organized by the EU and European-based NGOs without any participation from CELAC or Latin American based civil society spaces. Further, despite being days away, the program and the participants have not been made public. Rumors have also circulated about the participation of right-wing Cuban and Venezuelan activists in the forum.
The developments have raised serious doubts with regards to the European block’s true intentions for the Summit and put in jeopardy the climate and conditions to foster true bi-regional cooperation and dialogue.
CELAC is an equal partner
The moves by the European block have been met with sharp condemnation from voices across the region.
The International Relations Commission of the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP) in Cuba issued, on July 12, a strong condemnation of the resolution passed by the European Parliament and stated that the body “lacks the moral, political and legal authority to judge Cuba.” It adds that the text is “defamatory not only about the Cuban reality, its legal system and rule of law, but also with respect to the ties that Cuba sovereignly maintains with other States, in strict compliance with international law.”
In a statement released on Monday July 10 by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, he alleged that the EU has attempted to impose “restrictive, divisive formats” in the bi-regional summit that “make direct and transparent discussions impossible”. He emphasized that time is running out, “but it is not too late to avoid failure.”
For Rodríguez, the EU’s behavior denotes a lack of respect and a superior attitude with regards to the region’s integration bloc. In this sense he affirmed “Our region has changed. CELAC is the solid and united voice of Latin America and the Caribbean and must be respected. Those who try to impose a biased and Europeanist vision on the bi-regional relationship, pretending to ignore the priorities and interests of our region, will have no chance of success in Brussels.”
CELAC was founded in December 2011 in Caracas, Venezuela by former Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez with the objective to promote regional unity and peace, political cooperation, and socio-economic development of all member countries, while respecting the political, economical, social, cultural and ideological differences. The intergovernmental mechanism for dialogue, consultation, political agreement and regional cooperation is today made up of all 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
It was founded to serve as a counterweight to the US-dominated Organization of American States (OAS), and today has surpassed the OAS in being the primary space for regional integration, discussion, and concrete proposals.
Yvan Gil, the foreign minister of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, also published a statement echoing the concerns of Rodríguez and underscored that the EU was attempting to “minimize the role of the sovereign states of our region, as well as the opacity with which it intends to carry out a series of parallel events, without due coordination with our countries, whose conclusions could be instrumentalized to nurture agendas of political groups contrary to the objectives that summon us to this important meeting.”
He called for the summit to be held on the basis of “respect, mutual commitment and cooperation… in order to build a long-term agenda for the shared benefit of our peoples.”
ALBA Movimientos, a platform bringing together social movements from across Latin America and the Caribbean, also voiced its disapproval and condemned the organization of the “EU-Latin America and the Caribbean Forum: Partners in Change” which it alleges was done “unilaterally and with little transparency”.
The statement released by the platform alleges that the EU undermined and dismissed both CELAC itself and the efforts undertaken by Latin American and Caribbean civil society organizations to conform CELAC Social. They wrote: “We reject the way this is happening, especially when the Forum excludes participants, voices, and the discussion of issues that are of utmost importance for the peoples of our region, in a context of profound economic, political, ethical, energy and environmental crisis, and the urgent need to reform the financial structure and the international economic order.”
ALBA Movimientos stated that along with organizations such as the International Peoples’ Assembly, INTAL, and others, it was helping build the People’s Summit, to be held on July 17-18 also in Brussels. It affirmed that the People’s Summit seeks to be the “democratic and plural forum” which guarantees “the democratic and plural presence of the social forces whose voices are fundamental for any bi-regional initiative.”