Tuesday, March 9, 2010

32 countries agree to build independent bloc

32 countries agree to build independent bloc

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The latest effort in the process of regional integration of the Latin American and Caribbean countries took place on Feb. 22-23 in Cancún, Mexico, with the participation of 32 independent nations.

The new organization, called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CLACS), is an attempt to create a body that would not include the United States or Canada, in order to establish an independent bloc that can respond to and pursue the interests of the region — not only among the member states at the hemisphere level, but in the international arena as well.

Of the 33 countries in the region, only Honduras was not invited. It was expelled from the Organization of American States last summer due to the criminal military coup of June 2009 that deposed the democratically elected president, José Manuel Zelaya.

CLACS is considered by many regional presidents as the alternative to the U.S.-dominated OAS. In fact, the failure of the OAS to respond in an effective manner, which could have reversed the Honduras coup, hastened the convening of the new Community. Most of the governments in CLACS have made it clear they consider the Honduran coup an immense danger that could set a new precedent of coups and destabilization processes in their countries, bringing back the era of military dictatorships that ravaged Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s.

The U.S. has increased its militarization of the region, expanding the Fourth Fleet, putting bases into Colombia and Panama, invading Haiti under the pretense of providing aid, and supporting the coup in Honduras. This is regarded as a real threat that cannot be left unchecked.

This new body is in some ways a continuation of the Rio Group, which initiated the new formation at its 21st summit, called the Unity Summit. Although the Rio Group will not cease to exist, at least not until CLACS is firmly established, both entities will continue working side by side. The Rio Group itself was a continuation of the Contadora Group formed by Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela in the early 1980s in an effort to respond, as Latin American nations, to the U.S. wars then raging in Central America against Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Eventually, that group expanded, adding more Latin American and Caribbean nations until the 1990s, when it became the Rio Group.

CLACS is still only an attempt, an effort, without firm guidelines. These will be developed throughout the year, taking as a model the Cancún Declaration released at the end of the Summit. They will be discussed in the next meeting, to take place in Venezuela in 2011.

The declaration takes several aspects into consideration, including regional integration and cooperation. This focuses on a concerted response to the financial crisis, including the call to build a new international financial body that would be more democratic; regional mechanisms for trade and exchange using their own or a common currency rather than the dollar; promoting the integration of their economies, and stimulating trade among themselves.

Other matters to be addressed include energy, infrastructure, migration, science and technology, social development including efforts towards the eradication of poverty and hunger, education, health and public services, culture, the inclusion of women in all areas of development, sustainable development, climate change, response to natural disasters, human rights, security, drug problems, terrorism and South-South cooperation.

There was significant discussion of the situation in Haiti in order to elevate cooperation with that beleaguered country and ensure its long-term development.

Another important decision was a unanimous condemnation of the British occupation and militarization of the Malvinas Islands, which Britain calls the Falklands. Although it was not part of the Cancún Declaration, in a separate document the countries supported Argentina’s right to the Malvinas, calling for a discussion in the United Nations.

In a recent arrogant imperialist move, Britain unilaterally approved exploration for future oil extraction in the waters surrounding the Malvinas, where there is an estimated reserve of 60 billion barrels of crude oil. Despite Argentina’s protests, the British have continued their plans for exploration.

Despite all the contradictions and inconsistencies that can arise in a community that includes anti-imperialist countries with a socialist perspective — such as Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia — together with strong U.S. allies such as Colombia, Panama, Peru and Costa Rica, the fact is that it does represent a viable effort to act independently of the imperialists, particularly U.S. imperialism.

As Cuban President Raúl Castro said at the conclusion of the CLACS summit: “The decision that we have just adopted, creating the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, is historic. ... Cuba considers that the conditions exist to move quickly towards the establishment of a regional organization, purely Latin American and Caribbean, that integrates and represents the 33 independent nations of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

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