More than its final declaration, the agreements reached, or the interventions of presidents and foreign ministers, the value of the 7th Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Buenos Aires lay in the landscape it painted of the current state of Latin American integration, one of the region’s most pressing challenges. As demonstrated, the event is the fundamental key to thinking about the current geopolitical scenario, with complexity that unites and separates the region’s horizon.
The context and its paradoxes
At first glance, the 7th Summit strengthened the new balance of power in the region by bringing together almost all the leaders of the left/progressive spectrum, in all its shades of gray, who currently occupy the forefront of continental politics. President Lula’s participation marked Brazil’s return to the Latin American geopolitical scene with his first attendance at an international diplomatic event. It had a specific weight in giving the summit relevance and also expressed the shift towards a geopolitical panorama where the right is not hegemonic.
It is paradoxical that in a scenario favorable to integration, even more so in the case of a CELAC summit where a good part of the member states are governed by the left –although this concept is not necessarily a synonym of homogeneity and common criteria–, President Nicolás Maduro was forced to cancel his attendance given that minimum security conditions for his visit were not guaranteed. Unsurprisingly, the Argentinian opposition, activating its usual weapons of power, the holy trinity of media-legislative-judicial power, made Maduro’s trip the epicenter of a weekly agenda of confrontation against [Argentinian President Alberto] Fernández.
The Argentinian president showed weakness regarding the attendance of the Venezuelan president. This is a continuation of the general fragility of Fernández’s government in the face of delicate diplomatic situations, such as the hijacking of the Venezuelan EMTRASUR plane in the middle of last year, or with issues of an internal nature, such as the attempted assassination of Vice President Cristina Fernández or the persecution and lawfare against her. Such a weakness reflects that the premise of a Brasília-Buenos Aires axis, around which the reinvigoration of integration would orbit, currently lacks sufficient strength and traction on the Argentinian side.
Precisely, the widely publicized bilateral meeting between Lula and Fernández in Buenos Aires resulted in the attempt to position a new framework of leadership and management of CELAC centered on both figures, with Lula as the main actor. However, it would be difficult for the Argentinian government, diminished in its internal political and institutional authority, to lead regional geopolitics together with Brazil if Fernández’s power is permanently challenged at home.
Saturated rhetoric and fragmented criteria
Above the continental map painted red due to the string of recent electoral defeats of the right, the scenario of regional integration is not straightforward. The balance of power favors the left within its ideological and programmatic universe. However, the divergences of criteria and particular interests limit the horizon of possibility within a renewed institutional architecture of integration adjusted to the tectonic changes caused by the violent return of Cold War logic within the metabolism of the world economy, its supply chains and sources of strategic resources.
This issue was clearly perceived in the speeches at the Summit’s plenary session. [Colombian President] Gustavo Petro indicated that it was necessary to refloat and update the OAS’s inter-American human rights system prior to achieving a “democratic pact where the right and left do not believe that when they come to power, it is to physically eliminate their opponent.”
Similarly, Alberto Fernández focused his speech on the need to defend democracy in the region, referring to the coup attempt on January 8 in Brasília. He also condemned, once again, the implementation of sanctions and blockades against Venezuela and Cuba. Lula, for his part, pointed out that integration must be strengthened to reverse hunger and poverty and that the region has great potential to contribute to the fight against climate change and produce clean energy.
Gabriel Boric, as was to be expected, attacked Nicaragua again and, in clear alignment with the recommendations of the US think tank Wilson Center and the Venezuelan opposition’s petition in the Mexico talks, amplified the manipulated narrative of “free elections” in Venezuela,
Bolivian President Luis Arce, on the other hand, pointed out that CELAC must strengthen its place in the construction of a multipolar world. He indicated that the organization must open relations with BRICS since the change of the international economic axis from the Atlantic to the Pacific implies a reconfiguration of the world economy where Latin America must actively participate.
¿Cuánto equivaldría una moneda común latinoamericana respecto al PIB mundial? https://t.co/TbClTsTA00
— MV (@Mision_Verdad) January 30, 2023
Meanwhile, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who did not attend the summit, urged CELAC to speak out and condemn the deposition of Pedro Castillo from the presidency of Peru and the widespread repression in the country. Although the chaos and instability of the Andean country featured as a concern in some speeches, it was not possible to reach a consensus on how the organization should address the situation and what institutional devices could be activated to contribute to a peaceful and constitutional solution to the political crisis in Peru.
The good and the bad
The speeches in themselves are evidence that the relaunch of CELAC lacks reinvention of its frameworks of unity and its planning instruments. At a rhetorical level, there is a general consensus that the organization should be reinvigorated. Still, the practical proposals to achieve it are scarce, if not non-existent, to the extent that each country sees an opportunity to advance particular political or ideological agendas in this organizational momentum.
A glaring example is that the condemnations of coups d’état or attempts to fracture constitutional order lack firm commitments and tools for the organization to act. The same absence of practical support, of shared geopolitical options, occurs when mentioning other regional problems, such as financial blockades, energy weaknesses or the fragile economic integration of the region’s countries. The exception to this is the proposal of a "common currency" called "Sur," which for now only impacts Brazil and Argentina’s immediate interests.
For this reason, the illusion of agreement and affinity left by the event’s discourse means that it has not managed to maintain its international impact one week after it was held. The basis of the fragmentation remains unchanged: the absence of renewed institutional instruments and mechanisms to energize the organization’s functioning and provide it with new devices of geopolitical influence.
The election of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as president pro tempore is perhaps the most important result of the 7th Summit. With the country led by Ralph Gonsalves, the Caribbean and the ALBA-Petrocaribe axis acquire a geopolitical centrality in the organization’s strategic orientations. This centrality acts as a counterweight to the classic pattern of placing the pro tempore presidency in countries whose economic and geopolitical power (as in the case of Argentina or Mexico) increases internal competition for dominance of the organisation.
In this sense, the fact that a Caribbean country is in charge of CELAC keeps alive the sense of a historic opportunity to revitalize it per its founding spirit: to act as an integration platform that allows the region to act as an autonomous geopolitical bloc, with international impact and dynamic integration in multipolarity, currently led by the Eurasian axis of power.
A coherent agenda to relaunch CELAC should be based on practical factors that originate in the existing general affinities beyond their rhetorical veneer. A reliable route in this direction could include in its compass the creation of a shared instrument or protocol against coups d’état, empowering the organization to develop mediations and promote dialogue and negotiation in countries affected by institutional crises.
Economically, with the great pending integration issue since the break with the Spanish empire, CELAC could advance in the configuration of consultation mechanisms where alternatives for commercial exchange and joint investment in strategic areas can explore their viability, allowing the unification and strengthening of initiatives in this regard. The "Sur" and an association of lithium exporting countries are two examples that have generated enthusiasm.
As for economic blockades, CELAC could use its negotiating power as a bloc to expand the credit lines of financial organizations and institutions to generate a reliable financing alternative or to expedite the region’s insertion, via the organization, into the new architecture of de-dollarization that is gaining more and more ground in Eurasia and the Global South.
The good thing is that everything is yet to be built, and for this, there is an invaluable political opportunity.
Translated by Orinoco Tribune.