More than a month after the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) put on its four million dollar show, we can say that CELAC fever has finally subsided. After thirty three heads of state and their delegations met in Costa Rica for the III Summit at the end of January, I wonder: what came out of the meeting besides words, selfies, drama, and more divisions in the region?
It all started when, back in 2010, de1egations from the Caribbean and the Rio Group members produced in Cancun the Declaration that set the foundation for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. A year later, in December of 2011, the late Hugo Chavez put on paper Simon Bolivar’s dreams of a united Latin America. Bolivar had expressed his desires of an integrated world at the Panama Congress in 1826, when he spoke of “a union with the British Empire and the birth of a single nation encompassing the entire universe: the federal nation.” How feasible the creation of this federal nation was, I do not know. What I do know, is that I think I have found John Lennon’s source of inspiration for his “Imagine” song.
When the Declaration of Caracas was signed, CELAC was officially constituted. Chavez and his friends patted each other on the back, and then the unthinkable happened: speeches were given and selfies were taken. The lives of many Latin Americans were about to change with all the things this new Community that was, oh, so innovative*, promised!
Part of this innovation came from, on the one hand, an absence from what many leaders in the region consider a bothersome meddling of the United States and Canada. On the other hand, CELAC was to welcome the influence of Cuba…and even that of the Puerto Rican pro-independence movement. Ruben Berrios, one of the main pro-Independence advocates, managed to attend the Summit after President Ortega of Nicaragua made him head of the Nicaraguan delegation, completely fooling Costa Rica’s diplomatic authentication and security measures. Puerto Rico is not part of CELAC, and the topic of Puerto Rico’s Independence, was not a part of the agenda. In what turned out to be a dramatic finish to the Summit, President Ortega stated that Puerto Rico was the voice of Nicaragua, completely disregarding rules of procedure at the Conference.
Briefly put, the Declaration of Caracas gave birth not to an organization in the likes of the Organization of American States of 1948 which, despite criticism and the Organization’s reluctance inability, to enforce its own Democratic Charter, still has some teeth, but to a complementary platform that would foment dialogue and political coordination, as stated in the Caracas Declaration. In other words, CELAC is no more than an abstract community, with no real headquarters, institutions, or secretariat, as many have pointed out.
Since the founding of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1948, Latin America has seen an increase in the number of regional organization efforts, both from the left as well as from the right, making regional consensus as tricky and evasive as catching the golden snitch in Harry Potter. I have singled out CELAC only because of the buzz it created at the beginning of the year, but other integrations efforts are also worthy of mention. In fact, since the 1960s, when the region was experimenting with import substitution industrialization policies, we saw the emergence of the Central American and Caribbean Community (CACM), which would later be CARICOM, LAFTA, the Community of Andean Nations (CAN), MERCOSUR, UNASUR, SICA, the Pacific Alliance, ALBA, and the list goes on…To put matters into perspective, the European Union is a project that has been built upon since Robert Schuman’s Declaration in May of 1950.
The crux of the issue is that consensus in the region seems more and more like an unattainable goal, and that is worrisome. In the words of Francisco Rojas Aravena, “the processes of integration have now constituted an urgent demand in the context of globalization…understood in its multiple spheres and not only in the economic one,” and so far, Latin America has only achieved increased regional fragmentation. The past CELAC Summit, combined with President Mujica’s words that Argentina does not care about integration, are, in my opinion, just two of the many expressions of this.
As a citizen of Costa Rica, a small country whose competitiveness and economy are shrinking exponentially, I believe in the power of trade and economic integration to propel the region. When and if Costa Rica joins the Pacific Alliance Club, it will be forced to catch up to its partners, and many in the country will reap the benefits of this. Croatia, one of the last countries to join the European Union in 2013, is an example of this.
History tends to repeat itself. The words of caution Bolivar used for the Panama Congress are applicable today to CELAC: “The Panama Congress, an institution that would have been admirable had it proved more effective, must inevitably be compared to the foolish Greek who, from a rock, thought he could direct a fleet at sea. Its power will amount to nothing more than a shadow and its decrees mere recommendations.” This is true of any other regional organization that does not rely on institutions and concrete actions, but on words.
In the meantime, Harry Potter’s world and the golden snitch, seem more plausible to me.
*The word innovative is so worn out…..It now means exactly the opposite of what it used to mean..
 My own translation, from “América Latina y la Diplomacia de Cumbres,” edited by Carlos M. Jarque, Maria Salvadora Ortiz, y Carlos Quenan. Available online: http://www10.iadb.org/intal/intalcdi/PE/2010/04676.pdf
María Fernanda Pérez Argüello, from Costa Rica, is a Political Economy concentrator in the MALAS program, and will graduate in 2015.