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Bulletin 24 February 2010



It is official: Latin America will have a new body (without the USA)

altSince 1948, Latin American countries have been part of a system – the Organisation of American States, the OAS – the headquarters of which were not in Caracas, Bogotá or Brasilia but in Washington. During the Cold War, it became a pawn in the game and this cost Cuba its membership.

During the years of dictatorship in the continent, democracy became a postponed value, sacrificed on the altar of the war against communism. Not any more. Apart from the recent crisis in Honduras, most of the OAS members are democracies – imperfect, flawed and incomplete, but basically democracies. And even those that want to remain friendly with the United States see the need to speak with their own independent voice.

On Tuesday, a new regional organisation – the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States – was born in a summit in the Mexican resort of Cancun. It does not include the USA or Canada, both of which are members of the OAS.

The most radical governments in the region, led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, have welcomed the new regional organisation. Chavez said that “at last, we are breaking away from the colonialism that the United States imposed on [our] continent”. Evo Morales, the Bolivian President, talked about “a new political movement of heads of state, with new proposals from the … governments of Latin America, like a new OAS without the North, the USA or Canada”.

But not everybody is happy with the proposal in its current shape, and the new structure will not have an easy ride. The Colombian Foreign Minister, Jaime Bermúdez, said that the continent “cannot create mechanisms for exclusion” with the aim of creating a “counterweight” to other countries. Bermúdez said that “it does not make sense to talk about unity and community when there are big problems [between us] that are not even discussed.”

These differences of opinion partly reflect the ideological divide the new Community will inherit from the existing regional structures: the Rio Group (Latin America) and Caricom (Caribbean). And it will be a challenge for Chile, which takes over the rotating presidency of the Rio Group. First the outgoing President, Michelle Bachelet, and afterwards the new Chilean President, Manuel Pinera, will have to deal with the transition to the new Community.

During the Cancun summit, it was agreed that the Summit of Latin American and Caribbean States (CALC in Spanish) will remain in place until the new Community is formally created.

Hugo Chavez said that he wanted outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as head of the new organisation. This would be a popular choice because Lula maintains a good relationship with both the radical governments of the region and the “moderates”, like Peru and Costa Rica.

What nobody seems to question is the presence of Cuba in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. For years, the exclusion of Cuba from OAS has been a source of tension, especially after Latin America got rid of its right-wing dictatorships. Moreover, many believe that isolating Cuba does not work. All Latin American countries have diplomatic relations with the island-state and it is thought that its inclusion in the new organisation would help promote political and economic change in Havana.

The ideological divide in the continent will not be solved by the new Community, but there are issues around which the continent can speak with a single voice, like supporting Argentina in its dispute with the UK over the Falkland Islands and helping Haiti in its reconstruction after the earthquake.

The following nations will be members of the new organisation: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Granada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, México, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, St Kitts and Nevis, San Vicente and Grenadines, Santa Lucia, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Telesur (Venezuela, Spanish)

RPP (Peru, Spanish)

El Tiempo (Colombia, Spanish)

El Universal (Mexico, Spanish)

Argentina: support from the region

altArgentina got unanimous support from the Latin American summit meeting in Cancún for its stance over the British decision to explore for oil in the waters surrounding the Falkland Islands. The CALC meeting issued a statement supporting Argentina in its claim to sovereignty over the Islands and urged the United Kingdom to stop drilling.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made an unexpectedly harsh comment about the issue, demanding that the UN General secretary, Ban ki Moon, “reopens the debate” about the “the Malvinas [Falklands]”. He asked: “How does the UN explain [why there is no debate] about the issue? Would it be that England [sic] as a permanent member of the Security Council is able to do anything it wants?”

Lula said that it is unacceptable “that the UN continues to have a Security Council that represents the interests that emerged from the Second World War, without taking into account changes in the world since then”.

This will be a boost for Argentina’s diplomatic offensive, on the eve of a trip by Argentinean Foreign Minister, Jorge Taiana, to New York, where he will meet the UN General Secretary. Despite the fact that the Argentinean President, Cristina Fernández, had left the summit early, she got what she was looking for: unanimous regional support.

Taiana will ask Ban to request a mandate from the General Assembly to force the United Kingdom to sit down and negotiate.

The support from the region, however, was not straightforward. Dominica and Belize, two countries with close links with the UK, were not happy with the statement but Taiana convinced them to join other Caribbean countries, like Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, that are close to London and, even so, supported Argentina.

La Nacion (Argentina, Spanish)

Clarin (Argentina, Spanish)

Cuba: dissident dies after hunger strike

altAfter 85 days on hunger strike, Cuban political dissident Orlando Zapata (pictured) died in a clinic in the capital, Havana.

Elizardo Sánchez, president of the Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission, had warned some days ago that Zapata’s health was deteriorating. Speaking after his death, he said that the authorities took Zapata to hospital when it was too late to save his life and that his death “could have been avoided”.

Orlando Zapata, who was 42 years of age, was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2002.

The Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission, whose activities are illegal but tolerated by the Cuban authorities, claims that there are at least 200 political prisoners in various jails in the island. Several dissidents have been released since Raul Castro took over as leader of the Cuban revolution.

BBC News

El Pais (Spanish)


Mexico: recovery after economic recession

altMexico is slowly coming out of recession, after the economy registered a fall of 6.5% in 2009. In fact, this was better than had been widely expected, for many observers had predicted that the economy would decline by more than 7% last year.

Although signs of economic recovery were apparent in the last three months of 2009, GDP continued to experience a slight decline. However, exports started to increase in December and the manufacturing sector registered a rise in output.

El Universal (Mexico, Spanish)

Banamex (Mexico, Spanish)


Venezuela: proposals to save energy

altVitalis, a respected environmental organisation, has issued a serious warning about the need to save electricity in order to tackle the serious energy crisis that has caused blackouts in the capital, Caracas (pictured)

The organisation believes that various different factors are responsible for the current crisis: cyclical fluctuations in the weather, lack of investment and the illegal use of electricity. Vitalis believes that it is essential to mobilise the population in a national drive to resolve the crisis.

Vitalis suggests that households take a stock of all their electric appliances and make a plan to reduce their use by between 10 % and 30% a month. It also proposes that public buildings, where large quantities of electricity are wasted, use natural light whenever they can, install fluorescent bulbs and reduce their use of hot water.

Vitalis believes that the benefits for families will be two-fold: they will help solve the national crisis; and they will save money in their monthly bills.

Círculo Ambiental (Venezuela, Spanish)

Vitalis (Venezuela, Spanish)

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