December 3rd 2010 was a historic day for Latin American countries. 33 countries gave birth to a new international organization, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños), in Caracas, Venezuela.
CELAC is a new regional forum which aims to integrate the region. It was born under the basic principles of respect for international law, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the prohibition of the use and threat of military force. There is currently an international organization that draws together American States, the Organization of American States (OEA), yet there is one major ingredient that differentiates it from the new institution. CELAC includes every country in the continent except for the United States and Canada. This has historical transcendence for all the countries located under the Rio Grande, because it gives them a mechanism for cooperation, integration and conflict resolution, especially on issues not properly addressed by the OEA. At the same time, it eliminates the power asymmetries in a forum where the USA has hegemonic power over Latin American nations. Nevertheless, CELAC says it aims to reorient and integrate the region without trying to substitute the OEA.
The Caracas Declaration, the founding declaration, established the action plan and released several communiqués. For instance, member countries denounced the US economic block against Cuba, affirmed the legitimate sovereignty of Argentina over the Falkland Islands, and discussed issues like the inclusion of small countries in the region, financial speculation, migrants’ rights, and solidarity for Haiti, among others. Still, there are a lot of issues to work on, like the procedure for decision-making. Nevertheless, each new forum will help resolve this issue and forthcoming ones. Next year, the forum will take place in Santiago, Chile, the country whose president, Sebastián Piñera, temporarily holds the direction of this institution.
The road is still long and unpredictable concerning the integration of a region that shares a common background but now faces many challenges. Nowadays, there is not such thing as political unity in the region, everyone is aware of the differences that have been expressed several times in open confrontations between the different Heads of State, and it is possible that this factor could negatively influence decision-making within the new organization. However, the opportunities for CELAC to become the major institution of the region are certainly larger.
Contributed by Natalia Santoyo.