Ladies in White

Posted on Friday, 01.31.14

Summit in Cuba was mostly political tourism

Last week’s summit of Latin American leaders in Cuba was a textbook case
of political tourism and empty pledges, but something very good may have
come out of it — saving the four-country Pacific Alliance trade bloc.

The leaders of the Pacific Alliance — the ambitious trade bloc made up
of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile — held several bilateral meetings on
the sidelines of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries
(CELAC) summit in Cuba, and talked at length about the future of their
trade bloc.

What was especially important about these lateral meetings was that they
were also attended by Michelle Bachelet, the left-of-center
president-elect of Chile. Bachelet, who takes office on March 11, flew
to the Cuban summit at the invitation of Chile’s outgoing president,
Sebastian Piñera.

Before Bachelet’s trip with Piñera to Cuba, there had been serious
concerns about the future of the Pacific Alliance because of reports
that Chile will cool off its support for the group once Bachelet takes

First, there was the question of whether Bachelet will enthusiastically
back a regional group that was founded by her predecessor and political
rival. Second, Bachelet’s campaign platform has explicitly called for
Chile to downplay its activism in the Pacific Alliance, and promote
stronger ties with Brazil and other Atlantic coast countries.

But the bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the CELAC summit in
Havana may have helped the leaders of Mexico, Colombia and Peru persuade
Bachelet not to drastically diminish Chile’s active role in the Pacific
Alliance, well-placed officials who participated at the meetings in
Havana told me.

During separate talks with the leaders of Mexico, Colombia and Peru,
Bachelet received assurances that the Pacific Alliance is not a
pro-American bloc that wants to split Latin America in two, as some
other CELAC members claim. She was further assured that the Pacific
Alliance is not aimed against the region’s Atlantic coast countries.

Unlike other mostly ceremonial integration groups in the region, the
Pacific Alliance is all about business. Among other things, it is
creating a free trade area among member countries, establishing joint
trade offices in Asia and Africa, and creating a four-country common
stock market.

As for the larger, much-publicized CELAC summit, one just needs to read
its final declaration to realize it was a farce. The final declaration
says participating countries “ratify our irrevocable will…to
strengthen our democracies and all human rights for all.”

It’s no joke: they pledged to strengthen democracy and human rights at a
meeting presided over by Gen. Raúl Castro, a military ruler whose family
dictatorship has not allowed a free election, political parties or
independent media in 55 years.

What’s just as bad, they signed the declaration at the very same time as
the Cuban regime was rounding up hundreds of dissident leaders to
prevent them from holding peaceful demonstrations during the summit.

To his credit, Piñera met in Havana with Ladies in White opposition
leader Berta Soler. And Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla sent a
government delegation to meet with Cuban Human Rights Commission leaders.

The 70-point CELAC declaration was full of empty pledges to “continue
advancing” toward Latin America’s economic integration,” but without any
concrete steps to do so.

Sadly, there are now almost as many Latin American integration
organizations as countries in the region.

Despite these summits, Latin America continues to be one of the least
integrated regions in the world: only about 18 percent of Latin
America’s total trade is within the region, as opposed to 65 percent of
the European Union’s total trade, according to United Nations figures.

Why did Latin American presidents lend themselves to the CELAC charade?
Mexico and Brazil want to be well positioned diplomatically and
economically for the inevitable transition in Cuba. Other countries, in
light of Cuba’s recent measures such as allowing its people to travel
abroad, believe that it will be more effective to “accompany” the Cuban
regime toward greater changes than antagonizing it.

My opinion: It was pathetic to see Latin American presidents waiting in
line to appear in smiling pictures with Raúl and Fidel Castro. Many of
these leaders will regret these pictures when the Castro brothers die,
and the full extent of their human rights abuses comes to light.

If something good came out of the CELAC meeting, it may be things that
happened on the sidelines, such as the meetings in which Bachelet may
have been persuaded not to turn her back on the Pacific Alliance.

Source: Andres Oppenheimer: Summit in Cuba was mostly political tourism
- Andres Oppenheimer – –

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