BUENOS AIRES (HPD) — Under the call for greater regional integration and to defend democracy from the extreme right, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held its seventh summit in Buenos Aires on Tuesday marked by the reincorporation of Brazil into the forum and the ideological differences and political crises that afflict various South American countries.
When inaugurating the meeting with the representatives of 33 nations, Argentine President Alberto Fernández affirmed that “the time has come to make Latin America and the Caribbean a single region that defends the same interests.”
Fernández celebrated the return of Brazil to the political forum at the hands of its three-time president Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva after his predecessor, the right-wing Jair Bolsonaro, pushed the country away three years ago, alleging that it had become a stage that gave prominence to the leftist and “authoritarian” governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
“A CELAC without Brazil is a much emptier CELAC,” said Fernández.
The forum for political agreement was born in 2011 at the initiative of the then president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, to differentiate himself from the Organization of American States (OAS), questioned by him and other leftist leaders for his “alignment” with the United States.
Da Silva, a historic leftist leader who returned to power for the third time this month, arrived in Buenos Aires a day before the meeting with criticism directed at the Latin American right following the violent demonstrations by Bolsonaro supporters that occurred weeks ago at the headquarters of the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers of Brasilia.
In this regard, Fernández – a staunch ally of Lula in the region – warned that democracy is at risk after sectors of the extreme right “have stood up” in some countries and urged not to allow “the recalcitrant and fascist right to put the institution at risk.
“We saw it a few days ago when madness reached the streets of Brasilia… and also here in Argentina when someone tried to kill our vice president (Cristina Fernández de Kirchner),” Fernández said, referring to the frustrated attack on the Peronist leader on September 1 for which three young people are arrested and prosecuted.
The CELAC meeting occurs at a turbulent time in South America, also as a result of the protests by political dissidents in Peru and Bolivia, to which Fernández did not refer.
Peru has suffered a wave of protests after Pedro Castillo was ousted and jailed in December after dissolving Congress. Demonstrations to demand the resignation of his replacement, Dina Boluarte, have left more than fifty dead.
In Bolivia there have also been protests after the arrest of the opposition leader and governor of the province of Santa Cruz, the right-wing Luis Fernando Camacho, at the end of December.
Fernández urged “respect ourselves in diversity” in reference to the criticism that the participation of the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba in the meeting arouses among the Argentine opposition. “All those who are here have been chosen by their peoples,” said the president.
He also urged to “raise the voice” against the economic blockades that the United States applies to Cuba and Venezuela for being “a perverse method” against the peoples.
As is his custom in each regional forum, the president of Uruguay, Luis Lacalle Pou, called for putting aside ideological discussions and moving forward with trade agreements that improve the quality of life of the countries of the region.
“Isn’t it time to open up these relations and for CELAC to promote a free trade zone between our countries? From Mexico to southern South America. Can’t we move forward in that sense?”, raised the center-right Uruguayan president. “Many of our economies are complementary. I’m sure we could make progress in that direction.”
“Let us practice with action what we say in our speeches. In order for this type of forum to subsist over time, they have to generate hope and this is generated on the path traveled, ”he said.
For his part, the President of Chile, Gabriel Boric, called on his peers “to establish shared responsibilities in the face of migratory flows.”
“We cannot respond individually. We have to tackle it together, regionally,” she insisted. And he proposed “reactivating during the first semester of this year the CELAC meetings on migration, which have been paralyzed for several years.”
While Colombian President Gustavo Petro called for strengthening the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights. “Why are popularly elected presidents in prison today instead of being at this table?” he demanded.
Petro stressed that he recently invited Maduro to re-enter that system and invited a “democratic pact in which the right and the left do not believe that when they come to power it is to physically eliminate their opponent… In Latin America there does not have to be a single political prisoner”.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz Canel participates in the meeting. His Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, withdrew amid requests from Argentine opponents to be detained for the arrest warrant against him in the United States for alleged drug trafficking and sent his foreign minister.
The president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, did not attend either and sent representatives of his government.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, president of Mexico -another country of great weight in the continent- did not attend the summit claiming that he has commitments but sent a message.
The Mexican president justified Maduro’s absence from the meeting because, according to what he said, “Argentina’s belligerent right had prepared a media show” and “provocations must be avoided.”
For the first time, the 33 CELAC countries attend a summit represented by their presidents or envoys.
Among the leaders participating in the summit are also Luis Arce (Bolivia), Xiomara Castro (Honduras) and Mario Abdo Benítez (Paraguay).
Meanwhile, the government of the United States -invited to the meeting although it is not a member of CELAC- is represented by the special presidential advisor for the Americas, Christopher J. Dodd.
The government announced that the Buenos Aires Declaration will be defined during the summit, which has 100 points of consensus and 11 special declarations, also all by consensus.
HPD journalists Débora Rey, María Verza and Astrid Suárez contributed to this story.