US and Canada are odd men out at CELAC meeting in Cuba

Leaders of 33 Latin American and Caribbean CELAC countries meet in Havana, Cuba and declare the region a "zone of peace."

Representatives of the 33 member nations of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), with a combined population of some 600 million, met for a two-day summit in Havana, Cuba on January 28 and 29 to discuss regional issues including, greater integration, inequality, poverty and national security. 

The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inaugurated CELAC as a counterweight to US influence and an alternative to the Washington based Organization of American States (OAS) in Caracas in December 2011 and it expressly excludes the USA and Canada.

The meeting took place against a backdrop of waning US political and economic influence in the region and a new dawn of cooperation among the countries in the region, determined to speak with one voice where possible, and manifestly in solidarity with Cuba.

Cuba's hosting of the CELAC summit highlighted the failure of the decades old US policy to isolate Cuba which celebrated the 55 anniversary of the Cuban revolution last month and showed Latin American and Caribbean states fully support regional integration with Cuba.

The presence of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the secretary general of the OAS, Chile's José Miguel Insulza, as an observer,  showed the increasing importance of CELAC and the increasing irrelevance of the OAS.

The US got the OAS to exclude Cuba in 1962 for its "incompatible" Marxist-Leninist ideology and, by the end of that year, all countries in the CELAC region, with the exception of Mexico, cut ties with Cuba. Now, although the OAS annulled it exclusion of Cuba, Cuba has no interest in re-joining a group it sees as increasingly irrelevant.

Ironically, it is the United States is facing growing isolation in Latin American and Caribbean affairs. In a recent United Nations vote to repeal the US embargo against Cuba, only Israel voted with Washington. The vote count was 188 to two. 

The United States faces further isolation as the EU is set to start revising its relationship with Cuba based on improvements in human rights.

Furthermore, the meeting occurred amid a backdrop of tension and economic competition between Latin American countries and the US over the US spy agency NSA spying on Latin American leaders, most notably, Dilma Rusoff of Brazil.

The near insolvency of Puerto Rico, which is fully integrated into the US economy, must have heightened skepticism as to whether the status quo of economic relations with the US can improve development prospects in the region.

The waning economic influence of the US in region is marked by the absence of US  lead involvement in major existing and proposed projects such as the widening of the Panama canal, the proposed new canal to be built in Nicaragua, and the proposed transportation hub in Jamaica.

As if to dramatize the weakening US economic position in the region, Dilma Rusoff inaugurated a newly modernized deep-water seaport at Mariel (of Mariel boatlift fame), funded by Brazil at a cost of US$957 million.

CELAC previously declared its intention to access membership of the BRIC bloc of five major countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, in order to access the so-called BRICS bank being created by the five countries to address the special needs of poor and developing countries.

Now CELAC adopted a statement announcing the establishment of a China-CELAC Forum.

The meeting culminated with a 16-page declaration which declares the region a "zone of peace," committed to resolving difference through dialogue.

It called for an end to five decades of economic sanctions against Cuba, and firmed the "inalienable right" of every country to chose its own political system. And, as if to tweak the US and its allies, there was also an expression of solidarity with Argentina's territorial claim to the Falkland Islands, or The Malvinas as they are called by Argentina, and criticism of the "colonial status" of Puerto Rico.

In response CELAC's declaration, a U.S. State Department official stated:

“We are disappointed that the CELAC, in its final declaration, betrayed the region’s outspoken commitment to democratic principles, as it endorsed the single party system in Cuba.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, speaking on Cuban Television  rejected the U.S. statement, saying, “(The U.S.) expresses bitterness. They are defeated…let them swallow their declaration! They will be bitter and disappointed for the rest of the 21st century.”

Sources include: Jamaican observerCouncil on Hemispheric AffairsThe Diplomat,  Venezuela AnalysisTELAM Caribbean News Now