The presidents of the member states of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) will meet in September for the first time since 2017. The community, which had been paralyzed for almost three years and was at risk of suffering the same fate as Unasur, or becoming a “zombie organization,” was revived when Mexico took over the presidency pro tempore in January 2020.
But the newly accumulated political capital could be depleted quickly if CELAC becomes an instrument of the political ambitions of Mexico and Argentina. The Argentine government has already declared its willingness to succeed Mexico and assume the pro tempore presidency of CELAC in 2022.
When the AMLO government took the lead, it decided to resurrect CELAC by focusing on issues of international cooperation and setting aside political differences. The strategy worked. Driven by the pandemic, the community, unlike other regional organizations that have not lived up to expectations, seized the opportunity to act in an area where it had not been active until then.
Relations between Mexico and Argentina
Relations between Mexico and Argentina, both with leftist governments, have tightened since the election of Alberto Fernández. In mid-June, when the OAS overwhelmingly condemned human rights violations in Nicaragua, both governments abstained. The two governments also share the criticisms of the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, whose re-election they were unable to prevent. And in early June, Mexican Chancellor Ebrard described Almagro as one of the worst secretaries in OAS history.
The Mexican government also took advantage of a meeting of Chancellors of Celac in Mexico City to launch a new Bolivarian project. To paraphrase Marx, it seems like history is repeating itself like a joke. On July 24, in the presence of the chancellors of CELAC, the Mexican government organized an event in honor of Simón Bolívar, which has nothing to do with the independence of Mexico, but which is now used to claim Mexican leadership. in the integration process. .
In its rush, the Mexican government forgets that the success of its pro tempore presidency is due to the fact that politically controversial issues have been deliberately ignored and its dominance of a cooperative approach in practical policy areas.
The Mexican President’s speech at the commemorative event produced air bubbles that could once again cripple the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, as has happened with so many other projects in the past. regional integration. AMLO raised the idea of replacing the OAS, which is politically controversial and unlikely to find consensus in Latin America.
In addition, he proposed to “build something similar to the European Union”, which is another example of purely declaratory regionalism. Creating a project comparable to the EU requires a solid economic base, and intraregional trade in Latin America hit its lowest point during the pandemic.
In addition, Mexico is economically disconnected from the rest of Latin America, so it takes a lot of fantasy to imagine it as the engine of an autonomous Latin American integration project. The FTA with the United States and Canada and economic dependence on the United States place strict limits on Mexico’s economic leeway. And the limits of US independence and solidarity with Latin American countries became evident when the Trump administration forced Mexico to limit migration flows.
Common values of a community
In addition, EU members share certain values such as a commitment to the protection of human rights and democracy. When democracy and the rule of law erode, as in Poland and Hungary, other EU members exert pressure to contain authoritarian tendencies.
On the other hand, the self-proclaimed leaders of the new Latin American integration project, Argentina and Mexico, defend silence in cases of violations of human rights and democratic norms with reference to the principles of non-intervention and respect for the self-determination. The Mexican president even sees Cuba, for its resistance against the United States, as “the new Numantia” and “the heritage of humanity”, but he does not mention social protests and police repression.
If we are malevolent, we can see symbolic significance in the fact that before tackling terrestrial issues, CELAC member countries first agreed to create a Latin American and Caribbean Space Agency (Aelc). But the right approach must be based on intensified cooperation on technical issues, in the health sector, on scientific and technological transformations and on measures to prevent natural disasters and protect the environment to mitigate climate change.
The political ambitions of Mexico and Argentina, its main ally, once again jeopardize the recent revitalization of Celac. This is all the more true when the revitalization of regional cooperation is accompanied by a cover-up of human rights violations in Latin America. Both countries seek to increase their international visibility without too much effort to distract from internal issues and, instead of directly confronting the United States, hide behind CELAC’s protective shield.
In view of the future pro tempore presidency of CELAC in Argentina, it is important to stress that it should be possible to cooperate on technical issues and openly criticize human rights violations and those who do not respect democratic standards. Only in this way can the states of Latin America and the Caribbean become a community of states, as Celac’s name suggests.
A community presupposes a basic consensus on common values, not only in declarations but also in practice.
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