CELAC Summit in Cuba, the Challenges of Regional Integration

Havana is ready to welcome the Heads of State of Latin American and the Caribbean for the CELAC Summit.

Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — The Presidents of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) meet in Havana Jan. 28-29 and, paradoxically, the meeting coincides with the 50th anniversary of the mass breaking off of diplomatic and economic relations of countries in the region with Cuba.

“It’s very symbolic ,” says Luis Suarez, a Cuban specialist in Latin America. He explains that “the restoration of relations with all nations of the region and the presence in this gathering of their Heads of State demonstrates clearly that the US failed in its policy of isolating us.”

To continue with the symbolism, coming to the event as a guest is the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza. It will be the first official visit by a senior official of that entity to Cuba after his expulsion in 1962.

“It is the first time in 200 years, the countries of Our America founded an organization at this level without being convened by the United States or Europe.”

Suarez points out that, despite this, Cuba “was the first country in Latin America that included the goal of integration in its Constitution. That vocation comes from the war for independence, when we had the support of citizens of several countries on the continent.”

He explains the magnitude of the CELAC noting that “no other entity in the history of the region has joined so many nations,” adding that “it is the result of the existence of leftwing governments that seek to solve social problems and achieve more autonomy. In another context this would have been very difficult.”

Suarez said “the worst external and internal enemies of the CELAC are those who do not want us to have an organization of our own that allows us to reach out to the world with an consensus position. And the closest is the U.S. Pan-American policy.”

Social policies of CELAC

Suarez believes “the future of the regional organization will depend on the political consensus achieved for concrete actions that reach the ordinary citizen, in areas such as health or education, for example.”

Luis Suarez “No other body in the history of the region has joined many nations” as CELAC.

In these and other subjects, such as coping with natural disasters, Cuba could play a key role. “The country has a vast experience in these areas and also has the necessary human resources to support such initiatives.”

“We even have a Latin American School of Medicine for Latin Americans; the Operation Milagro eye treatment program that has restored vision to millions of people of the continent, and we created the literacy teaching method “Yes I can” that has taught more than 3 million persons read and write,” explains Suárez .

The agenda of the Havana summit falls squarely on social issues but it remains to be seen what agreements are reached and which governments join them, because their application is not mandatory, “because CELAC is just a mechanism for dialogue and intergovernmental cooperation.”

It also aims to declare Latin America a “Zone of Peace”, an agreement that the Cuban specialist considered “extremely important because it implies that governments undertake to seek political and negotiated solutions, avoiding the use of force in the region.”

“The future of the regional organization will depend on political consultations that are achieved for concrete action to reach the ordinary citizen with social action.”

Furthermore, CELAC “can prevent others from using our conflicts to divide us, as they have done many times in the past.” If such an accord is reached it remains to be seen what would happen with the foreign military bases that exist today in Latin America.

Suarez believes that to achieve greater practical effectiveness CELAC should “integrate regional institutions such as SELA, the Latin American Economic System, ALADI, the Latin American Energy Organization, dedicated to integration, the Pan American Health Organization, and ECLAC.”

He explains that “the institutional map of cooperation and integration is a swarm of interlocking agreements, overlapping and sometimes conflicting. The great contribution of CELAC is that everyone could now converge in the same forum.”

Luis Suarez reminds me that with the establishment of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States “is the first time in 200 years, the countries of the Americas founded an organization at this level without being convened by the United States or Europe.”
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.

14 thoughts on “CELAC Summit in Cuba, the Challenges of Regional Integration

  • I have been to a neighborhood meeting in Centro Habana I heard better political discourse than in any city council meeting in my neighborhood in California.

  • No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver, hay una obsesión con Fidel que no les deja ver el bosque por los arboles. En Miami estan esperando las noticias del deceso de Fidel para hacer otra fiesta, creo que han tenido como 4 fallidas por los rumores.

  • Free like in the US after Citizens United? Look keep on dreaming Cuba’s socialism with some changes (more than the US will change with its rampant inequality, poverty and crime) will be around for another decade of US presidents.

  • Probably from someone like his wife, who actually lived the reality and not the printed propaganda

  • Poder Popular states that to become a candidate for the municipal assembly a person need only be nominated by a member of his/her would-be constituency and seconded by another .
    Where did you get YOUR information on the electoral process ?

  • AC is technically correct. The principles of Poder Popular are quite clear on this and while PP rules are followel d, many processes have been de-democratized by the bureaucracy that has developed from the pressures of a country under siege .
    Canadian author Arnold August’s “Democracy In Cuba: The 1997-98 Elections ” is a valuable primer and contains both a very complete description of PP and the history of Cuban political movements over the years.
    It is must reading for those who would understand both how the very democratic PP was set up and in what fashion it has been undermined since its inception. .

  • My bet is that Fidel Castro will not attend the meeting having retired some six years ago, a fact that remains unacknowledged by a stubbornly and willfully ignorant handful.
    The U.S has a corporate media which is 95% owned by about six mega-corporations and which is totally supportive of U.S imperialism and capitalism: the driving force behind U.S. imperialism .
    This is typical of all the capitalist countries where no major media outlets are owned by socialists or communists and only the very rich who certainly have a one-sided agenda.
    Granma and Juventud Rebelde are one-sided as well but no worse in their lies of omission than are the corporate/capitalist medias elsewhere in the hemisphere.
    Free and open elections likewise are a joke when the very rich own/control most politicians and parties in most capitalist countries .
    Multi-party elections are not only no guarantee of free and fair elections but a distinct barrier to the direct democracy that they suppress.
    They are, literally, the unelected dictatorships of money.
    “People residing in brittle and transparent edifices should refrain from the hurling of geological specimens. “

  • Comprehension skill… isn’t that hard. Not a single thing you said makes my statement less true; their electoral process is still technically open, free and democratic. An utterly pointless exercise in meaningless democracy since the elected people for the most part have a decorative role, but the process itself is democratic.

    Read my reply to Moses below, the problem with Cuba is not the electoral process, is that the end result of said process is meaningless because the National Assembly is completely useless and their inaction allows the government to run unchecked.Until the National Assembly grow some balls and starts doing its job instead of simply rubberstamping the stuff coming downstream twice a year, their claims of a legitimated government democratically elected will hold water.

    As for your last point, I do understand that you did not like the political system in your country, but at lease you should try to understand how things are supposed to work.

    In the case of the cuban elections, popularity is meaningless, because the ones that nominate and vote at the base level are your immediate neighbors. THOSE know the person quite well and have their own reasons to NOT vote for them.

    From that point on, there is no more direct nomination from the people, the representatives voted at the previous level chose the candidates for the next level and the people is simply asked to confirm the result (aka, vote for all)

    Also, notice that campaigning is forbidding in Cuban elections, and the media has no influence whatsoever in the popularity of the individual candidates (actually its only role is to show a small clip of the MP nominated to the national assembly and ask th people to vote for all to “defend the revolution”)

  • You can’t be serious! Politics is a non-existent activity in Cuba. Unless ABSOLUTE POWER held by an elite of aging former freedom-fighters and imposed onto a mass of apathic, indifferent, cynical, hypocritical, desempowered and politically ignorant non-citizens, like my self, can be called political activity. I have lived there all my life and the electoral system is the biggest joke; the elections are nothing but a charade that is being criticzed by marxist tolerated authors like philosopher and politologist Julio César Guanche, the Constitution is plagued by ideological conditioning of rights, people go to cast their vote like zombies and they only reason they participate is because Big Brother is watching through the eyes of CDR informers. The only thing that I find more depressing than the materialistic consumerist society created by capitalism and the reality shows is Cuba’s Asambleas de Rendición de Cuenta, where the ‘freely’ elected delegate tells people off like if they were little kids for not having payed for the chinese rice cookers delivered by the bevelovent State five years ago and where people complain about tremendously political matters such as the portions of pork meat sold at the government-run market not being well-shaved (now, that is voicing your citizenship!). All this, from 8:30 to 9:00 if possible, so that people can be brain-washed by Noticiero Nacional de Televisión before the meeting, and then, after the meeting, inhale the opium of the Brasilian soap-opera. As for the huge impopularity of government opponents; they are hardly known by the people and to be truly impopular you need to have the chance to make yourself so, instead of being made impopular by the governmet-run media.

  • Nope, no letter involved from the CDR, much less from the employer (after all they have more than a few of high-schoolers elected every cycle). AFAIK they only need to be nominated and elected by their neighbors (typically one delegate every 200-400 people or a couple of blocks), then starting from there they need to carve the way upwards at the four levels of government (base, municipality, province and national assembly)
    In every step, the delegates from a lower level nominate the candidates to the next one and then the voters confirm the candidates as their representatives or not.

    The problem for the opposition is that they are well known amongst the neighbors and the general perception of them is not of freedom fighters, but as opportunists and hypocrites so they don’t have a chance to even get elected to the lower level. Also the system is rigged to carry a lot of inertia, so in order to actually get nominated and elected to the next level, they need the support of their fellow delegates and that is even more unlikely.

    Not to mention that they don’t seem particularly interested in participate in the political process by playing by the rules. After all, that would carry an implicit validation of the fairness of the electoral process that they don’t want because is better to be the victim of a totalitarian regime than a failure of a democratic process. At least to the eyes of their sponsors.

    The point is, you are barking to the wrong tree here. The issue with Cuba’s political system is not lack of democracy per se, but of the democratic institutions voluntarily choosing not to perform their role and unquestioningly conforming to the will of the political elite.

    The distinction is subtle but important, after all the best propaganda is the one that is true and they don’t lie when they claim that their system is truly democratic (even the claim that their system is more democratic than that of US is technically true. Not the whole picture of course, but nonetheless true)

  • AC, I have heard all that before. And it is technically correct. But in order to be nominated in the first place all aspiring Cuban politicians need a letter from their CDR and their employer. A non-PCC member like Yoani Sanchez would never overcome these initial qualifying hurdles. Cuba’s electoral process was patterned after the Soviet model and the same claims of being “democratic” were made about Soviet bloc elections. Today, no one is making the same claims today about that failed regime and we should not fall for the same hocus pocus in Cuba.

  • Not a concern from them, since their elections are technically free, open and democratic. Do you realize that the Cuban Communist Party is NOT an electoral party and anyone can get nominated and elected without been member of it?

    The only reason you don’t have opposition members at any level of government is that they are unpopular amongst the Cuban population, AFAIK nothing in the Cuban legislation prevents any of them from actively participate in the political process.

    What Cubans don’t have is direct nomination for president of the council of state (aka president), but that should not be a concern since the elected delegates, not the Communist Party are the ones doing the nomination and casting the vote.

  • It will get real uncomfortable in the conference room for the Castros when the first delegate brings up the motion of maintaining free and open elections. It should also be a little awkward for the hosts when the conversation turns to supporting independent media as well. The likelihood is that the agenda will be limited to noble but esoteric goals of eliminating hunger, eradicating illiteracy and reducing inter-regional conflict. Of course, Venezuela will make a motion to denounce the US embargo and Bolivia will second the motion. A group photo will then be taken and everyone will go home to business as usual.

  • Given the dictatatorial/anti-democratic veto power the hyper-powered U.S government exerts on any actions IT dislikes by any organization of states of which it is a member, it is important to establish and maintain organizations that specifically exclude the USA.
    This especially given the long-standing U.S. government foreign policy of intervening into the sovereignty of nations in the hemisphere which continues into the 21st century.

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