L.A. Flexes Independence from US


Hugo Chavez, Raul Castro, Felipe Calderon, upper row  Evo Morales, Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva and Michelle Bachelet (photo from Juventud Rebelde newspaper)
Hugo Chavez, Raul Castro, Felipe Calderon, upper row Evo Morales, Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva and Michelle Bachelet (photo from Juventud Rebelde newspaper)

HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 17 (IPS).- A motion calling for an end to the United States embargo against Cuba accentuated the anti-imperialist tone taken on by the summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders that ended Wednesday in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil, a tourist resort in the northeastern Brazilian state of Salvador de Bahia.

The motion, approved by all of the countries of the region, including several that have conservative governments which are allies of Washington, like Colombia and Mexico, came on top of other resolutions adopted in the four meetings of regional leaders held Tuesday and Wednesday, which marked a distance from, or even regional opposition to, the United States.

Bolivian President Evo Morales went so far as to suggest that a deadline be set for the new U.S. government to lift the embargo in place against Havana since 1962, and that if it isn’t met, the countries of the region should expel the U.S. ambassadors.

“It is a question of solidarity with the country that has shown the greatest solidarity with the people of the world,” argued Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who hosted the summit, argued that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama should be given time to demonstrate what changes would be included in his government’s policies towards Cuba and the rest of the region.

The 20 presidents and prime ministers who showed up and the representatives of the remaining 13 countries of the region also approved a statement on the “Islas Malvinas question,” urging Britain to renew negotiations on the islands off of southern Argentina, in compliance with United Nations resolutions.

The Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, a British overseas territory, have long been claimed by Argentina.

The approval of the creation of a South American Defense Council at Tuesday’s Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) summit [which took place in the framework of the Integration and Development summit] was another assertion of regional autonomy in a continent with a heavy U.S. military presence and U.S. bases in several countries.

The Council will not be involved in operational questions, but will focus on training, exchange and cooperation, even in the defense industry, explained Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, who added that it would help bolster trust among armed forces in the region that have been caught up in border conflicts in the past.

Objectives outlined by the UNASUR decision include the consolidation of South America as a peace zone, building a South American identity in terms of defense, and strengthening regional cooperation. The Council will be made up of the member countries’ defense ministers.

The spirit of the “second independence” of the region, as expressed by a number of leaders, was also reflected in the decision by the Rio Group, a regional policy-coordinating body, to hold a special summit, in which it welcomed Cuba as its 23rd member.

That decision helps offset Cuba’s exclusion from the Organization of American States (OAS), which it was kicked out of in 1962 in a motion promoted by the United States.

The Rio Group, born from the Contadora Group which acted as a peace-broker in armed conflicts in Central America in the 1980s, has played that role recently when conflict loomed, for instance in March this year between Colombia on the one hand, and Ecuador and Venezuela on the other, over the Colombian counterinsurgency bombing raid in Ecuadorian territory.

Incorporating Cuba makes sense because of the influence it could wield with left-wing forces in possible peace talks, but also because its dual Latin American and Caribbean status gives it an important role in integration with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

This was emphasized by the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, who praised Cuba’s solidarity in sending medical and teaching personnel to many countries of the region and to Africa.

The Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc agreed to tariff exemptions on imports of 30 million dollars’ worth of Bolivian textiles and other products which the United States has stopped buying – another measure that goes against U.S. interests and positions in Latin America.

The U.S. decision to suspend preferential tariffs for Bolivian goods arose as a result of the collapse of the bilateral agreement to fight drug trafficking. This year the Bolivian government expelled U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and commenced talks with Brazil for cooperation in this area.

These measures put flesh on the discussions that were already predominant prior to the four summits held by the Mercosur, UNASUR, the Rio Group and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Even the ideas of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an integration initiative promoted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that has been joined by Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras and Nicaragua, had an impact.

The proposal for a “regional financial architecture” with a voluntary multilateral payment system in national currencies, advocated by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, was incorporated into the Latin America-Caribbean summit’s final declaration.