Latin American and Caribbean nations are to set up a new regional bloc of all the countries in the Americas, with the exception of the United States and Canada. The decision was formalized Tuesday at a regional summit of the so called Rio Group in the Mexican resort of Cancun.
The alliance will embrace 32 states and is seen as an alternative to the Washington-influenced Organization of American States (OAS), the main regional body set up in 1948 under US guidance as a means of combating communism in the region.
The new body will include Cuba, which was suspended from the OAS in 1962 because of its communist revolution, and last year rejected an invitation to rejoin.
It is the latest example of a decade-long drive within the Americas to deepen continental integration and lessen the once overwhelming influence of the US on politics and economies.
The formal foundation of what is provisionally to be called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States will not take place until a summit in Venezuela next year with President Hugo Chávez as host.
Although Chavez has been the most vocal lately, Brazil and the conservative president of Mexico have also pushed for the creation of the new body, arguing that the region’s developing nations need a separate organization to represent their interests on the global stage.
“It is time to realize the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean” Mexican president Felipe Calderón told the 24 heads of state at the summit.
Despite a flourishing of regional bodies in recent years – the Union of South American Nations was founded in 2008 under Brazilian guidance – the region has a poor record when it comes to integration. Despite strong linguistic and historical ties, trade and infrastructure links are poor, and its nations are prone to constant quarreling.
The Mercosur trade bloc of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay has stagnated in recent years, while in 2006 Chávez withdrew from the Andean Community of Nations after fellow members Peru and Colombia signed free trade agreements with the US.
Latin American leaders will work to diffuse tensions between Colombia and Venezuela after presidents Alvaro Uribe and Hugo Chavez, got into a shouting match and exchange of insults at the Rio Group summit in Mexico.
Apparently Chavez told Uribe to “go to hell” during a closed-door lunch Monday evening after the Colombian leader called him “a coward” and told him to “be a man” at the unity summit of Latin American and Caribbean countries in Cancun.
What the Venezuelan president really said was “vete al carajo,” which can be politely translated as “go to hell.” A more closer translation, however, would be “go fuck yourself.”
Chavez said Tuesday that he regrets the “painful” argument.
Mexico President Felipe Calderon announced at the summit that a commission headed by Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez will work to facilitate better ties between the neighboring Andean nations.
“Latin American and Caribbean countries need a mechanism to solve differences,” Calderon told reporters. The group will include representatives from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.
Chavez accused Uribe of planning to assassinate him (having allegedly sent 300 paramilitaries into Venezuela) after Uribe said Venezuela imposed a trade embargo on Colombia last year, of the kind the US has imposed on Cuba for decades.
Chavez said in July he would end imports from Colombia as Uribe moved forward with an accord giving the US greater access to military bases to help fight drug trafficking and Marxist guerrillas. Chavez said the agreement sets the stage for the US to invade Venezuela.
Colombian exports to Venezuela, traditionally its second- biggest trading partner, dropped 34% last year, according to Colombia’s statistics agency.
“The countries agreed to talk about their differences through fruitful dialogue, and they committed to building the conditions that make this possible with the support of a group of countries that are friends of Venezuela and Colombia,” Calderon said.
The two South American neighbors have agreed not to make any more “offensive” statements as they work to solve their disputes, reported Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez.
Members from both delegations confirmed the “full blown” incident which was stopped with the direct intervention of the host Mexico’s Calderón, and Cuba’s Raúl Castro at his first Rio Group summit.
The mutual accusations of “trade embargo” and “killing attempts” came to a critical point when Uribe demanded respect from Chavez for he would never be involved in any “killing plot.” At this point Chavez threatened to leave the luncheon and the summit and Uribe then challenged his peer: “be a man, because you like insulting at a distance, and when we are face to face you don’t want to talk”
“Go to hell” was Chavez reaction. It was then that other leaders intervened recalling it was a “unity” summit.
The new Latin American and Caribbean bloc planned without regional neighbors Canada and the United States are consistent with US goals for the region, a State Department spokesman said Tuesday
“We think it’s a good thing when countries in the region come together, to talk about how they can cooperate more effectively. And this can take place in many regional forms,” Philip Crowley told reporters about the plans agreed by Latin American and Caribbean leaders in the Mexican beach resort of Cancun.
“We consider the meeting in Mexico as consistent with our goals for the hemisphere.”
The new group has been described as an alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS), which includes the North American neighbors and has been the main forum for regional affairs in the past half-century.
On Monday, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela said the United States did not see the new grouping as a problem as long as it was not an effort to replace the Washington-based OAS.
Bitter Washington foes presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Bolivia’s Evo Morales have said the new bloc would allow the region to act without interference from the “imperialist” United States.
Further details of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States mechanism, including its definitive name, are to be decided at a meeting in Caracas, Venezuela, July 2011.