Latin American leaders call for ‘strengthening’ regional integration

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Meeting in Buenos Aires on Tuesday at the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, around 15 leaders, including the new Brazilian President Lula, called for “strengthening” regional integration in the face of threats from the far right. on their institutions.

Fifteen heads of state and governments of Latin America, gathered at a summit in Buenos Aires around the Brazilian ghost Lula, were summoned on Tuesday January 24 to “strengthen” regional integration, to counter threats to their institutions, such as the assault that targeted places of power in Brasilia in early January.

“Brazil is back in the region”, launched its president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at the VII summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac, 33 member countries), which the South American giant formally reinstated, three years after Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right ex-president, released him.

“Brazil is ready to work side by side with all of you,” continued the 77-year-old left-wing leader, who three weeks into his third term (after two from 2003 to 2010) had chosen his neighbor and ally , Argentina, and Latin America for its first international release.

Over the past 48 hours, Lula has pledged to relaunch integration in all directions “bilaterally, in Mercosur, in Unasur, in Celac”. Citing a customs union (Mercosur, with Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) recently on the verge of tearing, and a moribund “South American Union” (Unasur) created in 2008 on his initiative and that of the Venezuelan Hugo Chavez.

Lula 2023 and Latin America, back to the future? Not exactly. Calls for regional integration were accompanied in Buenos Aires by warnings, in light of threats to institutions, such as the Bolsonarist assault on seats of power in Brasilia on January 8.

The Brasília Syndrome

“We cannot allow a recalcitrant and fascistic ultra-right to jeopardize the institutions of our peoples,” said the host president, Argentinian Alberto Fernandez (center-left). “Democracy is clearly at risk”, with “sectors of the ultra-right which have recovered”, he added, citing in particular the “madness of Brasilia”, or the attack against the vice-president Argentina Cristina Kirchner in September. “We must strengthen the institutions of our region (…) convert our words into institutions and deeds, make integration a reality”, continued Alberto Fernandez.

Created in 2010 at the initiative of Lula in particular, Celac is a forum for dialogue and cooperation, not a regional integration body with binding deliberations. Over time, his voice has struggled to be united or to weigh, still to this day in crises on the continent, as currently in Peru.

“Latin America is bankrupt from the institutional point of view (…) It has not succeeded in integrating collectively into the world”, diagnosis for AFP Ignacio Bartesaghi, expert in International Relations and regional integration of the Catholic University of Uruguay.

Nevertheless, the final declaration of the summit on Tuesday “affirmed the commitment of CELAC members to move forward with determination on an integration process”.

At the very least, Celac “remains a vast and heterogeneous space of Latin American countries from which minimal agendas or common interest for the region can be established”, admits Bernabé Malacalza, analyst in International Relations at the Center Argentinian National Research Center Conicet. And it remains the reference regional interlocutor of China, or of the EU, on cooperation agendas.

“Ideological Club”, until when?

But the last EU-Celac summit dates back to 2018… even if the two parties committed at the end of 2022, at ministerial level, to aiming for a bi-regional summit in 2023, when Spain will have the EU presidency, in the second semester.

Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou also urged his Latin American counterparts to “take action” towards integration, proposing a free trade zone that would go “from Mexico to the south of South America”.

Lacalle Pou, one of the rare centre-right presidents in a summit leaning noticeably to the left, warned of Celac-type forums that “if they want to continue, they cannot keep this character of a club of ideological friends”. And he called for getting rid of “a hemiplegic vision” on violations of human rights or institutions, with clear reference to the regimes of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. Of the three, only Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel was present and will have heard, for the umpteenth time, the region calling for the end of the American embargo on the island.

After this reconstructed Latin American family photo, Lula, whose diplomacy intends everywhere to “rebuild bridges” post-Bolsonaro, will turn to other strategic meetings: Washington on February 10, and China “after March”.

With AFP

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