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LAC states create new regional bloc
José Antonio Zabalgoitia
Photo: Office of the President of Mexico
Latin American and Caribbean leaders gathered in Mexico on Feb. 22 and 23 for the Unity Summit, convened by President Felipe Calderón. The summit merged the 21st Rio Group Summit with the second Latin American and Caribbean Summit for Integration and Development (CALC). Twenty-six heads of state or government —the highest turnout ever for a regional meeting— participated in the meeting to discuss a unified agenda stemming from the rich and diverse thematic heritage of the Rio Group and from CALC’s mandates. It was also an important step in an endeavour to give rise to a unified, stronger and better co-ordinated Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region that can speak with one voice on the world stage.
The Declaration of Cancún released after the meeting demonstrated a broad regional consensus on main areas of concern such as the global financial crisis, democracy, development, energy, environment, human rights, infrastructure, natural disaster prevention and relief, public security and, notably, co-ordination and convergence among sub-regional institutions and mechanisms.
Creating a unified regional agenda under common goals and interests would have been a sufficiently significant achievement. However, the Unity Summit’s most significant result was the leaders’ historic decision to constitute the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.
This decision came after President Calderón initially proposed at the Santo Domingo 20th Rio Group Summit in 2008 to create a mechanism that could “be the foundation of a genuine conference of Latin American and Caribbean peoples.” It is, at the same time, the starting point in a process to define the nature of this Community, its capabilities and future characteristics.
It will most certainly give rise to a complex negotiation process, requiring both consistent political will from all states to bridge differences, as well as imagination and creativity to build a dynamic mechanism that effectively promotes LAC common interests. Fortunately, leaders have provided a blueprint to guide these negotiations in the Declaration of the Unity Summit.
First and foremost, this declaration stresses the need for LAC to have its own regional space in order to consolidate and project a shared identity. Several leaders noted at the Unity Summit that LAC was perhaps the only major region in the world that did not yet have its own forum. This situation highlights a need that is all the more pressing in a multilateral context where essential global issues are increasingly dealt with through regional group negotiations.
The Declaration of the Unity Summit establishes a direct link between the newly created community and both the Rio Group and the CALC, which provide it with basic values and principles, purpose and a core future agenda.
In this regard, the Rio Group’s two decades of experience in political co-ordination and confidence-building among LAC governments will be essential to provide self-designed solutions to manage the region’s own conflicts. Moreover, the Rio Group’s hard-earned commitment to democracy and to full respect and observance of human rights that is reflected in the Community’s founding text is also a key building block. In fact, the declaration states that “democracy is one of our region’s most valued conquests, that the peaceful transmission of power through institutional means and with strict compliance to the constitutional rules in each of our States is the product of a continuous and irreversible process on which the region admits no interruptions or stepping backward.”
The Community will also draw upon the Rio Group and CALC experiences in fostering co-ordinated actions and harmonization with the several sub-regional integration institutions and mechanisms in LAC. By establishing clear priorities, promoting communication and taking advantage of synergies, it is possible to achieve greater efficiency and proper allocation of scarce resources, and to avoid duplication of efforts by seeing convergence as a main long-term goal.
The Community will focus on developing and implementing LAC co-operation and sustainable development strategies, using the Rio Group and CALC agendas and mandates as starting points. At the Unity Summit, leaders took a significant step in committing to contribute to relief and reconstruction efforts in Haiti, and to co-ordinate LAC aid with international organizations based on the needs and priorities determined by the Haitian government.
In time, the Community should become the region’s most representative interlocutor vis-à-vis main international actors, other groups of countries and regional organizations. According to its founding declaration, its members will encourage this type of dialogue “in order to strengthen the presence of the region in the international arena.” In doing so, it will be able to promote “the Latin American and Caribbean agenda in global forums and better position Latin America and the Caribbean in the face of relevant international developments.”
The historic significance of the Unity Summit lies in this contribution to LAC’s institutional architecture. Once the Community has taken its final form, LAC’s voice and participation in the United Nations and other regional organizations will be strengthened. Likewise, it will be able to contribute more effectively to the attainment of the goals and objectives of these organizations.
The LAC region can benefit from a unified, stronger and better co-ordinated Community that advances toward development and engages responsibly in international affairs. This will allow Canada and other nations to work with a valuable and reliable partner, to co-operate, exchange viewpoints, share concerns and pursue common interests both in our hemisphere and on the world stage.
Ambassador José Antonio Zabalgoitia is Mexico’s National Co-ordinator for the Rio Group.