Difficult Unity at the Summit in Havana / Orlando Freire Santana

celac-cumbreAt first glance, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is a laudable mechanism for consultation and integration of the nations located south of the Rio Grande. When it was founded in Caracas in December of 2011, under the leadership of Hugo Chavez, it was thought that it would foster unity among the 33 Latin American countries without the presence of the United States and Canada.

That unifying spirit that transcends the diversity of our region, is what the Cuban government is trying to bring to the Second Summit of the organization, which will be held in Havana on January 28-29. The hosts of this event, like the rest of the continent’s Chavista militant leftists on the continent, yearn for a united Latin American in the ideological environment of 21st Century Socialism, conducive to economic integration within — in the style of ALBA and Mercosur — which favor commercial relations of complementarity rather than competition, and that reject the so-called “neoliberal politics,” and above all that conceive the rivalry with the north through the compass of its foreign policy.

More precisely, the attitudes towards trade, economic integration, and the view of the United States, are some elements of diversity that could bury the consensus. Because a negligible portion of Latin Americans believe in the benefits of economic liberalism, competition, and openness to foreign capital. Also, they contemplate the United States and the European Union as suitable partners with whom to sign free trade agreements.

So it is not wrong to say that Latin America is divided into two halves: the integration of the left, represented by ALBA and Mercosur, and moreover the Pacific Alliance, which includes Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile, all committed to accessing economic growth and development in the context of the market and free trade.

If we examine the internals of each of these integrationist systems, we get an idea of their real potential. The weakest undoubtedly is the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA). Its existence depends solely on petrodollars from the Chavistas in Venezuela. That is, should Nicolás Maduro and his minions exit Miraflores Palace, the rest of the nations of ALBA would be left like shipwrecks in the ocean.

Mercosur, for its part — not taking into account the strong economies such as Brazil and Argentina — has cracks in its operation. Asymmetries between the small economies Uruguay and Paraguay and the two aforementioned are often spoken of. In addition, at the political level, the Paraguayan institutions have sometimes been out of tune in an environment marked by the leftist affiliations of the other countries involved.

The Pacific Alliance, with advantages

Thus, despite the followers of Castro and Chavez, the Pacific Alliance is now the most powerful integration mechanism seen in Latin America. Its four members, Chile, Columbia, Mexico and Peru, if they operated as one country, would be the sixth largest economy in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. They also account for 55% of the exports of the Latin American subcontinent.

At the same time, there have been many advances with regard to the free movement of people, as visa requirements have been eliminated for the travel of citizens within the alliance. On the diplomatic and consular side, this integration has enabled the opening of common embassies and consulates, allowing them to provide more effective services to the citizens of the Alliance. For example, the Declaration of Cali — the city where the 7th Summit was held in 2013 — led to an embassy shared by the four countries in Ghana, and an agreement between Colombia and Peru to share their embassy in Vietnam. And the Pacific Alliance is expanding: conditions have already been created for Costa Rica , Panama and Guatemala pass to become members.

Of course an integrationist effort such as the Pacific Alliance has unleashed the wrath of the Latin American far left. In the most recent meeting of the Forum of Sao Paulo, the Alliance was described as “an interventionist approach, opportunistic and anti leftist to attack the sovereignty of Latin American nations.”

The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has come to define it as “a geopolitical scheme of the United States to oppose the progressive and leftist governments of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Venezuela y Ecuador.”

So when the Havana Summit insists on fighting hunger and poverty, regardless of the apparent consensus, it is likely that each of the halves think of a different way to accomplish the charge. And while ALBA supporters and some of the Mercosur supporters need their leaders to remain in power forever, the Pacific Alliance  recommends alternating in public office, a key element for the rule of law.

Diario de Cuba, 22 January 2014, Orlando Freire Santana