At the end of July, López Obrador, the President of Mexico, addressed the foreign ministers of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), based on harsh criticism of the OAS, emphasizing the need to relaunch the organization for continental integration of Our America. His position was supported from multiple angles and by different actors. We will try here to expand some elements raised in the recent article by Yunus Soner published recently in this web site. Can CELAC confront and take the OAS out of play? What would that mean? What does it take? Let us also look at some recent precedents and cast a critical light on what it would mean to do so, and what is needed to make it happen.

CELAC 2021

CELAC groups all the countries of the Americas, except for the United States and Canada. The twenty-first Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the 33 countries that make up CELAC took place in the framework of a process of reactivation of regional integration mechanisms and the reconfiguration of new balances– in this case, driven by Mexico from the presidency pro tempore, and the slow consolidation of progressive governments. Argentina ran for the next presidency (2022), and apparently has the required support (Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela). The election will take place at the next summit of presidents, to be held next month.

In his speech, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, AMLO, put on the table a prime factor for the political situation of the continent. He made it clear that the OAS is a “lackey body” that depends on and works for the interests of the US; that the OAS does not have the continental integration the American peoples need, especially in the times of crisis that we are experiencing. AMLO proposed that in the continent there should be an integral articulation between the nations, founded in cooperative relations for the development and well-being of all the peoples of the region, respect for the non-intervention, self-determination, and peaceful settlement of disputes principles. None of this is what the OAS stands for or does. Not today, nor in its entire history. AMLO stated that progress should be made with CELAC, in accordance with our history, our reality and our identities.

Alberto Fernández, Argentina’s president, declared that the OAS and Almagro, its Secretary General, have acted as a “gendarmerie squad to destroy popular governments.” Fernández recently said at a Puebla Group summit that during Donald Trump’s government, the OAS served to further disunite the region. The new Peruvian Foreign Minister, Héctor Béjar Rivera, maintaining cautious and controlled positions while they go through the beginning of the new Pedro Castillo government, nevertheless positioned himself as a critic of the OAS. He made it clear that Peru will, in the field of international relations, abandon the interventionist policy that the country had been having, and will remain “against sanctions and blockades.” For example, regarding the political situation in Venezuela, Béjar said that he will articulate with international allies who seek the understanding of the country’s internal actors while ignoring Guaidó.

Cuba is located in the same field (they are in process of full reincorporation into OAS); also Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and surely some other countries with less political weight. Brazil and Colombia wait in tension for the result of their respective presidential elections in 2022. They could definitely be a watershed. Let us remember that Lula continues to build his candidacy while Bolsonaro maintains a chaotic government, although he has the support of the main economic powers of the country. Chile, subsumed in a crisis that has been dragging on for several years, with the Constitutional Convention in process, and the presidential elections of November 2021, is the other crucial element to consider.

Monroe Doctrine vs Our American Drift

The CELAC Summit of Foreign Ministers was held on the 238th Anniversary of the Birth of the Liberator Simón Bolívar, to whom AMLO dedicated a large part of his speech. The Mexican president recalled that North American imperialism began to operate decisively on the continent in 1822, while Our American peoples were seeking to consolidate independence and decolonization. AMLO recalled that in October 1823, Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Monroe, suggested that “our first and fundamental maxim should be, never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe; our second: never to suffer Europe to intermeddle in Cis-Atlantic affairs”. Spain was on the way out. Great Britain too. Let’s add another defining phrase from Jefferson’s letter: “America, North & South, has a set of interests distinct from those of Europe, and peculiarly her own. she should therefore have a system of her own, separate and apart from that of Europe.” In December, Monroe delivered the famous speech outlining the doctrine that bears his name.

The North American vocation for power was emerging: the “exceptional nation” was ready to take the first resounding steps in the region as US imperialism. Its main aspiration: total control over the Western Hemisphere. Since then, its infinite human and natural resources will be considered by the US as the sage of its vital territory and food for its expansionism.

Speaking in further accordance with a dialectic approach, we must say that while this happens, imperialism reproduces itself in permanent struggle against another mythical and even more powerful figure, although more contradictory and more battered: the Our American peoples. While imperialism builds and consolidates power on a regional scale –be it in the 19th century or in the 21st century–, it is battling against a multitude of diverse popular drifts, native-original tendencies, rebellious experiences and indigenous struggles against conquest and colonialism; rebellions against slavery; independence, popular nationalisms, armed insurrections, popular resistance against neoliberalism, and the popular and progressive waves of post-neoliberalism.

Since US imperialism began its expansion maneuver on the continent, at the same time, the peoples of Our America began to resist while trying to build a nation. This dynamic continues to be the core conflict of the continent. To put it another way: it is the main contradiction, which also runs through all countries, in an open-ended story.

Chávez and Fidel vs the OAS

The most recent definitions put forward by CELAC must be considered in light not only of the disastrous record of the OAS: support and participation in all kinds of destabilization processes, coups, military invasions; economic, financial, or natural resource looting; repressions, dictatorships, all at the same time curiously supported by Washington. The record of its brightest antagonists must be recovered as well. Fidel Castro announced it as early as 1960 (First Latin American Youth Congress): The US has “the OAS as an instrument to prevent revolutions in America.” In an interview with the press on December 4, 1971, Fidel said: “that organism (the OAS) has been an instrument of imperialist penetration and domination in Latin America. Our position is that this body will have to disappear”. In a much more recent reflection suggestively entitled “Does the OAS have the right to exist?” (2009) he stated: “The OAS has a history that collects all the garbage of 60 years of betrayal of the peoples of Latin America.”

For his part, Hugo Chávez also left several clear ideas about the OAS. In May 2009, the Venezuelan President recalled that the OAS continued to be what Cuban Foreign Minister Raúl Roa baptized more than 50 years ago as “the gringo ministry of the colonies”. Commander Chavez wondered “When has the OAS spoken out about all the aggressions that Cuba has suffered? When has the OAS ruled on all the aggressions that Venezuela has suffered, including the 2002 coup?” He explained that the OAS is not useless at all: “no, it serves the interests of the empire, the hegemonic interests of world capitalism on this continent.” In June 2012 Chávez said: “If there are no changes there, we must end the OAS” and proposed “to create our mechanisms in these geopolitical spaces of unity, of integration that are being born”, while accusing the US and Canada of “trying to block the changes” that were occurring in the region.

It was precisely in Caracas where CELAC was born (2011). At that founding meeting, Chávez asked the presidents “How long are we going to be the backward, exploited and a sullied periphery? Enough is enough!” At the second summit held in Chile, January 2013, shortly after passing into eternity, the Bolivarian president said “CELAC is the most important political, economic, cultural and social union project in our contemporary history”, CELAC must be “the Nation of Republics”, paraphrasing Bolívar.

That is why retaking and strengthening CELAC would be a significant step. Its political and ideological burden is enormous. In its principles agreed and endorsed in the Declaration of Caracas 2011 entitled “On the Bicentennial of the Struggle for Independence Towards the Path of Our Liberators”, a position for autonomy, of popular and anti-imperialist base, is proposed. In that declaration we find the vindication of Toussaint Louverture, Simón Bolivar and all the liberators of America. It is inspired by the Amphictyonic Congress of Panama in 1826, a fundamental act of the doctrine of Latin American and Caribbean unity. The participation of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples in the independence struggles is highlighted, recognizing their moral, political, economic, spiritual, and cultural contributions in shaping our identities and in the construction of our nations and democratic processes. It asserts that the process of political, economic, social, and cultural integration must be carried out in a wise balance between the unity and diversity of our peoples, to guarantee the existence, preservation, and coexistence of all the cultures, races and ethnic groups that inhabit the countries of the region. The right of each nation to build its own political and economic system freely and peacefully is recognized within the framework of the corresponding institutions according to the sovereign mandate of its people. Its objective is to strengthen political, economic, social, and cultural ties based on a common agenda of well-being, peace, and security for the peoples. The horizon is to consolidate itself as a regional community. The tasks and demands that are imposed from there set the bar very high for the leaders of the region. The progressive wave underway, if it were to advance decisively in this direction, would end up turning into a revolutionary wave.

Post-pandemic challenge

If it is to advance in a similar integration, many of these elements must be deepened and the discursive line radicalized, both on the international and local scale; it’s necessary to unleash popular energy, just as Chávez did since he took office in 1998. Taking the OAS out of the game would necessarily imply being submerged in a process of confrontation with the local elites and imperialism. Are local governments prepared for that? There is a long way to go. Some governments are still ruling in instability or are transitional governments themselves. It will be necessary to reach new agreements with social sectors at the local level and inter-governments at the regional level, stop the processes of interventionism and aggression – annul the OAS – gather forces, and gain boldness.

CELAC should try to move from the level of declarations to the level of action. They must leave the testimonial positions forever. CELAC may become an instrument to strengthen the rest of the elements in the field of American international organizations– especially UNASUR and ALBA-TCP. Together, they could end up constituting a robust integration scheme, with a well-marked ideological imprint.

Although well portrayed in important areas and other discourses at the summit, neither Chávez nor Fidel figures were present at AMLO’s speech directly, nor was Venezuela. Such absences may be understood in tactical terms, so as not to feed unnecessary disruptions or to provide an easily accessible flank for imperial darts. It is in the strategic area that Fidel and Chávez must be taken up again. Replacing the OAS with CELAC means much more than forming or refounding an international organization, if that is to be an experience of integration as set out in the principles outlined above. To do so would imply being engaged in a revolutionary process in a continent where the Our American experience has Cuba and Venezuela of the twentieth and twenty-first century as fundamental pillars.

We will have to continue paying attention to some processes that are still in force: Biden continues the brutal policy of his predecessor Trump towards Latin America; sanctions and attempts to destabilize the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua persist. The threat of military invasion in many countries persists as latent. Imperialism has taught us that they will pursue their goals in any way, explore variants, reissue maneuvers, or create new ones to avoid the pitfalls that arise before their way. The history of US doctrines for the region, from the Monroe Doctrine to here, so they prove it.

In the eventual post-pandemic world, in the face of the constant failures of the right-wing, neoliberal, and conservative governments (which each time they regain state power, their governments leave more misery and more concentration of wealth), perhaps, this so called second progressive wave, may advance in another chapter of the continental experience based on the ideology of the Liberators of America. Now we are facing what appears to be the search for neutralization of the OAS, which is a main and urgent objective that can enable many other subsequent movements, in principle, to end interventionism. But none of this will be possible if the popular mass movement and its struggle fails to grow, to create new experiences, and to give rise to new leadership.

Facundo Escobar

Facundo Escobar is an argentinian anthropologist, journalist, researcher and  International Relations and Political History Professor at National University of La Plata (UNLP), Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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May 2024