Two recent events have activated the possibility of relaunching Latin American and Caribbean cooperation and coordination, so neglected during the last five years: Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) speech during the meeting of Foreign Ministers during the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and that of the newly appointed Foreign Minister of Peru, Héctor Béjar, during his inauguration at the Torre Tagle Palace in Lima, who recently made a 180-degree turn in Peru’s foreign policy.
Both speeches coincided in the rejection of blockades and embargoes imposed on some countries in the region, in the respect for the principles of non-intervention and self-determination of peoples and in the need to use integration platforms as political coordination bodies in various fields. Specifically, they pointed out that the Latin American region, unlike others, did not even outline common public policy guidelines or coordinate joint purchases of vaccines to combat the pandemic through existing regional cooperation mechanisms.
Unlike Latin America and the Caribbean, several Southeast Asian countries, the African Union (AU) – composed of 56 nations of different ideological creeds – and the European Union, jointly procured part of the vaccines and established some common public health criteria. The AU went further and took a unanimous position in support of the proposal by India and South Africa to temporarily suspend patents on vaccines against COVID-19 until an offer was made to provide the vaccines to the entire population within the framework of the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) forum.
In the last two years, Latin America and the Caribbean have demonstrated their disintegration. Thus, governments have allowed UNASUR to break up, former President Trump’s candidate, the American Mauricio Claver-Carone, to be appointed to the presidency of the IDB, the OAS to be complicit in a coup d’état in Bolivia, not to mention the tensions currently taking place in Mercosur. However, there is some light being shed by the President of Mexico, the change in foreign policy of the recently elected President of Peru, Pedro Castillo, and the possibility of the emergence of new leftist governments, which could shape a new scenario for cooperation and consensus-building in the region.
On July 24, at the CELAC Foreign Ministers’ meeting, President AMLO gave a historic speech in which he reviewed the struggle for independence and the ideal of integration of the nascent American nations of the liberator Simón Bolívar. “Not everything was easy in his struggle: he lost battles, faced betrayals and, as in every transforming or revolutionary movement, internal divisions appeared, which can do more than the battles against the real adversaries”, he pointed out, and concluded that the purpose of regional integration had not been able to become a reality.
He attributed part of this impossibility to the preponderant influence of the U.S. foreign policy in the continent. That government “has never ceased to carry out overt or covert operations against the independent countries south of the Rio Bravo,” he warned. There is only one special case, that of Cuba, the country that for more than half a century has asserted its independence by politically confronting the United States”. For that reason, he added, “the people of Cuba deserve the prize of dignity and that island should be considered as the new Numantia for its example of resistance, and I think that for that very reason it should be declared a world heritage site”. The president added that one can “agree or disagree with the Cuban Revolution and its government, but to have resisted 62 years without subjugation is quite a feat…even if my words provoke anger in some or many…”.
López Obrador called for saying “goodbye to impositions, interference, sanctions, exclusions and blockades, and to apply instead the principles of non-intervention, self-determination of peoples and peaceful settlement of disputes”. In that spirit, he went so far as to say that “the replacement of the OAS by a truly autonomous body, not a lackey of anyone, but a mediator at the request and acceptance of the parties in conflict, in matters of human rights and democracy, should not be ruled out”. A bold invocation, undoubtedly, in a scenario of growing conflict between the United States and China, in which the region is also the scene of this confrontation, as he also emphasized in his speech.
The substitution of the OAS mentioned by AMLO is a rhetorical figure that can be interpreted rather as its weakening through the strengthening of bodies such as CELAC and UNASUR, which have been relegated as spaces for political coordination to address the problems afflicting the countries of the region in terms of respect for human rights and democracy. It is these forums that are of greater importance and potential, since the prevailing differences in the options for insertion into the international economy of the member countries of subregional integration organizations -such as the Andean Community and even Mercosur- have brought down, or are about to bring down, the projects to build a common market or a customs union. Economic integration in the style of the European Union, adapted to our reality, as suggested by AMLO, is no longer a possible model, but this does not mean that these platforms cannot be used in the area of political cooperation and in a multiplicity of matters.
Peru’s foreign policy turnaround
The Peruvian Foreign Ministry, headed by Héctor Béjar, drastically changed the course of the country’s foreign policy. In his inauguration speech, the former guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN) during the 1960s, imprisoned for four years and released by General Juan Velasco Alvarado, outlined the guidelines that will govern it. He emphasized that a national, autonomous, democratic, social and decentralized diplomacy will be implemented. In other words, the foreign service will be functional to the social and economic requirements of the majority.
Peru once again considers the region and its integration organizations as spaces for political coordination and cooperation in the environmental, cultural, economic, health and other areas. It has announced that it will activate UNASUR and will withdraw from the Congress of the Republic the file sent by the government presided by Martin Vizcarra for the approval of Peru’s withdrawal from that entity. According to the Vienna Convention, the member countries of an organization created by an international treaty, as is the case of UNASUR, must be denounced by the Executive and approved by the Congress. This Brazilian initiative, created in 2008, was abandoned ten years later by six of its twelve members (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru) by indications of the Donald Trump administration, specifically Mauricio Claver-Carone, then White House National Security Advisor for Latin America. This was pointed out by former Peruvian Foreign Minister Rafael Roncagliolo.
With the disintegration of UNASUR, the supposedly de-ideologized “Forum for the Social Progress of South America (Prosur)” was created in April 2019, which duplicates several of its functions and has not had any protagonism. A month before, the former president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, gave the final blow to UNASUR by announcing his withdrawal. The day before, the IMF had approved a credit for 4.2 billion dollars.
UNASUR was born with a strong political profile, in which regional security played a key role. In its short history, it played a leading role during the crisis caused by the confrontations between the central government and the autonomous regional governments in Bolivia in 2008; in the consultations on the installation of U.S. military bases in Colombia in 2009; and in the attempt to oust President Rafael Correa in 2010. However, with the emergence of right-wing governments, UNASUR was no longer able to host the peace process in Colombia or the talks to reach an agreement between Nicolás Maduro and the opposition that would prevent the erosion of the rule of law in Venezuela.
Béjar also announced the new government’s intention to strengthen CELAC as a forum for political coordination, in line with the proposal of the President of Mexico. This could be consolidated, after Bolsonaro’s retirement, in January 2020, should Lula win the elections in October next year as predicted in the polls. In fact, the geopolitical reconfiguration of the continent in the face of the possibilities of Lula’s triumph next year, of Gabriel Boric, of the Frente Amplio in the November elections in Chile, of Gustavo Petro of the leftist Colombia Humana in May next year and of Lula in October 2022 augur new spaces for concertation in the region.
With the disintegration of UNASUR, the In other regional issues, the Foreign Ministry condemned “blockades, embargoes and unilateral sanctions that only affect the peoples” in clear reference to the economic crises that Cuba , Venezuela and Nicaragua are going through. The sentence of the Peruvian diplomatic representative came days after his U.S. counterpart, Anthony Blinken, “thanked Peru for its support regarding the Venezuelan crisis and expressed his hope that Peru will continue to play a constructive role in addressing the deteriorating situations in Cuba and Nicaragua”. This invocation took place on the occasion of his telephone communication to congratulate the new president of Peru, Pedro Castillo.
In the case of Venezuela, specifically, he said that he would limit himself to supporting a “democratic renewal” that seeks to safeguard human rights and an understanding of the various political tendencies, without intervening in its internal politics”. Although it did not officially announce its withdrawal from the Lima Group, the government will not recognize Carlos Scull, Juan Guaidó’s ambassador in Peru, since in December 2020 Guaidó ceased to be president of the National Assembly and, therefore, lost the umbrella under which he was recognized as interim president. From that moment on, the European Union only recognized him as an opposition leader. But as the United States continued to recognize him, so did Peru.
In that sense, the Peruvian government would join Argentina and Mexico, which no longer participate in the Lima Group, created in 2017 at the initiative of former President Trump, specifically John Bolton, in view of the impossibility of obtaining sufficient votes within the OAS to sanction Venezuela. It is worth noting the unprecedented fact that two members of the Lima Group were not in a position to give democracy lessons to any government: Honduras and Bolivia. The government of the former was elected in a very irregular process that led even Luis Almagro himself to say that these elections should be repeated. In the case of the Bolivian government, presided over by Jeanine Áñez, her appointment was the result of a coup d’état endorsed by the OAS.
Negotiations in Venezuela are now advancing in other ways. On August 5, the Mexican president announced that his country would host the negotiations to be held on August 13 between the opposition sectors and the Venezuelan government, with the mediation of Norway. These will take place in a framework in which the European Union, the United States and Canada agree on their willingness to “review the sanctions” imposed on Venezuela if there is “significant progress in a global negotiation” that repairs “the country’s institutions” and allows free elections. Indeed, the top representatives of U.S. diplomacy, Antony Blinken, Josep Borrell of the EU and Marc Garneau of Canada, signed a document on June 25 in which, in addition, they advocated a “peaceful solution” starting “from the Venezuelan people themselves” and channeled through Venezuelan political structures. These last points reveal an important change in approach with respect to the initial U.S. proposal during the Trump administration, when Mauricio Claver Carone, then White House Western Hemisphere security advisor and Elliot Abrahams, special envoy for Venezuela, considered in early 2019 that Juan Guaidó was the one who had to call elections in that country. For both, Maduro, was just another citizen of Venezuela and could only make that offer to the interim government. “We do not recognize Maduro as president and from our perspective he does not have the authority to call anything.”
The correlation of political forces in Latin America shows some lights of change, in the region. Likewise, the failure of Trump’s policy towards the region could determine, under the Biden administration, some changes in its relationship with the region.
Ariela Ruiz Caro is an economist from the Humboldt University of Berlin with a master’s degree in economic integration processes from the University of Buenos Aires, and international consultant on issues of trade, integration and natural resources at ECLAC, the Latin American Economic System (SELA), and the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean (INTAL), among others. She has been an official of the Andean Community (1985-1994), advisor to the Commission of Permanent Representatives of MERCOSUR (2006-2008) and Economic Attaché of the Embassy of Peru in Argentina (2010-2015). She is an analyst of the Americas Program for the Andean/Southern Cone region.