Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Saturday urged Chile and Cuba to join him in a “troika” of core nations at the forefront of a new Americas bloc that excludes the United States and Canada.
“The troika has to immediately assume responsibility,” said Chavez, the driving force behind the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on the second and closing day of its inaugural meeting.
But the fledgling bloc was missing two of its biggest members — Argentina and Brazil, whose presidents Cristina Kirchner and Dilma Rousseff both left early on Saturday, with the latter appearing cool on the new grouping’s aims.
“I think we will have to let it (the CELAC) operate for some time” before the unknowns about its operations are ironed out, Brazilian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Simoes told a press conference Friday.
If Brazil’s support is a bit measured, part of the reason may be that Latin America’s most populous nation and its new economic and political heavyweight, already leads its own regional bloc, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
UNASUR, made up of Brazil and 11 of its allies, has a smaller scope than the CELAC or the Organization of American States (OAS), but there could be some doubling up in UNASUR and CELAC goals and operations.
Led by Chavez, CELAC delegates gathered for two days from Friday at a military fort for the meeting of an alliance of 33 countries.
The CELAC grouping was proposed by Latin American leaders in February 2010 in Mexico, more than 60 years after the start of the OAS, which is based in Washington and which excludes communist Cuba.
The OAS has lost credibility in the region in post-Cold War years, particularly as the United States has been seen as inconsistent in its defense of elected leaders as required by the OAS charter. The most glaring case was in the aftermath of the 2009 coup against then Honduran president Manuel Zelaya.
CELAC nations signed a series of documents, one of which included a clause on “the defense of democracy and constitutional order.”
They also voiced support for Argentina’s claim for the disputed Falkland islands, and called on the United States to end economic sanctions against Cuba, the only one-party Communist regime in the Americas.
The new bloc also gave its backing to social inclusion and food security.
“We hope that this is going to be a community that does not just keep growing, but also keeps getting more and more united,” said Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.
Chavez, hosting his first major international event since being diagnosed with cancer, on Friday dismissed the “old and worn-out” OAS, suggesting CELAC would eventually take its place.
According to its organizers, CELAC is designed to usher in a new era of Latin American “independence.”
More than 10,000 security forces were on duty at the summit in Caracas, one of Latin America’s most dangerous cities.