‘For how long are we going to be the backwards periphery, exploited and denigrated? Enough! Here we are putting down the fundamental building block for South American unity, independence and development. If we hesitate, we are lost!’ (Simon Bolivar)
On 2 December 2011 the 33 independent countries across the Americas – with the exception of the US and Canada – founded the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). CELAC is designed to counter the Organisation of American States, which the US has used as a tool for protecting its interests in Latin America since 1948. The new alliance is committed to promoting economic and social development across the region and undermining the unequal terms of trade with Europe and the US.
Demonstrating their priorities, on 9 January 2012, foreign ministers from the leading triumvirate of CELAC countries, Chile, Cuba and Venezuela, met in Santiago de Chile to sign agreements on energy, science and technology, infrastructure, finance and social development. Other areas for joint cooperation include culture, the environment, and humanitarian support. The ability of CELAC to implement these agreements will depend on the influence of Cuba and Venezuela over Chile’s reactionary Pinera government, which holds the CELAC presidency for 2012. This transfers to Cuba in 2013.
The new alliance represents a further step in movement across the Americas which is challenging US imperialism and the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. It follows the creation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) in 2004, which has now grown to include Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. ALBA is based on mutual cooperation, anti-imperialism and trade for social welfare. Regional integration has also been strengthened through other projects such as Petrocaribe, an oil alliance between 14 Caribbean nations whereby Venezuelan oil is sold on the basis of 1% interest loans over 25 years which can be repaid with products such as sugar and bananas; and Petrosur, an energy alliance between Venezuelan, Argentinean and Brazilian state oil companies with a social welfare focus. These developments are challenging historical patterns of imperialism in Latin America. The proportion of the IMF’s loan portfolio to Latin America fell from 80% in 2005 to 1% in 2007 after Argentina and Bolivia relieved themselves of US debt with help from Venezuela and China. In December 2011 Venezuela nationalised its gold industry and began repatriating its gold from the coffers of US and European banks removing $300m from British banks. The gold will be used to consolidate the drive towards economic integration in Latin America.
The inauguration of CELAC was a fitting finale for a year of progressive developments in Latin America. June 2011 saw the election of Ollanta Humala as President of Peru who promised that poor Peruvians would share the country’s mineral wealth, rather than see it given away to the mostly foreign-owned mining companies. In November 2011 former Sandinista Daniel Ortega was re-elected in a landslide victory. Under the leadership of Cuba and Venezuela CELAC looks set to carry the anti-imperialist beacon of hope into 2012.