A significant but under-reported meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) took place on January 28 and 29th in Havana, Cuba.
CELAC is an organization created in order to promote regional integration. It includes almost all the Latin American and Caribbean countries but excludes the United States and Canada. It is also a political organization, created in Caracas in 2011 and inspired by the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez whose implicit aim was to diminish the influence of the Organization of American States (OEA) and the United States.
This summit had strong political connotations with implications for the future of the region. Several key resolutions were adopted.
First, CELAC affirmed the right of each nation to choose any type of “political and economic organization”. By the same token CELAC affirmed its support for the principle “of self-determination, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each country; and; support for the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries”.
It is interesting that in the same resolution, even in the same sentence, CELAC expresses support for the “protection and promotion of all human rights, respect for the rule of law at the national and international levels and the promotion of citizens’ participation and democracy”.
This first resolution then continues “ we are also committed to work together for the prosperity of all, in such a way that all forms of discrimination, inequality, marginalization, violations of human rights and the rule of law be eradicated”.
Of course this main resolution of CELAC is clearly ambiguous and misleading even though it looks perfectly acceptable to the naked eye. However, if we look carefully, we can see that CELAC is asking that the international community and the region accept any form of political or economic regime chosen by each member country while calling for non-interference in that countries’ internal affairs. In other words, what CELAC is requesting is that if a country chooses to become a dictatorship, it should be accepted without questioning. The principle of sovereignty and self-determination stands above the principle of human rights or liberty.
It is no wonder that the resolution does not call to protect “human rights” but “all human rights”. This language is problematic as it implies that human rights are not just violations of the right to life and liberty but also “social rights” which are fundamentally the right to an income or the right to economic equality.
It is not that social rights are to be dismissed but what would happen if in the name of social rights, human and civil rights are violated?
We can find the answer in the next paragraph where the resolution implies that if prosperity for all is achieved, problems of human rights will be eradicated.
In other words, economic prosperity is directly tied to the diminishing of violations of rights (which for CELAC includes “inequality” as a main component). Common sense tells us that if inequality is indeed a socio-economic problem, civil and human rights are tied to the rule of law independently of economic performance. However, for CELAC the constitutionality and legal character of rights seems to be subjected to economic performance and reduction of inequality.
Thus, CELAC is in fact legitimizing dictatorship.
It is no wonder that leaders from all over the continent visited the old leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro as if the Caribbean dictator were the Dalai Lama or the Pope. All the presidents, one after another, were there to receive the blessing of the old man. The list included Presidents Dilma Roussef (Brazil), Cristina Kirchner (Argentina), Jose Mujica (Uruguay), Enrique Pena Nieto (Mexico), and, of course the presidents of the countries of the Bolivarian alliance (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua).
These meetings actually took place when human rights in Cuba continue to be practically non-existent. In other words there is no freedom of the press, of free speech, and no elections on a municipal or national level. Cuba continues to be a fifty-five year old Communist, anti-American dictatorship that has impoverished the vast majority of its people.
In Cuba there are political prisoners detained without any fair trial. Today, we have a remarkable group of wives of political prisoners called the Ladies in White (Las Damas de Blanco”). This group protests every day in downtown Havana demanding the release of their husbands. The “Ladies in White” follow the model of the “Mothers of Plaza de Mayo”, a group of mothers that during the 1977-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina demanded information about their children who disappeared during that dark time. The “Ladies in White”, like other peaceful opponents of the regime, are constantly subjected to harassment by the Cuban security forces. Likewise, the prison system in Cuba has been described by human rights organizations as “cruel, inhuman and degrading”. The Cuban government continues to refuse to cooperate with the International Red Cross and other humanitarian bodies.
We should not forget the case of Alan Gross, a U.S government sub-contractor for the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID). He was falsely accused of crimes against the Cuban state for bringing computer equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community. He has been a prisoner in Cuba for the last four years and since 2011 he is serving a 15year sentence.
The number of political prisoners has doubled, according to a report by the Miami Herald from a year ago.
Of the 33 leaders at CELAC, only the outgoing Chilean president Sebastian Piñera met with representatives from the “Ladies in White”. In another such gesture, Costa Rica received in its Havana embassy a delegation of Cuban dissidents.
What is worse, the Cuban government is exporting its repression tactics to newly elected dictatorships such as Venezuela.
However, CELAC managed to condemn the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba.
In response, the U.S. State Department rightly accused Latin American countries of “betraying democracy” by giving diplomatic support to Cuba. Even the well- known and widely circulated Spanish leftist newspaper “El País” suggested that the CELAC summit was a farce that only served to legitimize the Castro dictatorship and increase its political capital.
But as a result of the CELAC summit not only the Cuban dictatorship was legitimized but also, all forms of authoritarianism were given legitimacy. That means that no undemocratic country or violator of human rights (as long as he belongs to the “social equalizer” camp) will be condemned or reprimanded by the region.
Secondly, this tendency was reaffirmed by the position of the Mexican government and the European Union.
Mexican President Pena Nieto met with Castro, and contrary to his two predecessors Felipe Calderon and Vicente Fox, totally ignored the dissidents. Pena Nieto also called Castro “Cuba’s moral and political leader” and proceeded to renew relations between the two countries that suffered a breakdown in their relationship (mostly over human rights) since 2002.
Likewise, the European Union announced that it would deepen relations with Cuba. On February 10th, 28 European foreign ministers are expected to give a green light to begin talks with Havana in order to increase trade, investment and dialogue on human rights. I have my doubts that the stubborn Cuban regime will even agree to discuss human rights but it will certainly benefit from European investments. Europe is expected to look for its own economic and political interests. What is worse the EU announcement is a major political victory for the Cuban regime.
Here again, the United States is a passive observer having failed to develop a sound human rights agenda and establish a suitable Latin American policy. Instead, the U.S. has adapted to the “natural” course of events dictated by the likes of Hugo Chavez, Raul Castro, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa.
Luis Fleischman is co-editor of The Americas Report and the author of the book, “Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States.”
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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