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CELAC Summit in Havana: Hypocrites Gather with “Democracy” the Excuse

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Jan 29, 2014, 11:28 am

EspañolOn December 3, 2011, 33 Latin-American officials founded the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). In this first Summit — presided over by the late President Hugo Chávez in Caracas — all representatives agreed on a democracy clause, and on common statements defending democracy and the institutional order.

This so-called “democracy clause” — included in CELAC’s statute — requires member states to “promote, defend, and protect the rule of law, the democratic order, the sovereignty of the people, human rights, and fundamental freedoms, including the right to life, liberty and security, the refusal to submission to torture, or to cruel, inhuman or otherwise demeaning treatments or sentences, the refusal to arbitrary expulsion, incarceration or arrest, the refusal to be subject to arbitrary execution or to forced disappearance, and the freedom of expression and opinion.”

The statute also stresses the importance of previous commitments to democracy, made within the United Nations system and regional blocs. Consequently, the countries in CELAC clearly manifest their “rejection and condemnation of any attempt to disrupt or subvert the constitutional order, or the correct operation of institutions of any member State.”

However, all member states started to violate this clause, and their democratic commitments, from the moment they founded CELAC. They did so by letting Cuba into the organization, a country that has been under a dictatorship for the last 55 years. They do not have free institutions, and they certainly keep a track record of thousands of human rights violations.

Further, CELAC broke its own principles when they gave this dictatorship the chance to lead an organization self-defined as democratic and inclusive — while at the same time excluding the United States and Canada, two solid and established democracies. The Venezuelan government was the main supporter of Cuba’s provisional presidency for the 2013-2014 period, and Chávez admitted to sponsoring this forum as “the biggest project in our contemporary history,” with the idea of replacing the Organization of American States (OAS).

Raúl Castro — president of the dictatorship in Cuba — used his first speech as CELAC’s president to offer a lesson on regional democracy. He went on to criticize the United States, Francisco Franco’s government in Paraguay, and the Venezuelan opposition. Meanwhile, every Latin-American leader present witnessed silently and allowed the hypocrisy to continue. Surely, this position of authority has given the Cuban regime more power, legitimacy, and political influence than it ever had before in the region.

Now, with a new presidential summit taking place in Havana this week, CELAC members continue to violate their previously established democratic commitments. These actions will even be validated by the presence of current OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza — though Cuba is not part of the Inter-American system. The OAS eliminated Cuba’s suspension in 2009, but both Fidel and Raúl Castro have expressed their disinterest in returning to the regional organization.

Insulza becomes the first OAS secretary general to visit the island since the Cuban Revolution in 1959. He should be at least pressing for concessions — with the support from other democratic governments present in the summit — so Cuba respects at least some human rights, releases political prisoners, stops persecuting opponents, and stops abusing civil society with controls over the press and freedom of expression. But attendees are not planning to meet with dissidents or Cuban activists, who are celebrating a parallel forum on democracy while CELAC’s second summit takes place.

It is irresponsible and unprincipled for all governments to act this way. And it is disappointing to see even Chilean officials behave in this manner, since in 2013 they offered the organization’s leadership to Cuba. Sebastián Piñera justified this by stressing the need to influence the Cuban government, so they could move forward with economic reforms and political liberalization.

But the truth is that we know how the Castro brothers’ dictatorship has worked for the last 55 years. The fact that these countries are attending the summit on the island — demonstrating their friendly intentions towards the communist regime — is in no way a guarantee for change. The Cuban rulers have always done what they wanted according to their own needs and interests, without any concern for their neighbors or diplomatic relations.

The only participants who come out from this summit as winners are the authoritarian regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, and their collectivist allies in Latin America. Their common goal is to further smear the United States and Canada’s reputations as developed democracies, and to weaken the Inter-American system that the OAS represents.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.