Celac-EU summit and the rise of Latin-American sovereignty

While European diplomacy failed on every front, the confident advance of the anti-imperialist bloc was unmistakable.

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Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canal told EU leaders in no uncertain terms: ‘Latin America and the Caribbean is no longer the backyard of the United States. Nor are we former colonies that require advice. Nor will we accept being treated as simple suppliers of raw materials.’

Proletarian writers

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Eight years after the last meeting between the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) and the European Union (EU) in June 2015, European and Latin-American leaders met for a third summit on 17 and 18 July 2023.

In the intervening years, political and economic conditions have markedly changed. The growing influence of China has been felt in all spheres of global economic and political life, and the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) trading group is now attracting the interest of many non-imperialist states that want to break out of the control of the US-dominated dollar-dependent (and thus extremely unequal) world market.

Meanwhile, the unconditional subservience of European countries to US imperialism’s foreign policy since February 2022, their costly support for the war in Ukraine, and their implementation of harsh economic sanctions against Russia that have backfired on their own economies, have resulted in a noticeable decline in the influence of the EU in the rest of the world.

To recover their influence in Latin America, the European imperialists were hoping to ‘seduce’ the region back into their embrace – and what could be better than wining and dining them at a high-level and well-publicised summit in Brussels? Amidst the accompanying hugs, handshakes and photo opportunities, European diplomats might be able, as in the past, to obtain concessions from governments in need of investment to develop their countries’ economies.

So what were the goals of the EU diplomacy at this event? Four clear priorities made themselves evident through the course of the proceedings: 1. to obtain support for the war in Ukraine; 2. to reduce the influence of China and Russia in the region; 3. to obtain condemnation of the popular policies of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua; and 4. to avoid any declaration on the topics of reparations or the slave trade.

Support for the war in Ukraine? No thanks

The primary goal of EU diplomacy at the summit was to obtain the strongest possible condemnation against Russia, and the maximum possible support for the Nato-backed war effort in Ukraine.

To this end, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez invited Volodymyr Zelensky to the summit. During a press conference with the Ukrainian puppet actor-president, Señor Sanchez highlighted the summit as a valuable platform for Zelensky “to engage personally with leaders from countries in the global south who may have reservations or doubts”.

This move was immediately rejected by Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, however. Other countries, like Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Peru, considered the Ukraine war to be a European issue, and the majority politely pointed out that Ukraine does not belong either to the EU or to Celac.

It is worth noting that key members of Celac – including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia – neither apply sanctions against Russia nor respond positively to the western alliance’s constant demands that they should provide weapons to Ukraine. Indeed, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, after meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping in April 2023, turned the tables on the EU and the USA, calling on them to stop sending weapons to Ukraine and to stop encouraging the continuation of the war there.

Despite this first setback, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy representative Josep Borrell worked hard to obtain support for the EU’s war effort – but without any result.

The most enthusiastic supporter of the EU’s position was Chilean president Gabriel Boric, who obligingly stated that “what is happening in Ukraine is a war of imperial aggression which violates international law … the important thing is respect for international law, and here international law has clearly been violated not by two parties, but by one invader, which is Russia”. He was conspicuously alone in voicing such an opinion, however.

President Lula noted: “Possibly, the lack of habit of participating in these meetings causes a young person to be in a hurry. But that’s how things happen … we all know what Europe thinks, we all know what is happening between Ukraine and Russia. We all know what Latin America thinks. I don’t have to agree with Boric; it is his vision.”

In a clear criticism of the EU position, Honduran president Xiomara Castro pointed out: “The Ukrainian war must come to an end … we are obliged to find a way to achieve peace … trillions of dollars in weapons are sent for war, but we are not capable of contributing to the integral development of humanity with the objectives of sustainable development.”

In the summit’s final declaration, only one paragraph referred to the war, and that was to “express deep concern on the ongoing war against Ukraine, which continues to cause immense human suffering and is exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy, constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity and elevating financial stability risks. In this sense, we support the need for a just and sustainable peace … we support all diplomatic efforts aimed at a just and sustainable peace in line with the UN charter.” (Point 15)

Nicaragua quite correctly objected that the phrase ‘ongoing war against Ukraine’ is a one-sided formulation and pointed out that it had “neither signed, nor approved, nor supported what has been so pompously and falsely called … the Consensus Declaration of the third EU-Celac summit”.

Reducing the influence of China and Russia? No chance

The second goal of the European diplomacy was to reduce the influence of China and Russia in the region and to obtain concessions for the EU in crucial economic sectors. After all, with a population of 650 million and a GDP (gross domestic product) in 2021 of $5,050bn (£4,290bn), the region is home to a vast array of natural resources and agricultural commodities, many of them, like lithium, critical to the development of new technologies.

Over the last 20 years, China has grown to become Celac’s second-largest trading partner. In 2021, commerce between the two sides amounted to $450bn (£354bn). With China now one of the top sources of investment and finance in the region, an atmosphere of friendly political cooperation has also been fostered. The extent of the Latin-American spur of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has grown alongside these developments, now including 21 regional countries in its network. 

Meanwhile Russia has developed close relations with Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba, El Salvador and Venezuela. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov recently visited Brazil, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, and held meetings with Bolivian emissaries in Venezuela, to foster partnerships in the region.

To reduce the influence of China and Russia, Ursula von der Leyen presented the EU’s ‘Global Gateway Investment initiative, saying: “These are times of great geopolitical change and like-minded friends like the EU and Latin-American and Caribbean partners need to get closer.”

The initiative promises investments of €45bn (£39bn) to support more than 130 projects over four years – a largesse that is somewhat cast into the shade by the €77bn (£66bn) given to Ukraine in the last 18 months, most of it to support the war.

With the 2019 EU-Mercosur association agreement (agreed in principle after 20 years of negotiation) still not finalised or in force, many in the region are sceptical regarding any fresh promises emanating from Europe. As Lula pointed out, the priority for Latin-American countries is “to ensure a fair, sustainable and inclusive trade relationship” based on “mutual trust and not on threats”. 

Marginalising Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua? Fail

The third goal of European diplomacy, following in the wake of US imperialist objectives, was to obtain a regional condemnation of Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, three countries that have been developing increasingly close relations with Russia.

Ideally, the imperialist powers would have all countries that deviate from their official narratives banned from regional forums. A few days before the summit began, the European parliament declared “that autocratic regimes should not participate in such summits among countries that share democratic values and respect human rights”. (Resolution P9TA (2023) 0280, point 16)

The EU’s declaration echoed a recent US decision when, as host of the ‘2022 Summit of the Americas’, it excluded Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua on the same farcical excuse. In protest at this unilateral action by the Biden regime in Washington, the presidents of Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines withdrew from the summit, sending lower-ranking delegates in their place – and the summit was a failure.

Whilst the EU could not afford to risk a similar outcome from its own summit, the point was made: dissident voices are not welcome.

Defending Venezuela

Venezuela has been enduring a murderous sanctions regime enforced by US imperialism since 2006. Sanctions enacted by the European Council in 2017 are also still in place, and Venezuelan state assets have been frozen by many countries – including the notorious seizure of $2bn in gold (£1.6bn) by the Bank of England. Meanwhile, a charge of narco-terrorism has been lodged personally against President Nicolás Maduro in the US courts.

President Xiomara Castro of Honduras highlighted these iniquities, stressing: “It is necessary to end piracy, and the confiscation of assets. We are all exposed to the fact that one day we find that our reserves have been frozen in foreign banks, or that we do not have the possibility of chartering transportation for the products that our peoples need.

“We raise our voice so that all the patrimony illegally withheld from the Venezuelan people be reinstated and that the barriers that prevent us from normalising our commercial relations with sister countries like Nicaragua are eliminated.”

A meeting intended to reactivate the mediation process between Venezuela’s government and opposition leaders (a prerequisite to lifting sanctions) was attended by Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez (Venezuela), President Gustavo Petro (Colombia), President Alberto Fernández (Argentina) and President Lula da Silva (Brazil), along with President Emmanuel Macron of France) and European Commission vice-president Josep Borrell.

The summit’s final declaration, far from condemning Venezuela, merely included a tactful promotion of further mediation: “We encourage a constructive dialogue between the parties to the Venezuelan-led negotiations in Mexico City.”

Opposing the neverending blockade against Cuba

In line with its goal of shaping the agenda of the forthcoming summit, the European parliament resolution referred to above condemned “the Cuban regime’s support for the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine and its defence of Russia and Belarus”, indicating that not supporting Ukraine against the Russian aggression would have “consequences”.

Moreover, it demanded “sanctions against those responsible for the persistent human rights violations in Cuba, starting by sanctioning Miguel Díaz-Canel, as the most senior figure in the chain of command of the Cuban security forces”, and called on those participating in the summit “to issue a statement demanding due respect for human rights in both regions, with a particular focus on the lack of respect for democracy and fundamental freedoms in Cuba”.

But both rhetoric and sanctions against Cuba are extremely unpopular in the region, and European parliament’s attempt to jostle Latin-American leaders into endorsing its position was ignored.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel himself stressed to those present that “Latin America and the Caribbean is no longer the backyard of the United States. Nor are we former colonies that require advice. Nor will we accept being treated as simple suppliers of raw materials.

“We are independent and sovereign countries, with a common vision of the future. We build the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States as a unified and representative voice of our unity in diversity.”

Reflecting Celac’s strong support for Cuba, the final declaration made reference to a 2022 general assembly resolution at the United Nations against the blockade and underlined the need for “ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against Cuba, we recall our opposition to laws and regulations with extraterritorial effect”.

Nicaragua stands up

Since the first EU sanctions were enacted against it in 2019, the relations between the European Union and Nicaragua have deteriorated considerably. The head of the EU delegation was expelled from Nicaragua in September 2022, the EU’s ambassador to the country was withdrawn in April this year, and a condemnatory resolution against Nicaragua was passed by the EU parliament in June.

But Nicaragua’s anti-imperialist leaders have not been intimidated by this hostility. In one of the most politically-charged speeches of the summit, Nicaraguan foreign minister Denis Moncada condemned “the coercive, illegal and unilateral measures imposed against the Russian Federation, China, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other brotherly peoples”.

He went on to demand “the commitments of developed countries of the European Union, to guarantee climate justice and reparation policies to compensate for loss and damage” as a result of man-made climate change, rejected “the use of cluster munitions by all states”, and called for the US government to pay the compensation approved by the International Court of Justice in The Hague for the human losses and material damages that resulted from US military and paramilitary aggressions during the 1980s.

Comrade Moncada further pointed out that “the European Union must reflect and act in good faith with a vision of the present and the future … Europe must bear in mind and respect that we are no longer a colony of any power. We are free, independent and sovereign countries, with dignity for our homeland, identity and freedom.”

Avoiding mention of the slave trade and of reparations? Dream on

For the colonial powers, the slave trade has been always an uncomfortable subject of discussion, and it has long been one of the goals of EU diplomacy to avoid all reference to this emotive topic. It seems that imperialist Europe would like the world to quietly forget that its own capitalistic development was facilitated by the most ruthless and industrial exploitation of mineral resources and human lives in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

In recent years, consciousness about the slave trade has been developing across Latin America, and for the first time in the history of the EU-Celac summits it was introduced onto the meeting’s agenda. Unable to avoid its inclusion in the final declaration, EU diplomats strove to cover all reference to Europe’s responsibility with euphemistic and harmless expressions.

In the end, the summit declaration included both positions. On the one hand, the preferred European wording: “We acknowledge and profoundly regret the untold suffering inflicted on millions of men, women and children as a result of the transatlantic slave trade.” And on the other, a reference to Celac’s support for “the Caricom Ten-point Plan for Reparatory Justice”.

It should be noted that the Caricom (Caribbean Community) Reparations Commission (CRC) states that European governments: “were owners and traders of enslaved Africans”, and that they “instructed genocidal actions upon indigenous communities” and “created the legal, financial and fiscal policies necessary for the enslavement of Africans”. The CRC “demands as a precondition the offer of a sincere formal apology by the governments of Europe”.

Moreover, the commission states: “Some governments in refusing to offer an apology have issued in place Statements of Regrets. Such statements do not acknowledge that crimes have been committed and represent a refusal to take responsibility for such crimes. Statements of regrets represent, furthermore, a reprehensible response to the call for apology in that they suggest that victims and their descendants are not worthy of an apology.”

As President Díaz-Canel pointed out in his address to the summit: “Colonial plunder and capitalist looting turned Europe into a creditor and Latin America and the Caribbean into debtors.”

Failure of EU ‘diplomacy’ on all fronts

Overwhelmed by a long list of demands, the EU side was forced to include at least some of the many requests in the final declaration, albeit couched in the sanitised language of United Nation resolutions.

In relation to the imperialist war against Russia, it had to make do with accepting that “Celac has declared Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace” (point 12). Regarding the Malvinas/Falklands dispute, it was forced to concede that in “the question of sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas / Falkland Islands, the European Union took note of Celac’s historical position based on the importance of dialogue and respect for international law in the peaceful solution of disputes” (point 13).

Regarding the threat to the Caribbean countries from climate change, the declaration recognised “the impact that climate change is having on all countries, affecting particularly developing and the most vulnerable countries, including Small Island Developing States, in the Caribbean” (point 22).

In relation to the crisis in Haiti, the declaration expressed “concern regarding the continuing deterioration of the public security and humanitarian situation in Haiti” (point 38), while it reaffirmed “full support for the peace process of Colombia” (point 39).

President Lula noted afterwards that the factors leading to the diplomatic triumph of the anti-imperialist countries could be explained “possibly owing to the dispute between the United States and China, possibly owing to China’s investments in Africa and Latin America, possibly owing to the new Silk Road initiative, possibly owing to the war”.

At this third EU-Celac summit, European Union diplomats for the first time found that the Latin-American and Caribbean countries were no longer ready to fall in line with their demands; that they are becoming independent and sovereign countries. Over and again, the leaders at the summit asserted that while investment would be welcomed in the region, this would not be accepted on any terms – and that the imperialists’ ability to use a ‘divide and rule’ strategy will no longer work in the region.

As Bolivian president Luis Arce pointed out: “Today, in a multipolar world under construction, the new geopolitical conditions may give the opportunity to multiple options for cooperation and sectoral, regional and continental alliances.

“We want a Latin America, a Caribbean and a Europe in peace. May their peoples achieve the peace that the capitalist model has not been able to offer them, abandoning practices that in past history have not created an equitable and complementary relationship between our regions.”