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HAVANA, Jan 29 2013 (IPS) - Cuban diplomacy will be working full blast this year, promoting its own approach to integration in line with the needs and goals of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a regional body that excludes the United States, Cuba’s leading ideological opponent.
It is precisely this independence from Washington that most attracts Havana to CELAC, whose presidency will be occupied until 2014 by Cuban President Raúl Castro, together with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla.
By special resolution, this three-pronged presidency will be supplemented by Haitian President Michel Martelly, who also heads the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) this year.
CELAC is a diverse, plural and politically and ideologically tolerant bloc that gathers all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Thus the challenge put to member countries even before CELAC’s founding meeting is to tread carefully and find a path of agreement and consensus, with the overall aim of moving forward towards regional integration and growth, striving, in particular, to achieve a socially-just economic development.
“We undertake to work for peace, justice and development for Latin America and the Caribbean, and for cooperation, understanding and solidarity among all Latin American and Caribbean peoples,” Castro said on Monday, upon taking office as CELAC president, but acknowledged that regional unity must be built on the recognition of the region’s diversity.
The 33-country bloc closed its first formal summit on Monday in the Chilean capital of Santiago, and has scheduled its second summit for a year from now, in Cuba.
The Cuban government has been a strong supporter of the regional integration body since the idea for its creation first came up four years ago, at the Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development held in Brazil.
That 2008 summit, the first regional meeting of its kind to be organised without engaging the United States and Canada, was followed two years later in 2010 by a similar gathering, this time in Mexico, where participant countries agreed to create CELAC. The bloc was finally founded the following year at a third meeting in Caracas.
Cuba made its preference for a U.S.-free integration known in June 2009 when the United States voted against the Caribbean island’s request to be reinstated as a member of the Organisation of American States, from which it was suspended by consensus in 1962 after embracing Marxism-Leninism.
The Castro administration also stepped up its active involvement in forums that represent the countries of the region, including Caribbean island nations.
“Strengthening, expanding and harmonising these bodies and groups is the path chosen by Cuba; (no longer holding on to) the impossible illusion of returning to an organisation that refuses to reform and has been condemned by history,” Castro said.
Cuba is a founding member of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), of which Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela are also members. It also has close and active political and cooperation ties with CARICOM.
Cooperation with countries of the South is one of the strengths of Cuba’s foreign policy, a strategy which opens up significant opportunities for Latin America and the Caribbean to implement major projects despite limited resources.
“We all have advantages and experiences that we can contribute,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said shortly before the Santiago summit.
As an example of this, Rodríguez mentioned the assistance provided by his country to Haiti, which focuses particularly on health aid.
Solidarity is, in fact, the principle chosen by Cuba to guide cooperation among the countries of the region, moving away from conditions imposed from outside that have no place in a “new Latin America”, Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno added.
While Cuba strengthens its regional environment, expectations that its relations with the United States will improve with the second administration of Democrat Barack Obama are low. Several commentators in the interactive Café 108 feature of the IPS Cuba website agreed that there is little chance that the U.S. will reconsider its relations with Cuba.
In the opinion of political scientist Esteban Morales, the United States is facing a difficult time, both on the domestic and on the international front, and in that context a change in attitude towards its socialist neighbour is highly unlikely. Morales, however, does not rule out the possibility of an indirect route, opened up as a result of the “changes (in U.S. relations) with Latin America and the Caribbean”.
“The last two years (of the Obama administration) may hold the greatest possibilities in this sense, depending on how well Obama does now,” Morales added.
Journalist Roberto Molina, for his part, does not expect to see any change “in the suspended state of relations between the two neighbouring nations, which have been enemies since the early 1960s.”
“Obama has too many pending issues to address – immigration, fiscal reform, a war and other potential conflicts, and a shaky economy – to be thinking of Cuba as a foreign policy priority,” Boris Caro, a Cuban journalist living in Canada, said.
In his last speech of 2012, Castro announced that he will put all his efforts and energy into his role as CELAC president, but he did not forget to remind “the U.S. government once again that Cuba is willing to sit down (with the U.S.) and find a solution to all their bilateral problems in a dialogue based on mutual respect and sovereign equality.”
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