Venezuela Hosts Regional Unity Summit, Rejects U.S. Accusations
By James Suggett – Venezuelanalysis.com
Mérida, July 5th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – At a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Caracas on Saturday, foreign ministers and ambassadors from 24 nations debated Venezuela’s proposed integration plan and designated Venezuela and Chile to write the organization’s statutes and host its summits over the next two years. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Venezuela of threatening democracy, and announced a new U.S. fund for non-governmental organizations in other countries.
The CELAC, which includes most countries in the region south of the United States and Canada, was created in February at a presidential summit in Mexico, during which Venezuela was elected as the organization’s first interim president. It is expected to function parallel to the Organization of American States once it is formalized.
The foreign ministers of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Belize, El Salvador, Ecuador, Argentina, Grenada, México, Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Haiti, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as ambassadors from Antigua and Barbuda, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Trinidad and Tobago attended Saturday’s summit.
The leaders agreed that the left wing government of Venezuela and the right wing government of Chile would co-chair a joint commission to draft the statutes of the emerging integration bloc. Venezuela will host a summit of heads of state on July 5, 2011 at which the CELAC will be formally inaugurated, and Chile will host the next summit in 2012.
In addition, Venezuela presented a potential program and set of principles for the CELAC titled “Plan Caracas,” which the summit participants discussed.
As an economic model, Plan Caracas proposes a multilateral system of “fair trade” that is not dominated by any one country. The goal of such a system should be to end the vast inequality of wealth distribution in the region, according to the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry’s website.
Economic, financial, and technological cooperation should be promoted among already existing regional integration organizations such as the Common Market of the South, the Community of Andean Nations, the Caribbean Community, and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, according to the proposal.
Plan Caracas also prioritizes fulfilling the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, including the eradication of poverty and illiteracy, and cooperation in humanitarian assistance and natural disaster preparation.
In public announcements simultaneous to the summit on Saturday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his country proposes a multilateral plan for the rational use of energy with the goal of achieving “energy security” for every member of the organization, but did not provide further details.
“This is our agenda, and with it we want to leave behind this terrible period of impositions by the government of the United States, impositions made many times through the OAS, that have condemned the majority of our peoples to misery, backwardness, dependence, and under development,” Chavez said. “Only united will Latin Americans be completely independent.”
To further debate these ideas and prepare for next year’s summit, the foreign ministers agree to meet again in Caracas this September 6.
Since his election over eleven years ago, Chavez has been a strong proponent of regional integration and unity and an opponent of U.S. imperialism.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said the decision made in Mexico in February that Venezuela should host the CELAC’s first meeting constituted “a clear recognition of the efforts of President Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution to construct Latin American and Caribbean integration, and to drive forward the union of our peoples with strength.”
Venezuela Responds to Recent Clinton Declarations
Meanwhile, at the 10th anniversary celebration of the founding of another inter-governmental organization, the 16-member Community of Democracies, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched a new round of critiques against Venezuela and several of its allies.
“Venezuela’s leaders have tried to silence independent voices that seek to hold that government accountable,” Clinton said during a speech in Krakow, Poland on Saturday.
Belarus, Iran, Russia, China, and Cuba, with whom Venezuela has signed economic accords in its drive to form a multilateral counterbalance to U.S. power, are part of “a broader group of countries where the walls are closing in on civic organizations” and governments are “slowly crushing” civil society, Clinton said. She included Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Egypt on the list.
Clinton announced that the U.S. will contribute $2 million to “a new fund to support the work of embattled NGOs” in these countries.
“Civil society,” which includes “activists, organizations, congregations, writers and reporters,” is part of a “three-legged stool” along with governments and markets, and this forms “a critical part of [the U.S.’s] work to advance democracy,” Clinton said.
The announcement came just one week after President Barack Obama nominated a new ambassador to Venezuela, Larry Palmer, who is currently president of the Inter-American Foundation, which channels U.S. government funding to non-governmental organizations in Latin America.
The U.S.’s funding efforts are of great concern to the Venezuelan government. The U.S. State Department and other international foundations have channeled as much as $40 million to Venezuelan opposition groups since President Chavez came to power, and many of those groups supported the military coup d’état that ousted the democratically elected leader in 2002.
In response to Clinton’s announcements, Minister Maduro said Hillary Clinton’s “obsessive conduct” and “permanent aggression” toward Venezuela is a continuation of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s policy under former President George W. Bush.
Maduro said it is no surprise that Clinton’s comments come at a time when a new international organization that excludes the U.S., the CELAC, is being formed. He said Clinton’s comments “demonstrate a policy of intrigue, aggression, and desperation,” and are aimed at “independent countries that propose a new form of international organization for a pluri-polar world without hegemonies.”
“Hopefully the U.S. people may have the political and social rights and freedoms that Venezuela has,” Maduro added. “We have a vital democracy of a new type that points toward socialism, toward new forms of justice and participation.”