With the foundation three years ago of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the dreams of a region, which for years had been deferred, re-emerged. Great challenges and great hopes are both a reality for the new regional organization. Its success depends on the degree to which the 33 member countries, all south of the Río Bravo, are able to focus on the search for unity, despite their differences.
Time has shown that only by following the route of unity emphasized by our forefathers, without denying the rich diversity which differentiates us, will the reality of Latin America and the Caribbean be changed and our true, definitive independence secured.
When, in 2008, regional leaders sat down to discuss unity and draft the first outline of what CELAC would become, they did so committed to change the face of the planet’s most unequal region, which paradoxically possesses the world’s greatest reserves of natural resources - the object of foreign powers’ voracious appetite, leading to centuries of struggle. They did so to change the present and future of the 600 million who inhabit the region’s 20 million square kilometers.
Cuba’s national hero, José Martí, said in 1891, "The peoples who don’t know each other must hastily do so, like those who will be fighting together." This fight is no longer against colonists who came across the Atlantic in droves, to impose their way of life, but rather against the inequalities which hold us back, against a common enemy always looking for opportunities to again subject us to domination and dependence. CELAC’s 33 nations are committed to emphasizing what we have in common, to move toward the creation of a structure of our own.
Many accomplishments have been achieved in the social and economic arenas as a result of policies implemented by governments devoted to improving citizens’ living conditions and the positive experiences of regional alliances such as ALBA, Petrocaribe, Mercosur, Unasur and Caricom, which have made an important contribution to the development of collaborative solidarity and complementary economic policies across the region.
Nevertheless, there is much work to do in Latin America and the Caribbean to rise above our dependent, neoliberal past. CELAC has, therefore, proposed action plans directed toward establishing Latin American and Caribbean sovereign control of resources, to ensure that sustainable development is achieved.
This region which possesses the world’s third largest economy, a fifth of the planet’s oil reserves and the greatest biological diversity, is also the most unequal, with 164 million persons living in poverty, including 68 million in extreme poverty.
The launching of CELAC in December 2011 changed forever the geopolitical map of the region. An organization now existed, focused on strengthening international relations through a multilateral system which respects national sovereignty and self-determination.
The Community has made a commitment to respect the equality of states; to reject threats and the use of force; to abide by international law; to promote human rights and democracy, while moving forward with a shared regional agenda within international forums. The organization was founded with the intention of respecting currently existent integration efforts, not replacing them, as all are working toward a common objective.
Cuba, as CELAC pro tempore president, has undertaken the group’s work respecting each and every one of the principles established in the Declaration of Caracas, fully conscious that the organization is precisely the instrument the region needs to resolve differences, just as President Raúl Castro said at the 2011 founding summit in Venezuela.
The emergence of CELAC is recognized as the most important institutional event in Latin America and the Caribbean over the last century, the realization of the dreams of unity, justice and sovereignty held by the great men and women of these lands.
The fact that the region has its own voice, and this voice is gaining attention on the complex world stage, is, in and of itself, a great step forward.
As the Community of 33 nations is preparing for the Havana Summit, January 28-29, the strengths developed over the last few years are evident. Also evident are the enormous challenges which must be faced, many of them inherited from the past. The shared commitment to meet these challenges reflects the new times in Our America. To paraphrase a great leader, the peoples of Latin America have said, "Enough" and begun to move.
January 22, 2014