Summit in Cuba was mostly political tourism
Last week’s summit of Latin American leaders in Cuba was a textbook case of political tourism and empty pledges, but something very good may have come out of it — saving the four-country Pacific Alliance trade bloc.
The leaders of the Pacific Alliance — the ambitious trade bloc made up of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile — held several bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (CELAC) summit in Cuba, and talked at length about the future of their trade bloc.
What was especially important about these lateral meetings was that they were also attended by Michelle Bachelet, the left-of-center president-elect of Chile. Bachelet, who takes office on March 11, flew to the Cuban summit at the invitation of Chile’s outgoing president, Sebastian Piñera.
Before Bachelet’s trip with Piñera to Cuba, there had been serious concerns about the future of the Pacific Alliance because of reports that Chile will cool off its support for the group once Bachelet takes office.
First, there was the question of whether Bachelet will enthusiastically back a regional group that was founded by her predecessor and political rival. Second, Bachelet’s campaign platform has explicitly called for Chile to downplay its activism in the Pacific Alliance, and promote stronger ties with Brazil and other Atlantic coast countries.
But the bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the CELAC summit in Havana may have helped the leaders of Mexico, Colombia and Peru persuade Bachelet not to drastically diminish Chile’s active role in the Pacific Alliance, well-placed officials who participated at the meetings in Havana told me.
During separate talks with the leaders of Mexico, Colombia and Peru, Bachelet received assurances that the Pacific Alliance is not a pro-American bloc that wants to split Latin America in two, as some other CELAC members claim. She was further assured that the Pacific Alliance is not aimed against the region’s Atlantic coast countries.
Unlike other mostly ceremonial integration groups in the region, the Pacific Alliance is all about business. Among other things, it is creating a free trade area among member countries, establishing joint trade offices in Asia and Africa, and creating a four-country common stock market.
As for the larger, much-publicized CELAC summit, one just needs to read its final declaration to realize it was a farce. The final declaration says participating countries “ratify our irrevocable will…to strengthen our democracies and all human rights for all.”
It’s no joke: they pledged to strengthen democracy and human rights at a meeting presided over by Gen. Raúl Castro, a military ruler whose family dictatorship has not allowed a free election, political parties or independent media in 55 years.