Latin America Challenges Neocolonial OAS, and US Hegemony, at Historic CELAC Summit

The presidents of Venezuela and Cuba joined leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean in a CELAC summit in Mexico, challenging US unilateralism and the neocolonial OAS.

  • Latin America Challenges Neocolonial OAS, and US hegemony, at Historic CELAC Summit

Mexico hosted a historic summit of CELAC, the Community of Latin American and the Caribbean States, on September 18.

It was an important example of Latin America’s gradual move away from the Organization of American States (OAS), a neocolonial proxy of Washington, by instead strengthening regional institutions that exclude the United States and Canada.

The summit revived a multilateral organization that had for years been dormant and brought together leaders from across the region, including Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Maduro's presence at the meeting served as yet another blow to the United States' ongoing coup attempts against Venezuela, defying Washington's effort to delegitimize the South American nation's constitutional government.

Right-wing US client regimes like the drug cartel-linked Iván Duque government of Colombia issued furious statements condemning Maduro’s attendance. (Brazil’s far-right Jair Bolsonaro regime withdrew from CELAC in 2020 as part of its US-sponsored attempt to sabotage independent regional institutions.)

In a vicious move reminiscent of mafia dons, the US State Department reiterated its $15 million bounty on the head of the Venezuelan president as he flew to Mexico for the summit.

But it all came crashing down in a moment of delicious irony when Maduro was photographed standing next to (or rather, towering over) Ecuador's ultra-conservative banker President Guillermo Lasso and Uruguay's right-wing President Luis Lacalle Pou — both of whom still recognize US puppet Juan Guaidó as imaginary “interim president” of Venezuela.

It’s easy to see why Maduro was smiling. It was a diplomatic win for Caracas, and a major loss for Washington.

The Venezuelan president stressed that the difference between CELAC and the OAS is the difference between Bolivarianism and Monroeism — that is, between Latin American independence and regional unity on one side, or US neocolonialism on the other.

In an extraordinary declaration that emphasized this key distinction, the 31 countries that attended the historic CELAC summit issued a call for an end to US colonialism in Puerto Rico.

Citing United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514, which was approved in 1960 and demanded independence of colonized countries and peoples, CELAC insisted that Puerto Rico must be decolonized, while emphasizing its uniquely Latin American and Caribbean character.

At the summit, CELAC also reiterated its call for the United States to end its illegal, six-decade-long blockade of Cuba, which has starved the country of an estimated hundreds of billions of dollars and taken countless civilian lives.

The regional organization's resounding opposition to the cruel US blockade recalled the meeting of the UN General Assembly this June, in which 184 member states voted to demand an end to the US embargo of Cuba, with just two votes against (the United States and apartheid "Israel") and three abstentions (Brazil, Colombia, and Ukraine).

In his first CELAC summit, Peru's new leftist President Pedro Castillo delivered a moving speech, recognizing his country's Indigenous communities.

"I bring the greetings of our Quechua, Aymara, Awajún, Conibo, Shipibo brothers, the men and women who have never had a voice in my homeland",  Castillo said, as he donned a traditional hat. “This is the first time I leave my country as head of state".

China's President Xi Jinping, too, sent a message to CELAC, congratulating it on the historic summit and calling for further developing and strengthening the region's relations with Beijing.

It was another example of the growing international movement to defend multilateralism and sovereignty against US hegemony and domination.

The posture that Latin America and the Caribbean are increasingly taking in opposition to the Washington-dominated Organization of American States is crucial to challenge US imperialism in a region that Washington considers to be its neocolonial “backyard.”

The United States founded the OAS in Colombia in 1948, almost exactly one year before the birth of the main instrument of US neocolonialism, NATO. Both institutions were created at the beginning of the first cold war, as imperialist tools to maintain US hegemony and prop up unpopular capitalist regimes.

Like NATO, whose founding members included dictatorships such as Portugal’s fascist “Estado Novo” regime, the OAS was as an explicitly anti-communist alliance of right-wing regimes in the Americas, whose founding members included right-wing dictatorships such as that of Nicaragua’s blood-soaked General Anastasio Somoza.

Most of the OAS’ funding comes from the US government. And the State Department has stated clearly in its congressional budget justification reports that Washington provides the OAS with that money because the organization “promotes U.S. political and economic interests in the Western Hemisphere by countering the influence of anti-U.S. countries such as Venezuela.”

The centrality of the OAS in backing the far-right coup d’état in Bolivia in November 2019 — in which US-trained military forces demanded the resignation of democratically elected socialist President Evo Morales — was in fact an issue raised at the CELAC summit.

Bolivia’s current President Luis Arce, of Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism party, denounced the OAS as an undemocratic and obsolete institution that should be replaced by a fortified CELAC.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known popularly by the acronym AMLO), has likewise called for replacing the OAS, and deserves credit for his leadership in hosting the summit and strengthening CELAC.

AMLO broke with decades of stultifying neoliberal bipartisan orthodoxy in Mexico, in which the governments ruled by the PRI and PAN parties had obediently followed orders from Washington, and had abandoned the commitment to non-interference that Mexico had enshrined in its 1930 Estrada Doctrine.

But we must not forget that Venezuela’s revolutionary President Hugo Chávez was proposing all of this a decade ago. Back in 2011, Chávez publicly called for substituting the OAS with CELAC and took early steps to do so before his untimely death in 2013.

It is important not to erase the leading role Venezuela's socialist government has played and still does play, in the effort to unify Latin America and the Caribbean.

The steadfast commitment that Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution has shown to strengthening multilateral institutions in the region — and building an anti-imperialist alliance with West Asia’s Axis of Resistance — is one of the main reasons Caracas has been so viciously targeted by US hybrid warfare.

Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua have been at the vanguard of advancing progress, integration, and multilateralism in Latin America — and in the world as a whole. This is precisely why Washington demonized these three nations as a so-called “Troika of Tyranny” (in reality, a Troika of Resistance).

But while there is much to celebrate about the CELAC summit in Mexico, the unfortunate truth is that not all of Latin America is on the same page when it comes to resisting US imperialism. And this includes not only right-wing forces but even some center-left movements in the region.

Liberal and social-democratic groups have sought to downplay the pivotal leadership of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, while amplifying that of Mexico, Argentina, and more moderate forces. This mistaken approach is not only based on falsehoods; it also creates divisions in Latin America that US imperialism can exploit — and already is exploiting.

At the CELAC summit, Nicaragua’s revolutionary Sandinista government criticized Argentina’s centrist government for collaborating with Washington in its destabilization efforts.

“CELAC is not an instrument of the Empire,” said Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada. But he lamented that “the government of Argentina has become an instrument of North American imperialism, subordinating itself to its hegemonic interests.”

Right-wing, US government-funded Nicaraguan media outlets spread blatant fake news to try to demonize Moncada and misrepresent his speech. But what he said was clearly confirmed by an article in Voice of America, a US state propaganda organ created by the CIA.

Voice of America revealed that top officials from the Joe Biden administration traveled to Buenos Aires this August to meet with the South American nation's centrist president, Alberto Fernández.

The government-funded media outlet reported that the high-level US delegation “agreed to create a channel of ‘open and fluid dialogue’ with the government of Alberto Fernández in order to ‘promote the defense of democratic values’ in the region, particularly in Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba.”

Fernández was ultimately unable to attend the CELAC summit due to a political crisis he is facing at home, where allies of his left-wing Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner resigned from key posts in his administration, in protest of Fernández’s rightward drift, his sidelining of the left-wing of the governing coalition, and his humiliating defeat in primary elections.

But this is a clear example of Washington taking advantage of cracks in the pan-Latin American alliance to try to subvert its attempts at regional integration. The age-old imperialist strategy of divide-and-conquer is alive and well.

The strengthening of CELAC and the weakening of the OAS is an important victory for anti-imperialist resistance forces seeking to challenge the global dictatorship that is US imperialism and neocolonialism.

But, as with any regional alliance, there are still many internal contradictions to be resolved. And CELAC has weaknesses that could be, and already are being, exploited by imperialism.

The opinions mentioned in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Al mayadeen, but rather express the opinion of its writer exclusively.
Ben Norton

Independent journalist focused on geopolitics and US foreign policy.