The Latin American-Caribbean Unity Summit

Latin America and the Caribbean

Cancun, Mexico is always regarded as a conference and summit hotspot, but this week it was overtaken by 32 representatives of Latin American and Caribbean countries - 24 of which were heads of state. The Rio Group Summit, the Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development, and the Mexico-Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Summit were all held in Cancun over the past few days, and they all convened at the Latin American-Caribbean Unity Summit to discuss the creation of a new regional alliance, among other things. Topics that were covered at the Summit included an aid strategy for reconstruction and development in Haiti, the current dispute between Argentina and Great Britain over the Falkland Islands, the creation of a new Latin American and Caribbean unity organization that would rival the Organization of American States, and more. Though not initially planned, other topics such as the spat between Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez were thrown into the mix, after the two presidents exchanged harsh words during lunch yesterday. New Latin America-Caribbean Alliance As the two-day summit came to a close yesterday, Mexican President Felipe Calderón announced that the 32 nations have agreed to create a new regional alliance that will "push for regional integration" and "promote the regional agenda in global meetings." This new alliance is intended to serve as an alternative to the Organization of American States with a slightly different membership - the United States and Canada will not be members, while Cuba will be. According to the AFP, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela said that the United States does not see the new group as a problem, and that "This should not be an effort that would replace the OAS." And, during yesterday's State Department press briefing, Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley commented on the new alliance.

We think it's a good thing when countries in the region come together to talk about how they can cooperate more effectively, and this can take place in many regional fora. And virtually all of the countries attending the summit are strong partners of the United States and we are working together with them on a broad range of initiatives. So – and we consider the meeting in Mexico as consistent with our goals for the hemisphere.

Though this new alliance is being referred to as the Latin American and Caribbean Community, its name, status, and organizational structure will be decided on next year at a meeting in Caracas, Venezuela. Argentina: Over the past few weeks, tensions have sparked between Great Britain and Argentina over oil drilling rights in the waters surrounding the Falkland Islands (known as Las Malvinas in Argentina). The longstanding sovereignty dispute over the islands intensified earlier this month upon announcement that a British oil rig was arriving to drill offshore for oil. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner says London has violated UN resolutions calling on the parties to take no actions that could aggravate their dispute and instituted a decree last week requiring vessels traveling through territorial waters to obtain permission from Buenos Aires. Britain has mostly dismissed the move as sabre-rattling, and the British oil company announced on Monday that it has begun drilling for oil in the territorial waters of the Falkland Islands. The Unity Summit of 32 countries backed Argentina's claim that Britain is flouting international law by permitting drilling. According to the Associated Press: "Argentina presented a statement quoting Mexican President Felipe Calderón as saying that 'the heads of state represented here reaffirm their support for the legitimate rights of the republic of Argentina in the sovereignty dispute with Great Britain.'" Colombia-Ecuador relations Outside of the various summits, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe held their first official meeting since the two countries cut diplomatic relations in March 2008 (after Colombia bombed a Farc encampment on Ecuadorian territory, resulting in the death of Farc leader Raul Reyes). Official from both countries have been working to restore diplomatic relations, but yesterday's meeting marks an important step forward in the process. Prior to the meeting, both governments made statements saying that diplomatic relations would not be restored immediately, as each side still has concerns that need to be addressed. However the meeting between the two presidents demonstrated their will to move the process forward. "Without looking at the past to not repeat it, but looking toward the future and what is best for our countries, the political will to normalize relations between the two countries as soon as possible has been ratified," President Correa said. As Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez noted at a press conference yesterday, the next step toward normalizing relations is the implementation of a "commission of reasonable affairs that will cover topics of interest and the concerns of each side." Colombia-Venezuela relations The face-to-face encounter between President Uribe and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was not as diplomatic as the meeting between Presidents Uribe and Correa. During lunch on Monday, the two presidents held a heated exchange, in which Uribe told Chávez to "be a man," while Chávez responded with "go to hell," according to various media outlets. The media was not in attendance at the lunch, but reports emerged detailing what was called a "shouting match" between the two presidents. As reported by the BBC, the exchange was as follows:

"Uribe: Be a man! These issues are meant to be discussed in these forums. You're brave speaking at a distance, but a coward when it comes to talking face to face. Chavez: Go to hell!"

Cuban President Raúl Castro stepped in to stop the verbal spat, noting the irony of the fight at a "unity" summit: "'How is it possible that we're fighting at a summit intended to unite Latin American and Caribbean countries?,'" he asked. Later in the day, both President Uribe and President Chávez agreed to an intervention by "friendly" countries to help resolve the diplomatic crisis that has emerged between the two countries. The commission formed to help the two countries includes Argentina, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Brazil. Semana reported that President Chávez noted that "we have the capacity to not throw rocks at each other, because there are factors that alway play to this, to impede unity. It is an old history, the divide and conquer." President Uribe, on the other hand, asked his government's officials, especially Minister of Defense Gabriel Silva, to refrain from making any declarations about Venezuela without first consulting him.