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The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in South-South cooperation

Important developments are taking in regional affairs of Latin America and the Caribbean. The emergence last year December of a new regional body, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) promise to extend activism we have seen in Latin America over the years to Central America and the Caribbean, thus further complicating the geopolitics of North America-Americas relations.

The CELAC is set to become a considerable organisation in the mechanism of South-South cooperation. Not long ago, the organisation was courting the emerging Asian powers China and India with meetings that took place in August to build economic cooperation and infrastructural development, to explore climate change solutions and to understand the global economic situation and its effects on developing countries.

This article poses the question whether CELAC has a potential to deepen the South-South cooperation and strengthen regional cooperation in the region it covers.

CELAC was officially formed in December 2011 and described by its 33 member states as an ideal regional organisation to create political and economic integration and cooperation between Latin American and Caribbean states. As a regional organisation, CELAC is believed to set a significant foundation of mutual cooperation in the Southern hemisphere of the Americas outside the realm of the Organisation of American States (OAS). For many decades both American continents were united by the OAS under the influence USA.

What makes CELAC different from the OAS is the fact that it excludes the North American giants, US and Canada. The reason for this is that most Latin American and Caribbean states became disillusioned with OAS and influence of North America in it. They distaste USA hegemony for interfering with the domestic politics of Latin American and Caribbean States in particular.

To some extent, the formation of CELAC is intended to create mutual identity amongst Latin American and Caribbean states as a way of escaping the dominance of USA. In addition, CELAC’s intention is also to provide a space for advanced diplomatic relations amongst its member states, especially relations that would benefit substantially their domestic interests through development and economic cooperation as well as to enhance their role in the international arena. However, it must be mentioned that CELAC is still under a development. It remains to be seen whether it will manage to build strong intra-CELAC unity and cooperation without antagonising the USA. The challenge for CELAC is to balance internal unity of purpose while negotiating a mature relationship of equals with the OAS and the USA.

So, it is has three major challenges that it needs to overcome. Firstly it must fully integrate member states internally, while respecting political and ideological diversity. Secondly, it has to integrate itself with the emerging world especially global south platforms without contradicting interests of its member states. Thirdly, it must avoid the problem of one-state domination as it is implicated to be the case in the OAS and the challenge cumbersome multilateral decision-making in organisations without internal stratification. Mainly, these are the challenges that faced or continue to face a most of regional organizations in the early stages of their formation.

Since its formation, CELAC’s diplomatic relations are growing. It is building new mechanisms of economic cooperation as part of changing south-south cooperation in general. In August 2012, CELAC strengthened its international diplomatic relations with the emerging Asian powers, China and India. A triumvirate of CELAC foreign ministers (Chile, Cuba and Venezuela) held a series of meeting with China and India to establish new ways of deepening inter-continental economic cooperation and a united from the creation of a multipolar world.

The interactions also sought to adjust economic cooperation and infrastructural development, to explore climate change, to understand the global economic situation how it impacts on the interests of developing countries and on the reform of the UN. They underlined the need to shift away from a unipolar world order that is dominated by the US. There was agreement to create a China – CELAC Cooperation Forum to develop a working agenda for deepening relations between the two parties.

Although scepticism about the capacity of CELAC to achieve these goals abounds, what cannot be ignored is that CELAC provides room for new impetus for deeper trade and development cooperation in central and Latin America within the ambit of the changing South-South cooperation.

Mr. Kenny Dlamini holds a BA Hons in Politics from the Rhodes University and is a NRF research assistant at the IGD. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD
The article first appeared on SABC news online on 14 September 2012

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