Mexican president pitches regional block similar to European Union

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Economy8 hours ago (Sep 18, 2021 06: 41PM ET)

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(c) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Bolivian President Luis Arce gives a speech during his visit to Mexico’s Senate building in Mexico City Mexico March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

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By David Alire Garcia and Noe Torres

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Latin American and Caribbean nations should aspire to a bloc like the European Union, Mexico’s president and other leaders said at a summit on Saturday, in a bid to wrest influence away from the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS).

For years, some of the region’s leftist standard bearers have felt that the OAS was too close to the United States. They resent the exclusion of Cuba from its member states.

The Mexican President Andres Manuel Obrador spoke to more than 12 presidents and prime minsters during Saturday’s opening ceremony, stating that a revamped diplomatic agency could help the region’s poor and face other crises.

“In these times CELAC could become the principal instrument for consolidating relations between our Latin American- Caribbean nations,” he stated in a darkened ballroom at Mexico’s elaborate national palace. Leaders took turns and sparks flew between ideological rivals.

We should create in the American continent something like the economic community that led to the creation of the European Union,” Lopez Obrador, a leftist, said. He stressed the importance of respecting national sovereignty and adhering to pro-development and non-interventionist policies.

The leaders met at Lopez Obrador’s invitation with the stated goal of weakening OAS. The summit’s launch focused attention on the region’s center-left leaders including Peru’s new president Pedro Castillo and Cuba’s Miguel Diaz Canel.

Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro resigned from CELAC last summer, blaming it for promoting undemocratic nations. Argentina’s Alberto Fernandez was forced to cancel at the last moment due to a sudden cabinet change in his country.

SPARKS FLIGHT

Some fissures emerged between leaders. Luis Lacalle, Uruguay’s center-right president, said that his participation should not have been interpreted as an endorsement of some of the more authoritarian regimes in the region or a rejection for the OAS.

We are concerned and take seriously what is happening in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba,” he stated, ticking off the repressive actions, including the imprisonment of political opponents.

Cuba’s Diaz Canel reacted by attacking neoliberal policies that he claimed have impeded social progress. He also criticised Lacalle’s leadership and cited the overwhelming response to a petition drive organized by his political opposition.

The Uruguayan responded by criticizing Cuba’s communist government. He noted that it doesn’t tolerate opposition and does not allow its citizens to elect their leaders.

The President of Bolivia Luis Arce demanded a global agreement on the forgiveness of debts to poor countries, while Juan Orlando Hernandez, President Honduran, called for a regional organization to combat climate change.

A new CELAC fund was also announced to assist in natural disasters.

Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez helped set up CELAC in 2011, and his embattled successor Maduro arrived in the Mexican capital late on Friday as a surprise addition..

In remarks Friday night, Maduro suggested a new CELAC headquarters be established in the Mexican capital. When asked by reporters about the proposal, Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s Foreign Minister, politely declined to answer. He described it as premature.

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