Latin America integration: A long term process

by editor | 1st February 2014 11:42 am

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Havana. The second CELAC Summit took place in Havana. It’s aspirations are rooted in history but with a vision for the future. We discussed with Cuban historian, professor and intellectual, Felix Julio Alfonso, about the CELAC and its still opened questions.

The second CELAC Summit opened on the anniversary of the birth of Cuban national hero José Martí. Why historical references are so important ?
In his farewell to Venezuela José Martí said: “I am America’s son, I am indebted to her” adding that he would always be at the service of the Latin American republics. In 1891 he had proclaimed that there was something he called “Our America”, different from what was called Anglo-Saxon America, whose imperial appetites he denounced in multiple documents. In other words Martí was throughout his life a committed student of history and Latin American social problems as well as a passionate advocate of a Latin American common identity which should constitute, he said, a solid bond against the major internal and external challenges of the continent. Martí was an heir and a continuer of the integrationist dream of Simon Bolívar.

A regional union without North America, always seems a frustrated dream
Ever since the days of the Congress of Panama in 1826 the United States had the purpose of economically and politically subordinate the young Latin American republics. This became evident in its famous Doctrine of the Ripe Fruit in relation to Cuba. For over a hundred years the United States systematically sabotaged any attempt of integration and exercised, without restraint, military force against any attempt against their interests. The imposition of neocolonial mechanisms such as the OAS and the TIAR, after the Second World War, were the most obvious sign of domination exercised by the United States on the foreign policies of Latin Americans.

Are we facing a second independence of Latin America and the Caribbean?
I think the second independence should be seen as a complex and contradictory phenomenon, as Latin American reality itself is, and I think it is just beginning to offer their first hopeful signs. It is clear that an important step has been the emergence of a group of progressive governments which practice economic and social policies of deep justice, attempt to advance people’s democracy, respect the rights of indigenous peoples and struggle to find regional consensus contrary to the hegemonic policies of the American Empire. However, we should not underestimate the opposition forces that they face inside and outside, as well as the fact that still many of the capitalist economic structures persist, and they are sources of inequality. Also nothing guarantees that these leftist leaders can have a continuity in power which will prevent the decline in the path to sovereignty and equality that have adopted.

This is a contradictory and difficult process of integration and cooperation. Neoliberal reformers and revolutionaries, all together. What unites them, what divides them ?
True, it is not the same, for example, the block formed by socialist or leftist governments such as Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, that the groups of countries led by right wings leaders such as Mexico, Colombia or Peru, nor are identical the interests of the countries of MERCOSUR – think only in the huge asymmetry that exist between Uruguay and Brazil. But these are realities that can not be changed. We must learn to live with these differences for the sake of a higher goal: that Latin America could operate as a consolidated regional bloc, able to carry out its own development agendas, on the basis of consensus and negotiation. Finally, though differences persist, we must try not to let them constitute an insuperable obstacle.

The U.S. policy of trying to exclude Cuba from its natural environment, has ended with the US actually excluding themselves. What has changed so that the result is so bitter for the most “powerful” country in the world ?
I think it is not only external factors such as those mentioned earlier, ie the rising of the progressive forces in several countries that foiled the attempts to isolate Cuba from leading regional forums. I think it is also a consequence of the prestige and resistance of the Cuban Revolution and its numerous examples of solidarity and collaboration with its regional neighbours. All this has caused the United States to lock themselves in their obstinate policy not only in Latin America but also worldwide.

The current process of regional integration has strengths and weaknesses. How do you interpret these realities from a historical perspective ?
I like to see history as requested by the French professor Fernand Braudel, in the long term, rather than in the joints or particular moments. In this sense, Latin American integration has been a long process that has lasted over two hundred years, with weaknesses as the oligarchic structures of domination or the discord several countries faced and are still facing over border disputes. The strengths are given by economies that can be complementary, shared cultural identities and common historical memories of rebellion against colonialism and domination. In this perspective, I hope the strengths achieved are more powerful than the colonial and neocolonial legacies that weaken us.

The CELAC Summit declared Latin America and the Caribbean a “zone of peace”. What does this collective will means, amidst the numerous regional border disputes, the Colombian conflict, or active U.S. military presence in the area?
Peace is always a noble and desirable aspiration, but not always everyone understands it the same way. Is it the same achieving political peace in a conflict or achieve social peace in highly unequal societies ? I think that has prevailed between the leaders the will to push forward a logic of consensus and negotiation over the logic of conflict and violence, although border disputes persist and the Colombian conflict itself is still far from a final solution. All this aggravated by the strange intervention of the United States and its military incursions. The fact that Chile and Peru have accepted the decision of the Court of The Hague over their maritime borders is a good sign, although the painful “isolation” of Bolivia persists: Bolivia is deprived of access to the sea by an unjust war.

What are in your opinion the key issues that will strengthen the current integration process in Latin America and the Caribbean?
The agenda of key issues could be very large, but at the moment I think the real economic integration, common position in political topic of regional interest, environmental protection , opposition to intervention and collaboration in highly sensitive social issues could be a good starting point.

A strong Cuba seems essential in this dynamic of integration. The country is living a time of internal transformations. What are the main challenges of this reform process underway ?
The challenges of what has been called the “update of the Cuban economic model” are huge, and pass through issues including the integration of Cuba to the big international production chains, and in this sense the port of Mariel is a good example. But there are many issues of the “small” economy which need to be solved: essentially solving the huge dilemma of low wages, inefficiency or corruption. To this we add another challenge, a political one: how to achieve and articulate economic reform with a society which is increasingly diverse and plural in its opinions and demand that practical politics is to live up to these realities of everyday life.

How future relations between Cuba and the U.S. could develop?
José Martí warned of the danger posed by the United States to the sovereignty of Cuba and the history of the first half of the twentieth century proved him right. The Revolution gave Cuba its national dignity. The American ideology has not changed much in key issues such as respect for sovereignty and self-determination of the island, although there are points which must necessarily be negotiated. A future relationship, whatever the government of Cuba or the administration of the White House, should be based on equality, dialogue and mutual respect.

José Martí spoke of “Our America” as a natural space, which did not include North America. How could we update the concept, and to what extent the CELAC represents that idea?
CELAC should definitely be a common space for dialogue and discussion of peoples “Ouramericans” and I would allow myself this neologism, far by definition to the subordination that characterized other agencies in the past, such as the OAS. In this sense, CELAC could be the one unfinished historical compensation of that unfinished Bolivarian Congress of Panama and a permanent tribute to Martí’s thought, who on reaching Caracas, before removing from his clothes the dust of the road, was to pay tribute to the statue of Bolívar.

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