Much was made about the announcement at the end of February about plans to formulate a new Caribbean-Latin American regional bloc – one that will specifically exclude the United States and Canada. Heads of state and leaders of countries from both regions convened for a two-day summit at Cancun, Mexico on Tuesday, Feb. 23 with the express intent of developing a regional entity as a counterweight to the American-dominated Organization of American States (OAS). The putative organization would replace the Rio Group, created in 1986 By countries including Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela. Discussions about the group, which is now going under the provisional name of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELC), are scheduled to be continued at up-coming summits in Venezuela (2011) and Chile (2012). According to the final statement emanating out of Cancun, the ultimate goal is for the involved countries to expand trade relations and to work together to fight the drug trade and terrorism, as well as create regional and international structures to represent the bloc on the global level. So what does all this mean? If you listen Arturo Valenzuela, an official from the US Department of State, the formation of the new body is not seen as a problem, as it would not replace the OAS. This sentiment was echoed at the Cancun meeting By Chile’s President-elect Sebastian Pinera, who said: “It’s very important that we don’t try to replace the OAS. … The OAS is a permanent organisation that has its own functions.” The heads of Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela, however, were pushing for replacement. On the basis of regional empowerment, such an organization – if successfully implemented – would undoubtedly represent an opportunity to raise the region’s profile in the eyes of the world. Because of CARICOM, a significant amount of integration has already occurred in the Caribbean, to the benefit of each member state and its citizens. A bloc that included Latin America would have the potential of significantly increasing access to regional commerce and resources. The idea for the new organization is debuting in provocative times, as current Rio Group states have rallied around Argentina in its current dispute with Britain over oil-drilling rights off the Falkland Islands. At this point, the initiation of a larger, more extensive regional bloc seems to be of more immediate benefit to the Latin American states – which have so far dominated the process – than the Caribbean island-states. However, in his “Ask the PM” radio show on Mar. 2, Prime Minister Douglas revealed that Caribbean countries had been actively involved in the conceptualization of the new bloc, although the idea was initiated By Brazilian President Luiz InÃ¡cio Lula da Silva. Dr. Douglas posited that in economically uncertain times, a “common approach” in the region to deal with the global financial crisis would represent a positive development. Exactly how it benefits the Caribbean to get involved in the UK-Argentina brouhaha is less clear, though. Much needs to be worked out in regard to the proposed new bloc. Among the key issues to be resolved is how it will impact CARICOM. Will the Caribbean-based organization cease to be viable? If so, is that in the best interests of its current members?
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