Latin American and Caribbean leaders are set to launch a regional group that will be an alternative to the U.S.-led Organization of American States.
More than 30 heads of state met on Monday, February 22, in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, for the two-day Rio Group unity summit.
The group – that includes Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela – will discuss plans to launch the Latin American and Caribbean Community in 2011. All nations in the Americas will be represented, with the exception of both the U.S. and Canada, and the organization’s goal is to promote greater international cooperation.
The conference, however, has been overshadowed by the spat between Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. According to officials, Uribe urged Chávez to “Be a man!” and the Venezuelan president reacted and told Uribe to “Go to hell!”
The row – that has highlighted the lack of unity between some countries in Latin America – erupted when Uribe complained to Chávez about the Venezuelan trade embargo on Colombian goods. Chávez in turn accused Uribe of plotting his assassination by paramilitary forces and threatened to leave the summit early.
Another pressing issue that will be considered by the Rio Group – whose meetings are not public – is whether to acknowledge Porfirio Lobo as the legitimate president of Honduras. Lobo, who was not invited to the summit, was elected president following a coup in June last year and the ejection of his predecessor, Manuel Zelaya, from the country.
Representatives will also discuss aid to help Haiti recover from the devastating January 12 earthquake and the disputed sovereignty of the British-owned Falkland Islands. The Latin American and Caribbean nations backed Argentina’s claim to the Atlantic islands where Britain has plans to drill for oil.
Bloggers have reacted to the summit and to the altercation between the two leaders:
From El Tiempo, a Colombian newspaper’s blog:
Colombians and Venezuelans have two loquacious leaders who don’t measure their words. They speak without minding the consequences to the two countries’ relations. The effects are evident: the so-called economic blockade that Caracas maintains on Colombia, the poverty that Venezuela faces and the crisis of Colombian exporters. What is also true is that Chávez has been responsible for wild, vulgar and disrespectful verbal abuse, not just against Uribe, but also against all Colombians. He deserved a manly rebuttal.
From Juventud Surversiva, a pro-Bolivarian revolution blog:
Uribe and his henchmen have handed over not only their nation, but also the entirety of Latin America on a plate. How can anyone justify an extensive and impertinent U.S. military presence in Colombia to combat drug trafficking and terrorism?
From The American,the Journal of the American Enterprise Institute blog:
Ironically, this confrontation came at a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders intended to launch a “regional mechanism” that might serve as an alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS). Apparently, Latin and Caribbean diplomats think that a new forum—minus the United States and Canada—might advance their common interests more effectively. However, it is clear from the showdown in Cancún that Chávez is the problem. His polarizing, bullying style has poisoned the atmosphere at the OAS and will undermine confidence wherever he goes.
Meanwhile, La Crónica de Hoy, a Mexican newspaper, quoted President Evo Morales of Bolivia, an ally of Chávez:
[P]resident Uribe provoked President Chávez, who listened patiently and then tried to explain the issues. President Uribe would not let him speak and that is when the small problems arose.
– James Matthews