After an eight-year gap, leaders from Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean recently gathered in Brussels for the III EU-CELAC Summit. This meeting was a crucial turning point in the relationship between the two regions. While the summit was generally considered successful, it was not without its challenges, particularly in adopting a unified stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), established in 2011, consists of 33 countries. Brazil, which had withdrawn from the mechanism in 2020 under the right-wing government of former President Jair Bolsonaro, rejoined this year following the return of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to the presidency. However, not all invited leaders attended the summit. The presidents of El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela were notably absent, sending their foreign ministers in their stead.
The summit was not without controversy. Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, criticized the European Union for its “lack of transparency” and “manipulative conduct” during the event’s preparations. Venezuela, a strong ally of Cuba, echoed these sentiments. The main bone of contention was the parallel events to the summit, which included members of the civil society from the invited countries. Both Havana and Caracas criticized the EU’s selection of Latin American representatives, many of whom were human rights activists and opponents of their governments.
Denuncio la falta de transparencia y la conducta manipuladora de la Unión Europea en la preparación de la III #CumbreCelacUE, que ponen en serio riesgo el éxito de la reunión.
Resta poco tiempo, pero aún no es demasiado tarde para evitar un fracaso.
— Bruno Rodríguez P (@BrunoRguezP) July 10, 2023
In response to the main event, the People’s Summit was organized as a parallel gathering. This event brought together representatives from around 160 organizations for two days of debates and demonstrations. Left-wing presidents like Colombia’s Gustavo Petro and Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel, as well as Mexico’s Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena, participated in this parallel event. The organizers of the People’s Summit emphasized peace and dialogue as the only possible guiding principles in a time of significant geopolitical stress.
The summit also saw parallel negotiations on Venezuela. Presidents Emmanuel Macron, Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, Gustavo Petro, and Alberto Fernández met with delegations from the Venezuelan government and opposition to seek “lasting solutions” to the South American country’s crisis. The negotiations aimed to foster a democratic dialogue in Venezuela and alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people.
The EU-CELAC Summit aimed to strengthen and modernize the bilateral relationship between the two regions. For European leaders, a priority was to demonstrate their potential as strong partners in the face of Russia and China’s growing influence in Latin America. The EU plans to invest 45 billion euros in the region through its Global Gateway program, seen as a rival to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure investment scheme.
The EU aims to support Latin America and the Caribbean in developing infrastructure for digital transition and green policy development through the Global Gateway. The program will also invest in vital areas such as transport, energy, health, and education. During the summit, the EU signed a memorandum of understanding with Chile for cooperation in the area of “critical” raw materials for the development of clean energies and digital transition.
Despite the challenges, the summit was considered a success. The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, noted that achieving a unanimous position among 60 countries was a difficult task. The summit highlighted the complexities of international relations and the need for dialogue and cooperation in addressing global issues.
The summit also addressed the issue of Ukraine. While the European bloc unequivocally condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, CELAC countries like Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua are strong political and economic allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The EU had hoped for a strong statement against Russia, but the temporary president of CELAC, the Premier of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, indicated that the summit should not become “another futile battlefield for speeches on this issue.”
In the final declaration, the parties expressed their “deep concern” about the conflict in Ukraine, which “continues to cause immense human suffering and is exacerbating already existing weaknesses in the global economy.” They supported “the need for a just and lasting peace” and backed the Black Sea Grain Initiative, currently halted by Russia. It was noted that one member country did not sign the text due to disagreement with one of its points, without specifying the country. Nicaragua was the only nation that remained against a statement against Russia at the end of the negotiations.
Despite these challenges, the interim Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, considered the summit a “complete success,” insisting that achieving a unanimous position among 60 countries was very difficult. The summit underscored the complexities of international relations and the need for dialogue and cooperation in addressing global issues.
EU-CELAC Summit: Navigating through agreements, disagreements, and hopes amid Ukraine tensions