Latin America, around the ghost Lula, summoned to integrate in the face of perils

Fifteen heads of state and governments of Latin America, gathered at a summit in Buenos Aires around the Brazilian ghost Lula, were summoned on Tuesday to “strengthen” regional integration, to ward off threats to their institutions, such as the demonstrations that targeted places of power in Brasilia in early January.

“Brazil is back in the region”, launched its president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, at the VII summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac, 33 member countries), that the South American giant formally reinstated, three years after Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right ex-president, released him.

“Brazil is ready to work side by side with all of you”, continued the 77-year-old left-wing leader, who three weeks into his third term (after two from 2003 to 2010), had chosen his neighbor and ally , Argentina, and Latin America for its first international release.

Lula 2023 and Latin America, back to the future? Not really. Calls for regional integration have been accompanied by warnings in Buenos Aires, in light of threats to institutions, such as the Bolsonarist assault on seats of power in Brasilia on January 8.

– The Brasilia Syndrome –

“We cannot allow a recalcitrant and fascistic ultra-right to jeopardize the institutions of our peoples”, launched the host president, the Argentinian Alberto Fernandez (center-left),

“Democracy is clearly at risk”, with “sectors of the ultra-right which have recovered”, he added, citing in particular the “madness of Brasilia” or the attack against the Argentine vice-president Cristina Kirchner in September.

“We need to strengthen the institutions of our region (…) convert our words into institutions and deeds, make (regional) integration a reality,” Fernandez continued.

Created in 2010 at the initiative of Lula in particular, Celac is a forum for dialogue and cooperation, not a regional integration body with binding deliberations. Over time, his voice has struggled to be united or to weigh, still to this day in crises on the continent, as currently in Peru.

“Latin America is bankrupt from the institutional point of view (…) It has not succeeded in integrating collectively into the world”, diagnosis for AFP Ignacio Bartesaghi, expert in International Relations and regional integration of the Catholic University of Uruguay.

At the very least, Celac “remains a vast and heterogeneous space of Latin American countries from which minimal agendas or common interest for the region can be established”, admits BernabĂ© Malacalza, analyst in International Relations at the Center Argentinian National Research Center Conicet.

– “Ideological Club”, until when? –

And Celac remains the reference regional interlocutor of China, or of the EU, on cooperation agendas. But the last EU-Celac summit dates back to 2018… even if both parties committed at the end of 2022, at ministerial level, to aiming for a bi-regional summit in 2023, where Spain will have the EU presidency in 2nd semester.

Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou also urged his Latin American counterparts to “take action” towards integration, proposing a free trade zone that would go “from Mexico to the South of South America “.

Lacalle Pou, one of the few centre-right presidents with a noticeably left-leaning top, warned Celac-type forums that “if they want to endure, they cannot keep this character of an ideological club of friends”. .

And he called for not having “a hemiplegic view” of violations of human rights or institutions, making clear reference to the regimes of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. Of the three, only Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel was present, and will have heard, for the umpteenth time, the region calling for the end of the American embargo on the island.

After this reconstructed Latin American family photo, Lula, whose diplomacy intends everywhere to “rebuild bridges” post-Bolsonaro, will turn to other strategic meetings: Washington on February 10, and China “after March”.

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