At least 25 Latin American and Caribbean presidents will start arriving in Mexico on Sunday to discuss the creation of a new organisation to address the region’s most pressing concerns.
The Mexican-led initiative, a clear sign of Latin America’s growing confidence as a region, will exclude both the US and Canada. Some observers believe it could even eventually rival the 35-member Organisation of American States (OAS), which includes the US and Canada and has been the principal forum for hemispheric issues during the past half century.
In an interview with the FT, Salvador Beltrán del Río, Mexico’s under-secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, said the idea was to forge a body to replace and significantly expand the so-called “Rio Group”, originally formed in 1986.
He said that there was significant agreement among Latin America’s leading powers for the need of such an organisation – though many details about its structure and modus operandi remained unresolved.
“The need to take this step is a sign of the region’s maturity,” said Mr Beltrán del Río. “We need to give ourselves that space.”
Mr Beltrán del Río said that the idea was not to be exclusive or to leave anyone out. “It is not about confrontation,” he said.
But Jorge Castaňeda, Mexico’s former foreign minister, argued that the strategy could have undesirable consequences. “You are going to have people in the US Congress saying, ‘OK, Latin America can have its organisation so let’s scupper the OAS’,” he said.
Ultimately, the push could even end up sending an unconstructive message of “the region against Obama”.
Whatever the reaction, the move comes at an inauspicious time for US-Latin American relations – first because of the differences over diplomatic strategy following Honduras’ military-led coup last year; and second because of differences over the possible re-election next month of José Miguel Insulza, current head of the OAS.
There are also doubts about how effective the organisation would be.
Most analysts agree that Latin America is significantly more divided today than it was, say, 20 years ago.
The emergence of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s radical leftwing president, has helped demarcate a clear political split, with the likes of Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua on the left and Colombia, Peru and Mexico on the right.
Until now, Brazil, led by the charismatic Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has often bridged the deep fissure dividing those two groups. But with presidential elections looming, and political observers less than excited about the candidates, there are doubts about whether his eventual successor will be able to do the same.
The result, says Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a US think tank, is that serious questions about unity and cohesiveness are likely to hang over the new organisation.
“I don’t know what is going to glue it together politically,” he says. “I haven’t seen much success from Latin America’s integration efforts, and I can’t imagine that this is going to be terribly different.”