The 33 nations of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, a regional bloc formed in February 2010, held their first meeting in Caracas, Venezuela Dec. 2-3, and agreed to deepen integration between governments and economies.
The bloc replaces the Rio Group, which was formed in 1990 by the countries that took part of the Contadora Group (Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela) and the Contadora Support Group (Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay), aimed to promote peace in Central America during armed conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
“We’re laying the cornerstone for unity, independence and development,” said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, adding that the region must no longer fall behind the rest of the world and be exploited.
In the Caracas Declaration, signed at the event by regional heads of state and government, leaders agreed to deepen economic and political ties. While no concrete steps were taken, they agreed to respect international laws and human rights, find peaceful solutions to conflicts and avoid the use of force and threat.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, who was named president pro tempore of the organization, said that the region must overcome left- and right-wing political divides.
The members, which include Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Panama, the Dominican Republic, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela, said they would team up to fight the international financial crisis and poverty in the region.
The bloc represents 590 million people and a combined gross domestic product of US$7 trillion, and an area of 20.5 million square kilometers (7.9 million square miles).