Maduro wants PR in CELAC bloc
The 33-nation Community of Latin American and Caribbean States includes every country in Latin America and the Caribbean. Unlike the Washington-based Organization of American States, or OAS, it has Cuba as a full member and excludes the U.S. and Canada.
“Venezuela, along with other Latin American governments, is going to officially seek Puerto Rico’s admission to CELAC,” Maduro said during an activity in Caracas on Wednesday.
Pro-commonwealth leaders from the island’s Popular Democratic have periodically floated proposals for Puerto Rico to participate as a separate entity in international organizations of which the U.S. is already is a member. Pro-statehood lawmakers from Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party have traditionally criticized such bids to expand the island government’s diplomatic aspirations to move beyond “observer” status.
Puerto Rico’s potential for full-fledged membership in international entities like CELAC, the OAS, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) or the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) has bumped up against U.S. State Department policy that treats the island as a U.S. territory in such forums.
Any attempt by Puerto Rico to join CELAC would likely face opposition from the federal government, which has taken a wait-and-see approach to gauge what direction the group takes.
Cuban President Raul Castro assumed the presidency of CELAC in January in a demonstration of regional unity against U.S. efforts to isolate the communist government through a 50-year-old economic embargo.
The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez negotiated the creation of the CELAC bloc in 2011 in what he characterized as a step to help realize South American independence hero Simon Bolivar’s dream of unifying several nations as a counterweight to their powerful hemispheric neighbor, the United States.
Two centuries later, Chávez tapped into that legacy in December 2011 as he hosted leaders from across the Americas at a two-day summit. Chávez described the new regional bloc as a tribute to his idol Bolivar, saying the time has come to put an end to U.S. hegemony.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega echoed Chávez’s sentiments, saying Latin American and Caribbean countries should ensure that the policy of U.S. intervention to protect the region’s nations, declared by President James Monroe in 1823, is never revived.
Other Latin American leaders, including the presidents of Colombia and Mexico, say they see CELAC as a forum to build closer economic and political relations across the region, but not as a platform for challenging U.S. policies.
“There’s one sector that wants an anti-American project, and that isn’t sustainable. There are others who want to use it to face the challenges they have,” Daniel Restrepo, who was then President Barack Obama’s senior adviser on Latin America, said when CELEC was formed.
Plans for the organization, which grew out of the 24-nation Rio Group, has been in the works since a 2008 summit in Brazil.
CELAC added one more acronym to a region with plenty of smaller organizations, including Unasur, Mercosur, Caricom and the nine-nation, socialist-leaning Bolivarian Alternative bloc known as ALBA.
Maduro’s proposal to bring Puerto Rico into the fold is in line with frequent calls by his predecessor Chávez for the island to become an independent country. Maduro has echoed those calls, including in his rebuttal of a Twitter post by Puerto Rican superstar Ricky Martin this week that purported to show the new Venezuelan leader confusing the Cuba and Puerto Rico flags.
“Ricky Martin, I see how you are proud of your flag. I too am proud of your flag,” Maduro said. “But I would be more proud of you, Ricky Martin, my dear Caribbean compatriot, if you had a free and independent republican to go along with your flag.”
Independence is clearly not on the agenda for pro-commonwealth Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, but inclusion in CELAC could fit a push for greater autonomy from within his PDP.
Still, getting such a move past the U.S. State Department would appear to carry long odds.
An internal agency memo from a decade ago said: “Under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has the sole responsibility for the conduct of U.S. foreign relations, and this includes the foreign relations that relate to U.S. territories.”
In 2003, then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell reportedly sent a memo to ambassadors in Latin American reminding them of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. and telling them that then-Gov. Sila Calderón should not be treated as a head of state at a Latin American summit she was to attend in Panama, after she allegedly made such gestures. He also reportedly warned of any commonwealth gesture to join international organisms as an independent entity without the approval of the U.S. State Department.
The U.S. State Department has previously given the green-light to Puerto Rico’s active participation in limited international forums.
In 1990, the U.S. granted Puerto Rico permission to participate in the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC ), a U.N. regional organization for economic development. The Puerto Rico tack followed a course established for the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1984, which allowed that territory to participate in economic and social panels leading to bilateral agreements and financial benefits.
Agency officials have said it is appropriate for Puerto Rico to participate in U.N. organizations, like ECLAC, that are regional in nature in Latin America.