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Latin America Blog

Did Hugo Chavez derail CELAC summit?

Hugo Chavez's apparently surprise announcement that Venezuela, Chile, and Cuba would lead CELAC left other Latin American and Caribbean nations nonplussed.

By James BosworthGuest blogger / December 5, 2011

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is seen on a large TV screen, flanked by paintings of Latin America Independence heros Simon Bolivar, left, and Antonio Jose de Sucre, while speaking at the second working session of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday.

Ariana Cubillos/AP

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Among the key questions facing any international organization are:

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1) Who leads and sets the agenda?
2) How are decisions made?
3) Are decisions binding among all member states?

Those questions were on display at the founding Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) meeting in Caracas, Venezuela, this past week. Let me take them in reverse order.

3) Decisions at CELAC are voluntary and not binding. There are no penalties for countries that go against the resolutions or choose not to participate. This makes CELAC resolutions mostly symbolic for now and dependent on the willingness of every country to participate.

2) How decisions are made was a big debate behind the scenes this week and the Latin American and Caribbean countries could not come to an agreement. A group of countries wanted a majority or two-thirds vote to pass resolutions while others insisted on a consensus model (all countries must agree). Being that the countries could not agree on these rules, decision-making appears to remain consensus-based. All countries must agree on everything. Any country should be able to object and prevent a resolution from happening.

1) On Friday night, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared that CELAC will be led by a Troika of countries: the current president pro tem (summit host) plus the previous and next hosts. Today, that means the Troika is led by Chile (President Sebastián Piñera is now president pro tem and the summit will be in Santiago in 2012) along with Venezuela, the most recent summit host, and Cuba, where the summit will be held in 2013.

How was this Troika organization decided? It's not quite clear. The Troika is written into the "estatuto de procedimientos" of the organization. Though countries agreed to this document, many appeared to be taken off guard by the announcement.

Doesn't CELAC's consensus model mean that all countries agreed to this model? Apparently not. Trinidad and Tobago strenuously objected on Saturday, saying that the English-speaking Caribbean must be represented in the leadership group and asking for it to be expanded to a quartet. Panama asked that CELAC establish a general secretariat. If Trinidad and Tobago and Panama objected and all decisions are consensus based, how did this Troika organization make its way into the document?

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