Disagreements over the degree of condemnation of Russia for its war in Ukraine have exposed cracks between the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). After weeks of intense negotiations between the teams and two days of summit meetings to strengthen ties after an eight-year hiatus, the leaders failed to reach a unanimous position rejecting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s large-scale invasion. The Nicaraguan regime — which has ties to the Kremlin and an autocratic record of serious attacks on human rights — blocked efforts to include an outright condemnation of Russia and tried to sabotage the statement. But it stood alone. On Tuesday, the rest of the countries — 59 in total — signed a somewhat watered-down communication that did not mention Russia, only the war against Ukraine. “We came away feeling that we had done our duty,” said the president of the European Council, Charles Michel.
Russia’s war against Ukraine was not the main topic of the summit, which was intended to revitalize political and commercial ties between the two continents. But the subject ended up becoming a key element of the meeting. It has made it clear that the EU and Latin America have different positions on the invasion, its solution and its effects. The summit also showed that Nicaragua is increasingly isolated, although Cuba and Venezuela stood behind the Central American nation without actually opposing the statement. Just before the Brussels meeting, victims of Daniel Ortega’s regime urged Latin American and European leaders to unite to increase pressure on Managua.
“We are concerned about the war in Ukraine. The countries of Latin America have emphasized that we want to collaborate to achieve peace,” said the President of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, at a press conference at the end of the summit, alongside his counterpart from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gosalves, who holds the temporary CELAC presidency; Charles Michel; and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who holds the EU Council’s six-month presidency, was absent from the conference to attend an election rally, just six days before the elections in Spain.
It wasn’t essential for CELAC, a highly diverse group of 33 countries without organizational structure, to sign a final statement. But it was for the EU, a point that the leaders of the EU institutions and the Spanish president emphasized during Tuesday’s plenary session. In the end, the situation was saved by building a consensus declaration without Nicaragua.
“We express our deep concern about the ongoing war against Ukraine, which continues to cause immense human suffering,” the statement says, “and it is exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy, restricting growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, increasing energy and food insecurity and raising risks to financial stability.” The text stressed “the need for a just and sustainable peace.”
Thus, the EU-27 — which sought to bring the Americas into closer alignment with its support for Ukraine — toned down its usual language in the statement. That version does not satisfy all Europeans. “Do not be seduced by Russia’s propaganda,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on his social media after speaking at the meeting. “Russia is not the victim, but the aggressor. Ukraine is defending its right to freedom but also the rules-based international order,” he added. “Our partners are lucid and realistic about the nature of this war and about its consequences, agri-food and beyond,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, who acknowledged that the statement does not go as far as usual.
The majority of CELAC countries supported the UN resolution in the early stages of the war, which demanded the “cessation of hostilities” in Ukraine. Nicaragua voted against it, while Bolivia, Cuba and El Salvador abstained. However, achieving a total rejection of the invasion, which has global repercussions, and mentioning Russia in the statement proved impossible. In addition, according to EU sources, CELAC’s lack of structure has hindered the negotiations. They did find common language to highlight the “incalculable suffering” that the European slave trade has inflicted on millions of people. After days of discussions, the declaration also pointed to the need for reparations for this “crime against humanity.”
Economic and trade relations
There were other sticking points at the summit as well. In particular, Brazil wanted more clarity on and commitment to financing measures to combat the climate crisis and sought to include language against the extraction of raw materials. Lula claims to maintain a neutral position on Ukraine, and on Monday, at the business forum on the sidelines of the summit, criticized the defense industry’s effects on the climate crisis. “The war in the heart of Europe casts a pall of uncertainty over the world and channels resources that were essential for the economy and social programs for war purposes,” he said. “The arms race makes addressing climate change even more difficult,” he added.
Another issue was the trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay), a pact that was reached in 2019 but has not yet been ratified. For months, both parties have been trying to add details to the text produced four years ago, which would affect 780 million consumers. The meeting has served to clarify positions, but there are still months of negotiation ahead.
The leaders agreed to hold summits every two years — the next meeting is expected to be held in Colombia in 2025, as EL PAÍS reported — as well as maintain a roadmap of events and meetings. The summit has been the site of trade talks, in which Latin American leaders such as Fernández and Lula da Silva have warned the EU that they will not accept extractivist policies but seek fair ones based on added value for a continent that is rich in raw materials at a time when Europe is looking for new reliable partners and desires to avoid losing ground to China.
The European Commission has pledged an investment of €45 billion ($50 billion) in the region, through European money, some Member States, investment banks and private entities with its Global Gateway tool. It also presented an entire menu of 130 projects for investment in the region to encourage European participation. “It has been an excellent summit that has felt like a new beginning for old friends. We need each other. In times of great geopolitical change, we need to come closer together,” von der Leyen said. “It’s not just about how much we invest, but how we invest. We want our investment to come with the highest environmental standards, transparency, shared technology and knowledge, and workforce training.”
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