Silly in Chile

A worthy EU-CELAC summit marred by outdated politicsIt would be comic if it was not so tragic. This month, the 33-country Community of Latin American and Caribbean states, a regional grouping that lists democracy, human rights and prosperity among its core values, will swear in its new chairman: President Raúl Castro of Cuba. Yet Cuba has not had free elections or a free press for more than 50 years, and Mr Castro is a throwback to the Latin America of sunglass-wearing generals. The 81-year-old communist will then become Latin America’s official spokesman in its trade talks with the EU.High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email to buy additional rights. swearing-in will take place after this weekend’s two-day CELAC-EU summit in Chile. Among the heads of state present will be Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. The economic rationale for their trip is clear. Much of Latin America is booming, and Europe remains the region’s largest trade partner and investor. Politically, it is also better to engage with pariah states such as Cuba than exclude them, as Myanmar’s democratic transition shows. Still, the prospect of the German chancellor standing next to Mr Castro in the summit photograph beckons awfully. Perhaps the Europeans, so keen on human rights elsewhere, will avoid shaking his hand. That will show them.CELAC was founded two years ago in Caracas. Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s cancer-stricken president and one of Mr Castro’s closest allies, then called it Latin America’s “most important political event in over 100 years”. CELAC’s main aim is the laudable objective of regional unity, although by pointedly excluding the US and Canada. Washington has barely complained – partly because it only has itself to blame, partly because it similarly excludes China from its mooted Trans-Pacific Partnership, and partly because CELAC is widely seen as an empty rhetorical vessel.Indeed, for all the talk of regional togetherness, there are increasingly two Latin Americas: one, including Chile, that is pragmatic and focused on results; and another, which spans Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina, where heated revolutionary rhetoric is often deployed to mask deteriorating human rights and worsening economies. Ms Merkel and her European colleagues will hear both points of view in Santiago this weekend. They may soon discover that Davos, another town nestled at the base of a vast mountain range, has no monopoly on hot air.

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