Increased security, a range of cultural events, and a declared public holiday are some of the preparations underway in Caracas for the founding conference of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to be held there at the end of the week. CELAC is an organisation the Venezuelan government hopes will counter the Organisation of American States (OAS).
The CELAC unites all independent countries of the Americas except the United States and Canada. Moves for its formation began in February 2010 at a Latin American and Caribbean Unity Summit in Mexico just eight months after the coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
The founding summit was going to be held on 5 July this year, to coincide with Venezuela’s celebration of 200 years since its Declaration of Independence, but was suspended due to President Hugo Chavez’s health. It will now be held on 2 and 3 December.
Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said the founding conference will discuss five key topics: the formal establishment of CELAC as an organisation, including its decision-making process and political structure; energy independence; social development, including food, health, and education policies; environmental development and the prevention of climate change; and the world economic crisis and its consequences, as well as independence from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Heads of states from 32 countries have confirmed their attendance, with Costa Rica the only country sending its vice-president.
Various Caracas sites have been decorated with countries’ flags or portraits of their presidents, to mark the event.
Luis Motta, Commanding General of the National Bolivarian Guard said they are increasing security measures and will be running a “special security operation” for the conference. The national government has also prohibited carrying weapons from today until 5 December in Caracas. Security forces assigned to the event are exempt. Vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, except those transporting food, water, water chemicals, gas, and medicine, are also prohibited.
Chavez declared Friday a public holiday in the Greater Caracas area, although only public sector workers will have the day off work.
Cultural events to coincide with the conference
Culture minister Pedro Calzadilla said various museums, theatres, and plazas will be “symbolically taken over” to mark the event.
“Caracas is going to become not just a celebration of Latin American union from the political point of view, but also from the cultural one,” he said.
The National Cinema Foundation will be showing 25 feature films from the region, and there will be dance performances and photographic exhibitions. Works of art from Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Argentina, and Peru are on display, together with poems and sculptures from around the continent. All of the events will be free.
Venezuela’s Youth Symphonic Orchestra, lead by renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel, as well as the famous Puerto Rican band Calle 13, reggae singer Julian Marley- son of Bob Marley, Cuban group Buena Fe, and other Latin American groups will perform in a free concert on Saturday to celebrate CELAC .
Further, there is a Latin America and Caribbean Food festival being held, with traditional meals available from 16 of the 33 countries participating in CELAC. The festival includes cultural presentations, music, and cooking demonstrations from the contributing countries.
“[The launching of CELAC] is an event that will change the history of this continent,” Calzadilla said.
Analyst Luis Quintana, speaking on YVKE Mundial, said, “The birth of CLEAC is the demise of the OAS…which will continue existing but it won’t have the same political weight that it had before, because it hasn’t fulfilled its established goals…it has never helped to solve problems, rather it has increased them… the people are about to witness the most important event in the history of Venezuela and Latin America… CELAC will attend to the historical needs of people.”