New regional group of nations welcomed by Mexican church leaders

By David Agren/Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — Catholic leaders in Mexico have welcomed the creation of a new regional group of Latin American and Caribbean nations that excludes the participation of the United States and Canada.

Christened the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and unveiled at a Feb. 22-23 summit of regional leaders in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, the new group embraces Cuba, aims to dampen flare-ups between regional rivals and seeks to deepen economic and political cooperation.

“It’s a dream and a demand that the Catholic Church in the subcontinent has encouraged,” said Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, in a Feb. 24 letter released by the Mexican bishops’ conference. “Therefore, we welcome this decision with hope.”

His letter endorsed the new group’s exclusion of the United States and Canada, saying, “There are considerable distances with the two countries of the North, and their political and economic interests don’t permit the just growth of the rest of the countries on the continent.”

Bishop Arizmendi said the summit’s goals of integration and cooperation revived the hopes first articulated in 1979 at the Third General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops’ Conference. At the time, the bishops called for countries in the region to cast aside differences and recognize common “values, necessities, difficulties and hopes.”

Similar calls were made at conferences held in 1992 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil.

“We are very close peoples through our cultural identity and the common struggle against poverty,” the bishop said.

Father Enrique Quiroga, executive secretary for the justice and solidarity department of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops’ Conference, also welcomed the summit initiatives.

“We believe it’s necessary that the elements that unify us are strengthened,” Father Quiroga told Catholic News Service via telephone from Bogota, Colombia.

“That would be much more valuable than (focusing on) any of the particularities that exist in the various countries.”

Details of the new group’s governance and exact functions — along with how it would promote cooperation among countries adopting radically disparate political practices — remain uncertain, but are expected to be decided at future summits scheduled for 2011 in Venezuela and 2012 in Chile.

The summit’s host, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, said the group would not replace the Organization of American States — which includes the United States and Canada — but would instead, “cement the unity of the Latin American and Caribbean peoples.”

The group’s advent comes as Latin America faces enormous challenges, among them increasing violence related to narcotics trafficking cartels, continued inequality and poor economic growth in many member nations and, according to outgoing President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, increased military spending and “authoritarian governments.”


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