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Leaders to Consider Gun Control at CELAC Summit

CELAC Leaders Summit

Heads of state met during a CELAC summit in December 2011. (Image: Gobierno de Guatemala)

January 24, 2013

While the United States grapples to reach a consensus on gun control, can Latin American leaders find common ground on the issue? They may have the opportunity, as heads of state from the European Union (EU) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) convene for a biennial meeting in Santiago, Chile on January 26 and 27. CELAC—which includes every country in the hemisphere except for Canada and the United States—will also hold a leaders’ summit on January 28 after the EU conference. While the focus of the EU talks will largely center on trade and development, gun control may also share the spotlight. But some observers question whether CELAC can function as a forum for major regional dialogue.

Last week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he would bring a proposal for global gun control to the CELAC summit and, eventually, introduce the initiative to the United Nations. “This is turning into a debate at the international level, and we consider this the right time for Europe and Latin America to call on the UN to take up this issue once again,” Santos said. He noted that Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto support the idea; leaders in Cuba, France, and Spain also expressed interest. Though he did not release details of the proposal, Santos explained that the ultimate goal is to forge a UN treaty on arms regulation and trafficking.

As a region with a high homicide rate compared to most of the world, Latin America also has higher rates of murders by firearm than the global average. According to the 2012 Small Arms Survey, guns were used in 70 percent of homicides in Central America, and around 60 percent of Caribbean and South American homicides. The region’s gun laws tend to be stringent, but the UN estimates that roughly 80 million civilian-owned weapons exist in Latin America. And while some weapons are produced locally—Brazil is a large-scale exporter—China, Europe, and the United States represent a major source of gun imports. For example, Mexican authorities traced 70,000 illegal guns to the United States over the past six years.

While the summit could serve as a forum for the gun control debate, some observers question CELAC’s efficacy. After the conference in Santiago this week, the organization’s pro-tempore presidency will pass from Chile to Cuba. Given CELAC’s democracy clause, Cuban leadership of the organization is “hypocritical,” says a Cubanet op-ed. Also, one of the key figures in CELAC’s founding, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, will be absent. The ailing leader is still in Cuba recovering from surgery and missed his January 10 inauguration, which the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled could take place at a later date. Eduardo Ponce Vivanco, a former Peruvian ambassador, wrote in a January 23 op-ed that CELAC could undermine regional democracy with Cuban leadership and silence on Venezuela’s political situation. “Will we betray the Inter-American Democratic Charter and diminish the Organization of American States?” he asked. Latin America analyst James Bosworth points out that CELAC has done little other than hold an occasional leaders’ summit; the last one was in December 2011. “Let me know when CELAC takes an action that the OAS currently does, like destroys a gun or trains a police officer or monitors an election,” writes Bosworth.

In other multilateral organization news:

  • The BBC looks at Latin America’s growing markets ahead of the EU summit in Chile, noting that the region’s economies expanded by 3.1 percent last year while Europe remained in a recession. With ample opportunities in Latin America, the EU has become the region’s biggest investor and accounts for 43 percent of foreign direct investment. “The EU invests more here than in China, India, and Russia combined,” the article explains.
  • On the sidelines of the EU-CELAC summit, Uruguayan President José Mujica will meet with European counterparts to discuss a trade agreement between the EU and the Southern Common Market (Mercosur). After years of deadlock, negotiations for an EU-Mercosur accord began again in May 2010.
  • The OAS and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) began observation missions in Ecuador in mid-January ahead of the February 17 presidential elections. President Rafael Correa currently leads in the polls with around 60 percent of the vote.