28th Sep 2023

War of words on Russia mars EU-Latin America summit

  • Language about Russia's war in Ukraine was watered down (Photo: European Union)
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Disagreement on Russia's war in Ukraine overshadowed the finale of a summit between EU and Latin American and Caribbean leaders on Tuesday (18 July), with no consensus among the 60 participating countries on "strongly" denouncing Moscow's aggression.

All 27 EU member states and 32 countries of the 33-strong Celac [Latin America and the Caribbean] group agreed on a watered-down text that expressed just "deep concerns" over "the ongoing war against Ukraine" instead of condemning the war "in the strongest possible terms".

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Nicaragua boycotted the paragraph of the conclusions on Ukraine.

This came as little surprise since its president Daniel Ortega, who has ruled the country since 2007, was among the first world leaders to back Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Nicaragua was also the only Celac country which voted against a UN resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine and calling for the withdrawal of troops from the country — while Cuba, Bolivia, and El Salvador abstained.

Meanwhile, commenting on the watered-down communique, Celac president and prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, told the press: "Not everyone got the language that they wanted."

But the summit was still labelled by many EU and Latin American officials as a success.

"In times of great geopolitical change, like-minded friends like us need to get closer," said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen after the meeting.

'Rewrite history'

The difficulties over the finalisation of the joint communique became noticeable as leaders faced the second day of the summit without an agreement on the conclusions.

Arriving at the summit on Tuesday, Luxemburg prime minister Xavier Bettel said it would be a "shame" if the leaders of both regions were unable to say that there is Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The summit outcome cannot be used to "rewrite history", he said.

"The fact is that Russia aggressed Ukraine ... we have to face the reality," Bettel added. "If we don't see it as aggression, what is it?", he also said.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said ahead of the meeting that the joint statement had to include strong language in support of Ukraine.

Sometimes it is better to have no conclusions than to have weak language that does not mean anything, he added.

The Chilean minister of foreign affairs Alberto van Klaveren, for his part, had predicted on Tuesday morning that a compromise on the issue would be "very difficult".

"We are very surprised that there are members of our [Celac] group which oppose any resolution concerning the war in Ukraine," van Klaveren said.

"We think it's a war of aggression, that's the position of Chile," he added.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also warned that Russia is "using hunger as a weapon" with its decision to withdraw from the Black Sea grain deal.

"This requires a strong answer from the international community", the said.

Watered-down text

But Cuba, Venezuela and other countries with friendly Russia ties, as well as Nicaragua, dug in their heels as the summit entered its second day, before the final compromise on merely "deep" concern.

The participation of Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela also raised concerns among members of the European Parliament, who highlighted in a resolution earlier this month that "autocratic regimes" should not be invited to such events.

The EU-Celac conclusions also cite a UN resolution which reflects on the need to lift the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against Cuba, arguing that its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism has undermined international financial transactions with the island.

With billboards condemning "dictatorships" in Latin America, several NGOs and activists protested on Monday against the representation of leaders from places such as Cuba and Venezuela in the summit.

However, MEP Javi Lopez who heads the delegation to the Euro-Latin American parliamentary assembly, told EUobserver that having an "inclusive" and "representative" event is what made it possible, following eight years of no such meetings.

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