Ahead of III CELAC-EU Summit, movements from both continents build People’s Summit

Movements from Latin America and Europe have joined hands to hold the 2023 People’s Summit which will run parallel to the CELAC-EU Heads of State Summit

July 15, 2023 by Zoe Alexandra
Sign from a march in the 2022 People's Summit in Los Angeles. "Long live the unity of our peoples!" Photo: Midia Ninja

On July 17 and 18, leaders from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the European Union (EU) will converge in Brussels, Belgium, the seat of the EU, for the III CELAC-EU Summit. The two-day summit will be chaired by Ralph Gonsalves, the pro tempore president of CELAC and prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Charles Michel, the president of the European Council.

The last summit of this nature took place in 2015, and the parties will meet again in a moment of great regional and global transformation and with the political composition in each region looking vastly different. This edition has already caused a stir, with authorities from Cuba and Venezuela strongly condemning the conduct and attitude of the EU in the days preceding the Summit, specifically regarding the format and content of the meeting, as well as political positions that have singled out members of the CELAC bloc.

Read more: Cuba and Venezuela condemn EU’s unilateralism ahead of CELAC-EU Summit

However, the leaders from the region have also underscored the significance of this moment especially as CELAC continues to grow in strength and potential with the active participation of Brazil and Mexico, the region’s largest economies. Leaders from the bloc such as Colombian President Gustavo Petro and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have also gained global recognition for being leading voices on issues of climate change, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and the need to end socioeconomic inequality.

Parallel to the heads of state summit, people’s movements, trade unions, and left parties from across Latin America and the Caribbean and Europe joined hands to organize the People’s Summit. The People’s Summit, also taking place in Brussels from July 17-18, seeks to be a democratic and plural space for people-to-people exchange and open discussion about the key issues facing the people of both regions. The event, which is open to the public, is a forum for the participation of diverse organizations and formations of civil society.

For Paula Andrea Polanco Palacio, a member of INTAL Globalize Solidarity and part of the organizing team of the People’s Summit, the space is “an opportunity to go beyond the officially imposed issues and raise the question of what kind of regional integration we want for our two continents and what kind of healthy, democratic and mutually beneficial relations.”

The two-day program will feature speeches and interventions by renowned movement leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean and Europe, such as João Pedro Stedile of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) of Brazil, Haitian activist Camille Chalmers of the PAPDA party, Peruvian activist and feminist Aída García Naranjo, “Mocha”, and many others. On the night of July 17, in the Festival of Cultural Solidarity, participants will hear from prominent progressive figures such as Colombian President Gustavo Petro, British MP Jeremy Corbyn, Jean Luc Melenchon of La France Insoumise, and others.

Rodrigo Suñe of the International Peoples’ Assembly (IPA) and part of the organizing team for the People’s Summit highlighted that the summit seeks to complement the official Summit space by highlighting the perspective of organized people. It must go beyond “good statements,” Suñe clarified, and “the Summit must not only to be a contribution to to political discussions, especially in this relationship with CELAC, but also be an important process that leads to a calendar to build joint struggles for the next period around these axes, of a non-subordinate relationship, of conditions of equality and respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of our peoples.”

Whose civil society?

The People’s Summit has gained particular importance following the discontent over the official civil society forum, organized almost exclusively by the EU and its NGO entities called the “EU-Latin America and the Caribbean Forum: Partners in Change”. The event came under fire from Latin American and Caribbean organizations, such as ALBA Movimientos, who alleged that the region was blocked from helping build the event and as such, it undermined CELAC and the civil society space being built by Latin American and Caribbean civil society over the past several years, called CELAC Social. The list of events, participants, and speakers was never made public by the EU, worsening the already significant lack of transparency over the process.

When news emerged that right-wing activists from Cuba and Venezuela had been invited to the forum, the discontent only grew.

For Laura Capote, coordinator of ALBA Movimientos, “The fact that this forum was being organized by the right, shows that although formally they have a different policy, that is to say, a policy that is supposedly open to building regional relations of another type, discursively what really interests them is to build relations of domination and above all with allies of interests or allies in Latin America, European and US.”

Capote adds that in this sense, the People’s Summit is even more necessary and that it will “give a voice to the real organized civil society, which has been reflecting on a large number of issues that are included in the agendas of the European Union.” She adds that in the forum organized by the EU, “they are not going to talk about the economic model, they are not going to talk about the socio-environmental crisis resulting from the capitalist system, they are not going to talk about the urgency of creating egalitarian relations and in sovereignty frameworks, they are going to talk about other things, about the issues that the European Union is interested in and that are ideas that the European Union is going to put forward and that the supposed civil society, of course paid by them, will applaud and will say oh, great, very good.”

The People’s Summit will take place from July 17-18 at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. The schedule of the program is available here.