Puebla Group emerges as new camp in regional diplomacy

7th November 2019

By Fernando Giménez

Puebla Group emerges as new camp in regional diplomacy

Latin American diplomacy is shifting rapidly, and two broad coalitions seem to be clearly forming, with the emergence of the Puebla Group in opposition to the 2017-founded Lima Group.

With increased momentum due to the presidential victory of Alberto Fernández in Argentina, the second summit of the Puebla Group is set to take place this weekend in Buenos Aires. The recently formed alliance of Latin American leaders is expected to articulate a progressive agenda for the region while antagonizing with the Lima Group and their conservative governments.

</p> <p>The Group was born out of a conference held in Puebla, Mexico, in July this year, when 30 politicians and intellectuals from 10 countries attended the meeting with a clear objective in mind: to promote “a new progressive impulse”. In their <a href="http://progresivamente.org/2019/07/14/declaracion-de-puebla/">initial declaration</a> they define the Puebla Group as a space for political exchange to address common challenges. They reject neoliberal policies, aim to counter the &#8220;lawfare&#8221; they say are victims of, and seek a more egalitarian society.</p> <p>The founding members were relevant left wing figures of their respective countries, like Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas from México, Senator José Miguel Insulza and economist Carlos Ominami, both from Chile, lawmaker Gabriela Rivadeneira from Ecuador, former President of Colombia Ernesto Samper and Brazilian politician Fernando Haddad. In the following months former Presidents Leonel Fernández of Dominican Republic, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, Dilma Rousseff and Lula Da Silva of Brazil and Rafael Correa of Ecuador also joined the Group.</p> <h2><strong>No Cuba, no Venezuela</strong></h2> <p>Despite its left leaning constitution the Puebla Group does not include members Cuba and Venezuela, the two most radical projects in Latin America. The Group is “learning from its mistakes,” according to the July declaration. This time the coalition is comprised of center left and social democratic politicians, stating concerns about accountability, environmental policies, economic inequality and the downsides of globalization.</p> <p>This is not to say that the Puebla Group shies away from its leftist agenda. For example, they recently <a href="http://progresivamente.org/2019/10/26/declaracion-del-grupo-de-puebla-sobre-elecciones-en-bolivia/">commended</a> Evo Morales for winning the elections after a controversial vote recount, and spoke out against opposition members for casting doubts on the results. This is significant as progressives feel there is contempt among conservative governments in the region for Morales’ pluri-national project and his indigenous vindications, as well as an erosion of democratic norms due to violent challenges of official results. The opposition, in contrast, questions Morales&#8217; democratic credentials pointing that he ran for re-election despite losing a referendum on the matter.</p> <p>The Puebla Group seems to pose a more moderate alternative to the São Paulo Forum. Originally summoned in 1990 by Brazil’s Workers Party, the Forum has a strong presence of grass roots movements and political parties of varying ideologies ranging from moderate left to communism. Among its members are the Communist Party of Cuba and United Socialist Party of Venezuela, each one currently ruling their respective countries.</p> <p>Despite sharing some members (notably Lula Da Silva and Evo Morales), the Puebla Group is entirely composed of individual figures instead of political parties or other organizations. And their willingness to steer away from radical elements is undoubted. This can be seen in their attitudes towards the Venezuelan crisis. Unlike the Forum, the Puebla Group refrains altogether from supporting the Maduro government and calls for dialogue between the parties in conflict.</p> <h2><strong>Lima Group vs. Puebla Group</strong></h2> <p>The developments in Venezuela are one of the most divisive topics in the region, not only between conservative and progressive governments, but also in between the left camp as seen above.</p> <p>In this regard, the Puebla Group has one main antagonist: the Lima Group.</p> <p>The Lima Group was founded in 2017 by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru through a <a href="http://www.rree.gob.pe/SitePages/declaracion_conjunta.aspx?id=DC-007-17">declaration</a> whose stated purpose is “to contribute to the restoration of democracy in that country through a <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/05/09/senator-pinedo-we-dont-want-a-military-solution-for-venezuelas-conflict">peaceful</a> and negotiated solution”. To the understanding of the Lima Group, democracy has been undoubtedly interrupted by the Venezuelan government and human rights violations are systematic.</p> <p>Shortly after its inception, the Lima Group took a set of measures to force the Maduro administration into a negotiated transition. By the end of 2018, the presidents of Argentina, Colombia and the recently elected Jair Bolsonaro from Brazil openly supported the opposition leader Juan Guaidó in his bid to ouster Maduro from government. This is a stark contrast with the declaration of the Puebla Group, which sees this stance as interventionist and hawkish.</p> <p>The members of the Lima Group share common grounds beyond Venezuela. They all belong to the political right and condemn the populist endeavors of the past decade, accusing them of economic mismanagement and corruption. The Group of Puebla dismisses these accusations as “<a href="http://progresivamente.org/2019/07/14/declaracion-conjunta-sobre-la-necesidad-de-responder-ante-la-guerra-judicial-o-lawfare/">lawfare</a>”, especially against former heads of state in Argentina, Ecuador and Brazil, where political tensions reached new heights this year with the <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/07/11/lula-fernandez-de-kirchner-brazil-argentina-lava-jato-cuadernos-notebooks">imprisonment</a> of Lula da Silva and the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.</p> <h2><strong>Growing troubles for both sides</strong></h2> <p>As the second meeting of the Puebla Group nears, it is clear that the state of the region is very different than it was in 2017.</p> <p>The Bolsonaro brand of national conservatism distances him from other presidents of the Lima Group, like the outgoing center-liberal Mauricio Macri in Argentina and the moderate conservative Sebastián Piñera in Chile. Recent massive protests against Lenín Moreno in Ecuador and Piñera in Chile cast doubts on the sustainability of their economic models. And the new government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in México abandoned the meetings of the Lima Group.</p> <p>Something similar is now happening in Argentina. The victory of Alberto Fernández means that the country’s leadership switches sides, and puts him as the most prominent member to be of the Puebla Group.</p> <p>Yet other members like Lula Da Silva and Dilma Rousseff remain besieged by legal cases. It also remains to be seen what path the Bolivian opposition will take about the contested vote recount that reelected Evo Morales. The upcoming meetings could be an opportunity for the local center-left leaders to back Morales and Brazil’s Workers’ Party in their conflicts, but it will more broadly open the door for a larger reconfiguration of the political landscape in Latin America.</p> <p>

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Fernando Giménez

Fernando Giménez is a foreign affairs writer based in Rosario. He holds a degree in International Relations from the Inter American University and has held positions in various NGOs and diplomatic missions. He has published at Middle East Analyst, Perfíl and Bastión Digital.