Sebastián Piñera's trademark megawatt smile is all over the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). But why?
The purpose of CELAC is to have an organization that consciously excludes the United States and Canada, and eventually to replace the Organization of American States (OAS) entirely. Chile will hold the 2012 summit, which means Piñera will hold the rotating presidency.
Domestically, this cannot help Piñera, who is already very unpopular. The right may well get disgusted with the glad-handling of the Latin American boogeyman Hugo Chávez, while the left will not be impressed and will not think better of him as a result.
Internationally, I also don't see the benefit. Chávez is not particularly popular around Latin America, so Piñera gets no kudos for standing with him. Even Dilma Rousseff, considerably to the left of Piñera, departed early. Plus, Chile has no beef with the United States or Canada--to the contrary.
Finally, Piñera's own foreign minister publicly undermined any notion that CELAC will have any clout:
In a telephone interview from the summit in Caracas, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno told me that CELAC will be “a forum, not an organization.” He added that it will not have a bureaucracy, “not even a Secretariat, like UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations).”
So he is embracing an entity that he does not expect to have any power, and which does not help him politically. Perhaps this is a clue:
Momentos después de haber llegado a Caracas para participar de la Cumbre de la Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y el Caribe (CELAC), el Presidente Sebastián Piñera, declaró que uno de los objetivos de la reunión es “integrarnos en términos de inversiones, integrarnos físicamente, en el campo de la energía. Espero que este Celac recupere el tiempo perdido en materia de integración y podamos transformar a nuestros pueblos de América en pueblos unidos, que enfrentamos juntos el futuro”.
Chile suffers tremendously from energy dependence, so maybe Piñera figures this is a way to get more access to other countries' resources?