Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez warned democracy is at risk and slammed the region's "recalcitrant and fascist right wing" on Tuesday as he formally opened the seventh summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) bloc.
"We have to work to guarantee and strengthen the institutions of our region," warned the president in a tough speech.
"Democracy is definitely at risk. After the pandemic we have seen how far-right sectors have stood up and threatened each of our peoples," declared the Peronist leader, who mistakenly called the event the "Summit of the Americas" before correcting himself.
"We must not allow this recalcitrant and fascist right wing to put the institutionalism of the peoples at risk," he said, referencing the recent riots in Brasilia by supporters of Brazilian far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro that attacked the seats of power.
Fernández also highlighted recent unrest in Bolivia and the assassination attempt against Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, his own vice-president, last year.
The Frente de Todos leader went on to ask those present for a round of applause for Brazil's recently inaugurated President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose presence at the CELAC summit marks his nation's return to the bloc after Bolsonaro ordered its withdrawal.
"A CELAC without Brazil is an empty CELAC," declared Fernández.
In 2020, Bolsonaro – a harsh critic of the left and Argentina's government in particular – suspended Brazil's participation on the grounds that the CELAC bloc "gave prominence to non-democratic regimes such as those of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua."
As a result, Brazil did not participate in the sixth summit, which took place in 2021 in Mexico.
Precisely on Cuba and Venezuela, Fernández called for "an end to blockades" in his speech, which he described "a perverse method of sanction, not against governments but against peoples."
"Cuba has been under a blockade for more than six decades, and Venezuela for the same," he added, under the watchful eye of Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel.
The president made no reference to mass human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by the governments of Venezuela and Cuba in their respective countries.
Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro was originally scheduled to attend the Buenos Aires summit, but he pulled out of the trip on Monday, blaming shadowy far-right forces that he said had planned "acts of aggression" against his delegation travelling to Argentina.
Prior to the trip, a number of opposition lawmakers in Argentina had called for Maduro's immediate arrest, should he set foot in Argentina, while a number of civil society groups and organisations had attempted to file cases in the courts alleging mass human rights violations.
Maduro had a meeting scheduled for Monday with Lula, who instead kept a meeting with Cuba's Díaz-Canel on the agenda for Tuesday.
Closing his speech, Fernández asked the leaders present to help make "integration a reality."
"I urge you to understand once and for all that alone we are of little value, but that united we can have an overwhelming force and that the time has come for the Caribbean and Latin America to become a single region, defending the same interests for the progress of our peoples," he concluded.