Alex Main is Senior Associate for International Policy at the Centre for Economic and Policy Research.
Washington, DC- When President Obama arrives in Cartagena, Colombia, on April 14 to attend the Sixth Summit of the Americas, he may well feel a pang of nostalgia, as he recalls the heartwarming welcome he received three years ago at the Fifth Summit in Trinidad and Tobago.On that happy occasion, which marked Obama’s first encounter with most of the region’s heads of state, he was greeted with smiles and warm handshakes at every turn. For the US media, the takeaway moment was a brief instant when Obama and President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela exchanged pleasantries with broad grins.
For Latin America’s leaders, the most memorable sight might have been that of Obama patiently sitting through the long speeches of other presidents, studiously taking notes with a look of intense concentration. In his own speech, Obama spoke of the need for “equal partnerships” and “a new chapter of engagement” with the countries of the region.
The words and style of the new president stood in stark contrast with the coarse, inflexible approach of former President George W Bush, who at the previous Americas Summit in Argentina had lectured his counterparts on the benefits of “free trade”, while massive protests against his administration’s policies raged outside.
With Obama now in the White House, expectations were high that a particularly unpleasant chapter of US foreign policy had finally come to a close.
But that was three years ago. Today, talk of “partnership”, “equality” and “mutual respect” is bound to be greeted with skepticism by Latin America’s leaders. The “new chapter” has turned out to be “business as usual” with Obama continuing to implement the Bush administration’s agenda towards Latin America in various key policy areas.
Whether on Cuba policy, “free trade”, the “war on drugs” or relations with left-wing governments in South America, the administration’s current policies are nearly indistinguishable from those of Bush. As a result, Obama’s reception in Cartagena is likely to be lukewarm at best; and the Summit of the Americas itself may well be seen as increasingly irrelevant by most of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Obama’s promising overtures http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/04/201241272337682401.html
In Trinidad, Obama’s promising overtures and openness provided the Summit of the Americas with a much-needed shot in the arm. Well before 2009, the Summits had lost much of their lustre and sense of purpose.
First launched by Bill Clinton in 1994, the Summit of the Americas – bringing together the leaders of every government in the hemisphere except for Cuba – had been created to advance the US’ regional “free trade” offensive. They had started out promisingly from the US government point of view with leaders at the First Summit in Miami agreeing in principle to the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
But, by the 2000s, the Summits began to drift perilously off course. In 2001, discussions at the Third Summit in Quebec were eclipsed by spectacular civil society protests and police repression. At the Fourth Summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina, the anti-FTAA rebellion spread to the Summit itself. Five countries firmly objected to the agreement terms set by the US, forcing Bush to concede defeat. In a nearby soccer stadium, Hugo Chávez joined thousands of Latin American protesters and correctly pronounced the FTAA “buried”.
At the April 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, there were fewer protests, mainly because the FTAA was no longer on the agenda. Instead, with a strong contingent of the region’s governments now solidly on the left, the big focus was on the US’ refusal to allow Cuba to participate. The argument that Cuba first had to meet “democratic” benchmarks was received with incredulity given the US’ cozy relationship with various dictatorships around the world. Many participants expressed their discontent, including President Lula of Brazil.
In response, the White House made Cuba policy a central part of its charm offensive in Trinidad. Though refusing to relent on Cuba’s exclusion, Obama announced, only days before the Summit, the easing of restrictions on travel and remittances to the island for Cuban-Americans. In Trinidad, Obama declared his administration would promote a “new beginning” in its Cuba relations and seek high-level engagement with the Raúl Castro government. These gestures of good will, seen by many as a positive first toward correcting the US’ absurd and unjust Cuba policy, undoubtedly helped placate the administration’s strongest Latin American critics.
Three years have passed since the Trinidad Summit – more than enough time for Obama to implement significant reforms to US policy towards Latin America. But it’s difficult to discern even any minor changes.
The limited easing of travel restrictions to Cuba wasn’t followed by any meaningful reform. The current administration remains unwilling to ease the trade embargo against Cuba, let alone remove it altogether.
But it’s not just on Cuba that President Obama’s actions have been disappointing to Latin Americans. In several key policy areas, he has continued the path set by the Bush administration: an aggressive “free trade” agenda, which has taken on new forms since the FTAA’s demise; militarisation as a response to the so-called “war on drugs”, especially in Central America; and regional diplomacy rooted in an outdated Cold War paradigm that seeks to isolate and contain left governments.
‘Free trade’ by any means
When the FTAA foundered in 2005, the Bush administration began to focus on bilateral “free trade” agreements (FTAs) with individual Latin American governments more disposed to the US corporate trade agenda. A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Peru was approved by the US Congress in December 2007.
Bush also signed FTAs with Colombia (2006) and Panama (2007), but was unable to get these through Congress before the end of his term. When Obama took office in 2009, he didn’t shelve these agreements, even though this was what his labour allies and many Democrats demanded. Instead, Obama presented them for congressional approval, together with the US-Korea FTA, in late 2011. Though most Democrats in the House opposed the FTAs, the trade deals were approved, thanks to the backing of a majority of Republicans.
Especially troubling was Obama’s enthusiastic support for the Colombia FTA. During the presidential campaign, Obama said he opposed a FTA with Colombia and, in his last televised debate against John McCain, proclaimed: “We have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn’t perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organise for their rights”.
But in April 2011, Obama received Colombian President Santos at the White House and announced he would present the US-Colombia FTA to Congress. In order to garner the support of progressive congressional Democrats, Obama submitted a “Labour Action Plan” that Colombia agreed to implement as a pre-condition.
But, as human rights defenders pointed out, the Action Plan had no teeth; it required Colombia to create institutions and programmes nominally dedicated to protecting union activists, but established no benchmarks for reducing the killings.
Obama is now expected to announce Colombia’s compliance with the Labour Action Plan – possibly during the Cartagena Summit itself – despite the fact that killings of trade unionists continue (at least 30 in 2011 and four so far this year) and over the strong opposition of the AFL-CIO, the US’ largest trade union federation.
Although Obama remains dedicated to keeping the “free trade” agenda sputtering along, interest in US-backed trade agreements has waned in Latin America. These agreements, designed in concert with major US corporations, prioritise corporate “rights” above public services and labour and environmental concerns. FTAs require reducing or eliminating protections for various developing countrys’ manufacturing and agricultural industries – giving larger multinational companies a clear advantage – while invariably enacting costly protections for intellectual property and highly-paid professionals (again, the US – and multinational businesses disproportionately benefit).
Latin American countries with FTAs have seen little benefit from them; few have experienced strong economic growth or experienced marked social progress. In fact, many of these countries are faring worse than their neighbours.
Meanwhile, the South American trade bloc Mercosur (Common market of the South) is gaining popularity. It includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela as full members (with Venezuela’s entry awaiting the Paraguayan legislature’s approval) and Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru as “associate members”, exploring the possibility of full membership.
With an end goal of creating a common market among member countries, Mercosur takes into account asymmetries within the group and allows members to pursue trade integration at varying paces. Though there are significant economic disparities within Mercosur, they are much less stark than between Mercosur countries and the US, and provide burgeoning South American industries a more level playing field upon which to compete. These factors make it a more enticing option for many countries than rigid FTAs with the economic giant in the North.
|In Trinidad summit, Obama declared his administration would promote a “new beginning” in its Cuba relations [EPA]
Regional security agenda
As anyone who reads the news is aware, Central America and Mexico are not only suffering economically, but are also reeling from the devastating impact of surging levels of organised crime and gang violence resulting primarily from the trafficking of drugs to the US.
In his 2009 Trinidad speech, Obama recognised that as the world’s biggest consumer of drugs, the US had greatly contributed to record levels of violence south of the border, and promised the US would “take aggressive action to reduce our demand for drugs, and to stop the flow of guns and bulk cash across our borders”.
Three years later, it’s clear that the demand-side approach to drug trafficking has been relegated to the back burner, while the long-standing militarised approach has been ramped up.
The Obama administration has aggressively touted Mexico’s Plan Mérida and Plan Colombia as “models” for Central America. Both of these plans involve heavy deployment of local military forces to address crime, with the US providing training, equipment and direct funding.
In Mexico, violent crime has intensified since the launch of Plan Mérida, with over 12,000 homicides within just first nine months of 2011. This hasn’t prevented the Obama administration from continuing to support Plan Mérida and extending it to Mexico’s southern neighbours as the Central America Regional Initiative (CARSI). Since CARSI’s initiation in 2008, violent crime has increased steadily throughout most of Central America.
The main “success” model for these initiatives is Plan Colombia, into which the US has poured more than $8bn over 13 years. Initially designed to target drug-trafficking, Plan Colombia’s mission soon involved supporting the Colombian military’s counter-insurgency campaigns against the FARC and ELN guerrilla groups.
Plan Colombia may have successfully eliminated some illicit coca cultivations and contributed to a fall in violent crime in some areas, but it has been accompanied by massive human rights abuses carried out by Colombia’s armed forces and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Afro-Colombians caught in the middle of the conflict.
Nevertheless, William Brownfield, Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, recently told a Congressional Committee that Colombia should be viewed as “an exporter of regional security”. He went on to explain that “Colombia’s participation in improving security and reducing instability throughout the hemisphere by providing needed training is an enormous return on our investment in that country, and is precisely the type of regional approach to security promoted by Secretary Clinton”.
To the casual observer, it’s difficult to understand why the US clings to a militarised approach to regional security issues given the results so far. One explanation could be an underlying motivation to perpetuate the Cold War policy of close relations and involvement with Latin American militaries, including those with bloody human rights records.
Whatever the case, US-led militarisation is increasingly unwelcome in South America, where many governments have recently rejected the presence and influence of the US military. The left-leaning government of Rafael Correa in Ecuador recently shut down a key US military base near the city of Manta.
Over the last few years, several countries have stopped sending troops to the US-based Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Co-operation (WHINSEC). Formerly known as the School of the Americas, WHINSEC is a Cold War-era military school designed to strengthen ties with Latin American military cadre and help them to be more effective against perceived security threats. In reality, WHINSEC/SOA graduates have targeted nuns, priests, labour organisers and campesinos and have perpetrated numerous coups d’Etat, such as, most recently, in Honduras.
Even in Colombia, the US has seen a major reversal of its military goals. In June 2009, reports emerged that the US had signed an agreement that would give it unprecedented access to seven military bases in key strategic locations. A US Air Force document stated the deal would allow the US military to conduct “full spectrum” interventions throughout the region, including against “anti-US governments”.
Needless to say, other South American countries unanimously opposed the plan, especially as Colombia had illegally invaded and bombed neighbouring Ecuador only a year earlier. When Juan Manuel Santos assumed the Colombian presidency soon after the scandal broke, he quietly shelved the agreement, preferring improved relations with neighboring countries to placating the US.
Another central aspect of Bush’s Latin American policy that Obama has fully embraced is the effort to isolate and roll back left-leaning political movements. Under Bush, heavy-handed tactics were used to try to advance this strategy.
In 2002, the White House supported a short-lived coup against Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and in 2004 it helped execute a successful coup that forced Haiti’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, into exile. But these and other interventions failed to curb the rise of left governments throughout the region and only stoked resentment against the US.
In late 2005, the administration engaged in a change of personnel and tactics and from then on, a seemingly “softer” approach prevailed under the guidance of experienced diplomat Thomas Shannon. However, the US government’s sights remained locked on enemy No. 1 – Venezuela – and countries most closely allied with it, such as, Bolivia and Ecuador.
As confidential State Department cables released by WikiLeaks revealed, there was a broad diplomatic effort underway in the last years of Bush’s presidency to try to drive a wedge between Venezuela and other governments in the region.
A cable by then US Ambassador in Chile, Craig Kelly, called for using “public diplomacy” to fight “a battle of ideas and visions”. In language reminiscent of the Cold War, Kelly recommended“strengthen[ing] ties to those military leaders in the region who share our concern over Chavez”. He suggested increased funding for “critical programmes such as International Military Education and Training (IMET)” and for maintaining other programmes such as Foreign Military Financing.
The first major litmus test for Obama’s Latin America policy was the June 2009 military coup d’Etat in Honduras. A left-leaning, democratically-elected president, Manuel Zelaya, had been forced into exile at gunpoint by the Honduran military. Zelaya had close ties to Venezuela and other left-wing leaders and his country hosted the Palmerola US military base. Despite this, the US at first officially objected to the coup and joined every other member country of the OAS in suspending Honduras’ membership in the regional group.
As time passed, however it became clear that the US was reluctant to take measures to reverse the coup. The White House and State Department engaged in stalling tactics to prevent Zelaya from returning to the country, with Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly and presidential adviser Dan Restrepo mediating long, fruitless negotiations with the coup regime.
The administration’s true intentions became apparent when Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon announced in early November 2009 that the US would recognise Honduras’ national elections that month even if democracy was not first restored. This removed incentive for the coup regime to allow Zelaya’s restoration, and clashed with the position of nearly every other country in the region: the elections couldn’t be considered legitimate if they were held under a coup government.
Following the flawed elections – carried out in a context of media censorship and state-sponsored repression – the US lobbied the rest of the region to recognise the new president, Porfirio Lobo, despite the presence of coup perpetrators in his government and ongoing killings and attacks against opposition activists, journalists, campesinos, union leaders, human rights defenders and members of the LGBTQI community.
The homicide rate in Honduras is now the highest in the world and human rights abuses – often perpetrated by state security forces – are rampant. Ninety four members of Congress recently called on Obama to cut military and police assistance to Honduras, but instead, the White House, in its Executive Budget Proposal, asked for a major increase in financing to the Honduran military.
Obama has also perpetuated an anti-democratic agenda in Haiti. The administration provided key political and financial support to Haiti’s 2010 presidential and legislative elections, even though these excluded the country’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas. Then, following the elections’ first round, the State Department applied intense pressure – including the threat of suspending aid – to modify the results, despite having no legitimate grounds to do so.
Obama himself also actively sought to prevent Aristide’s return from forced exile in South Africa, personally calling South African President Zuma in an effort to convince him to prevent Aristide’s departure, even though this would have been a blatant violation of Aristide’s rights. (Zuma refused to give in and in March 2011, Aristide returned to his home in Port-au-Prince.)
These are just two of the more flagrant examples of how Obama has perpetuated his predecessor’s disastrous regional policy instead of initiating a “new chapter” in relations with the region. Despite his promise to promote relations of “mutual respect and equality” with Latin American and Caribbean neighbours, the administration has maintained a policy of hostility toward left-leaning countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. The rest of the region, however, has significantly evolved, progressively charting an independent course.
Summit of the Americas vs. CELAC
In April 2009, Obama brought a seductive, fresh style and inspiring words to a nearly moribund hemispheric summit. In Cartagena, he is widely expected to revert to the Bush playbook and extol the virtues of the Colombia and Panama FTAs. He will have nothing to offer in the way of further reform of Cuba policy and will have to deflect renewed calls for Cuba to be allowed to participate in future summits. At least one country, Ecuador, will boycott the event to protest Cuba’s exclusion.
|Latin America ‘to be economic hub’
Obama will also face an unprecedented revolt by Central American governments. Overwhelmed by escalating violence in their countries and increasingly skeptical of the US’ militarised approach to crime prevention, several governments – led by right-wing Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina – are calling for a debate on the merits of drug legalisation. This is tricky terrain for a US president facing a tough re-election battle.
More than anything, the sentiment that the Summit of the Americas has become an archaic instrument of US policy – is likely to grow as the Cartagena summit unfolds. The US regional agenda has barely budged over the last decade, whereas Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced profound political and economic change with far-reaching implications for hemispheric relations.
Unlike 10 years ago, the majority of Latin American governments now lean to the left. They support state-led responses to poverty and social exclusion that clash with neoliberal policies promoted by the US. Furthermore, both left- and right-of-centre governments champion alternative regional groupings that exclude the US.
In addition to Mercosur, several regional political alliances have recently emerged that don’t include the US or Canada as members. These include the Bolivarian Alliance for Our America – Spanish acronym ALBA – which first appeared in 2004 as an alternative to the FTAA and now includes Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and several Caribbean nations.
The group promotes health and education programmes targeting the poor, energy co-operation and financial integration mechanisms such as the unified system of regional compensation, or SUCRE. It also has defended positions as a bloc at multilateral fora such as the WTO and UN Climate Change conferences.
Another group that has recently emerged is the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) which includes all of the independent states of South America and has a number of working groups focused on key areas where its members wish to deepen integration or co-operation, such as energy, infrastructure, social policies, regional finance and defence.
Officially launched in 2008, the organisation has played an instrumental role in resolving regional political crises, such as in Bolivia and following Colombia’s military incursion into Ecuador. It has also developed electoral monitoring teams and is set to supplant the OAS in carrying out observation missions in South American elections.
The latest and perhaps most significant hemispheric organisation to emerge is the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) which, as the name suggests, includes every country in the hemisphere except the US and Canada. Officially launched in Venezuela in December 2011, it has received the enthusiastic backing of right-wing governments such as Mexico, Chile and Colombia, and many observers believe it will soon displace the US-based OAS.
At the first official CELAC summit in Caracas, heads of state agreed on a number of issues that would never have made it to the agenda at the Summit of the Americas, including plans for a “new financial architecture”, support for coca-chewing in Bolivia and rejection of the US embargo against Cuba.
While the Obama administration continues to promote a stale policy agenda of “free trade”, militarisation and containment at the Summit of the Americas, a genuinely “new chapter of engagement” between Latin American and Caribbean countries moves inexorably forward – through ALBA, UNASUR and CELAC – bringing the region progressively closer to the 200-year old dream of a united Latin America.
Alex Main is Senior Associate for International Policy at the Centre for Economic and Policy Research.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
While this is good, I’m not sure that so much pessimism is warranted. Many Latin American countries, especially those with left-leaning governments, suffered less than the northern countries in the world wide recession. Programs like ALBA (which Nicaragua has successfully combined with the much hated CAFTA to achieve steady growth, macroeconomic stability, and poverty reduction) have been helpful. Of course, the article was about US policy and he is probably right that there is dwindling hope for change there, but maybe is the US becoming rather irrelevant to Latin America? The exception would be Mexico and the violent “northern triangle” of Central America. But even there, the news out of Cartagena this morning was the serious consideration being given to alternatives to the admittedly unsuccessful drug war being presented insistently by Latin American leaders.
Cartagena Summit debates alternatives to War on Drugs
http://www.cumbredelospueblos2012.org/ (website for the event)
Prohibition-led policies and the devastating consequences in the region
The debate on alternatives to the war on drugs has seen a tremendous boost in recent months. Disappointed about the meager results of prohibition-led policies and the devastating consequences of the illicit drug business in the region, several presidents have taken the initiative to bring the issue to one of the highest level intergovernmental meeting in the hemisphere. The Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, is the most important meeting of heads of states where, for the first time, alternatives to prohibition will be discussed. Weblink: http://druglawreform.info/en/home/item/3356-cartagena-summit-debates-alternatives-to-war-on-drugs (Espanol below) Read more…
La Cumbre de Cartagena debate sobre las alternativas de la guerra a las drogas
El prohibicionismo y las consecuencias devastadoras del negocio ilícito de las drogas en la región
En América Latina, el debate sobre alternativas posibles a la guerra contra las drogas ha conocido un tremendo impulso en los últimos meses. Decepcionados ante los magros resultados de políticas con base en el prohibicionismo y las consecuencias devastadoras del negocio ilícito de las drogas en la región, varios presidentes han tomado la iniciativa de llevar el tema a una de las más altas instancias intergubernamentales que reúne a la mayoría de los países del hemisferio. La VI Cumbre de las Américas en Cartagena, Colombia, es la reunión más importante de jefes de Estados en la que por primera vez se incluye en la agenda el tema de alternativas al prohibicionismo.
If this was not drama enough…. the drama around Cuba’s exclusion…
|Colombia: Cuba Subject Rises Temperature in Hemispheric ForumCartagena de Indias, Colombia, Apr 13 (Prensa Latina) As if the hot sun was not enough to raise the temperature in this city, the intensity of the hemispheric forum will add a few degrees, with a meeting before the presidential one and the subject Cuba.The arrival of most heads of state and government who will participate in the Sixth Summit of the Americas this weekend is scheduled for Friday, day in which also begins a businessmen forum and the independent and alternative People’s Summit continues.However, the temperature rose from last night when it was learned that the Foreign Ministers and delegates from 32 countries asked Colombia to invite Cuba to the presidential meeting to be held on Saturday in the framework of the VI Summit.This was revealed to the press by Foreign Minister of Argentina, Hector Timerman, after a ministerial meeting prior to the presidential in this city of the Colombian Caribbean.He said the proposal is that Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin calls Cuban President Raul Castro, so that he joins the meeting of heads of states and government on Saturday.
We believe that this Summit will be the last without Cuba, however, he said that this possibility depends on the lifting of the veto imposed by the United States and Canada on the inclusion of the island in this type of hemispheric forum.
U.S. pressures led to the exclusion of Cuba from the Sixth Summit of the Americas; a position that Havana described as unacceptable and unjustifiable, and in correspondence with the traditional Washington’s hostile policy against the island.
“There has been no surprise, it has been the chronicle of an announced exclusion (…) the United States with its contempt and arrogance offends the great nation,” recently said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, referring to the forum.
A MISSED OPPORTUNITY
Posted on April 15, 2012
This past weekend’s meeting of heads of state of 31 countries of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, called the “Cumbre de las Americas”, turned out to be a show without much substance. It began with the shocking decision of the Santos Administration to cut away a part of one of the country’s great historic treasures, the San Felipe fort, in order to locate a bandstand of sorts there. This so that the assembled heads of state and their retinues could watch a music and dance program while comfortably seated on the grounds of the fort. After more than four centuries of careful preservation of this iconic structure, President Santos threw preservation to the winds in his unseemly anxiety to provide treats to the foreign visitors.
What appears most unseemly, however, was the virtual prostration of Santos and his government before Barack Obama and the United States. This meeting of heads of state of the Americas could have advanced discussion of several topics of hemispheric concern, among them policy changes in drug control; change in the treatment of Cuba; structures and limitations for fair terms of foreign investment in mining and petroleum production; and formulation of common protective provisions in the legislation of Latin American countries to blunt the effects of the bilateral so-called “Free Trade Agreements” which Colombia, Peru and Panama have signed with the United States. These trade measures portend ruin for campesinos, as well as domestic producers of medicines and local media and arts productions, among others, in these countries.
But these fundamentally important topics were not on the agenda at the Cumbre, because the United States did not want them to be. The Obama Administration indicated clearly that possible changes in the failed “War on Drugs” would not be debated, even though several heads of state attending this “summit” wanted to discuss the topic. Nor would the blockade of Cuba be discussed—in fact, Cuba was not invited to attend—just because the United States said “no”.
But wait! Don’t these countries believe in democracy and majority rule? Why can one or two countries (the United States and Canada) decide for everybody that drug policy and Cuba will not be on the agenda? Or that support for Argentina’s claims to the Malvinas Islands (the Falklands to the United States and Canada) not be discussed? The truth is that, to paraphrase George Orwell’s Animal Farm, all countries of the Americas are equal, but some are more equal than others. The United States effectively asserted veto power, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, to his great discredit, accepted the U.S. dictates.
The real tragedy here is that the important topics not discussed really need to be. If they cannot be discussed at this type of so-called “summit”, they will be discussed elsewhere. Word today is that President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil left early dissatisfied with the capitulation of President Santos to Obama’s refusal to discuss important policy matters. And of course President Rafael Correa of Ecuador decided not to attend the Cartagena confab, in protest for the restrictions on the agenda and the refusal of Obama and Santos to allow Cuba to participate. It thus appears likely that this “Cumbre de las Americas” will be the last one.
Finally, another word about President Santos’ actions at this conference. As he bowed and scraped before Barack Obama, treating the U.S. representative as a groupie would treat a rock star, he betrayed the Colombian people. He failed to show the courage Colombians have a right to expect in their head of state. He welcomed international businessmen to Cartagena, emphasizing the opportunities open to them. Instead of developing a just, sensible set of criteria for foreign investment in mining and petroleum production, beginning with reforms in the miniscule royalty levels (just 4% for gold production!) and infinitesimal taxes on these activities (not factoring in the cost to the country of permanent damage to the environment these activities cause), Santos has allowed these foreign interests to dictate the terms on which they will operate in Colombia.
Hopefully, there was a counter-Cumbre in Cartagena, where Colombians who really wish to change public policy, so that their country will no longer have the most unequal distribution of economic resources in South America or the largest number of internal refugees of any country in the world. We who support fairness and justice for Colombia from our perspective abroad salute those courageous Colombians who have raised their voices for dignity and justice at the alternative Cumbre in Cartagena. Their message cannot prevail soon enough!
John I. Laun April 15, 2012
From today’s CEPR L.A. News Round-Up
Argentina storms out of Americas summit
Al Jazeera. April 15, 2012
Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner has stormed out of the Summit of the Americas in protest against a perceived lack of regional support for her country’s claims in the dispute with the UK over the Falkland Islands.
The summit in Colombia had already been marred by a lack of consensus among attendees, with Latin America countries opposing the decades-old US isolation of communist Cuba.
Several countries put pressure on Barack Obama to end the ban, as the US president continued to be plagued by a US secret service scandal involving prostitutes.
Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from Cartagena, said the summit was at risk of “falling apart” after Kirchner’s exit.
“I suppose the collapse shouldn’t be too surprising. There was complete disagreement about signing a final statement but the nail in the coffin came when Cristina Kirchner stormed out of the summit followed by Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
“[Kirchner] was furious, we are told, because of the lack of full, complete support for Argentina’s claim of control of the Falkand Islands,” Newman said.
“We understand she was very, very angry that [leaders] didn’t even mention the dispute over the islands with the UK.”
“She was overheard saying, ‘This is pointless. Why did I even come here?’”
Seeking to woo a region whose trade could help create US jobs, Obama has instead had a bruising time at the two-day hemispheric gathering attended by more than 30 heads of state in historic Cartagena.
Brazil and others bashed Obama over monetary expansionism and he has been on the defensive over calls to legalize drugs.
The disagreements came as 16 US security personnel were caught in an embarrassing prostitution scandal at the summit.
Eleven agents from the Secret Service were sent home, and five military servicemen grounded, after trying to take at least one prostitute back to their hotel the day before Obama arrived.
The incident is a major blow to the prestige of the service and turned into an unexpected talking point at the meeting.
For the first time, conservative US-allied nations like Colombia are throwing their weight behind the traditional demand of leftist governments that Cuba be in the next meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS).
Diplomats said the dispute could block the final declaration planned for Sunday at the closing of the meeting, and originally intended as a hemispheric show of unity.
“The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, looking the other way, have been ineffective,” Juan Manuel Santos, the summit host and Colombian president, said of the Cuba issue.
A major US ally in the region who has relied on Washington for financial and military help to fight guerrillas and drug traffickers, Santos has become vocal over Cuba despite his strong ideological differences with Havana.
Al Jazeera’s Newman said: “There will not be a final statement, at least one signed by all the nations.
“All the nations, except the US, have insisted there will not be another summit if Cuba is not included.
“This was not the harmonious meeting many had hoped for. There will be no final declaration at the end.”
Cuba was kicked out of the OAS a few years after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, and has been excluded from its summits due to opposition from the US and Canada.
“All the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean support Cuba and Argentina, yet two countries refuse to discuss it,” Eva Morales, Bolivia’s president said, referring to widespread support for Argentina’s claims to sovereignty over the British-ruled Falkland Islands.
Morales said: “How is it possible that Cuba is not present in the Summit of the Americas? What sort of integration are we talking about if we are excluding Cuba?”
Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, boycotted the meeting over Cuba, and fellow-leftist Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua also stayed at home.
The leftist ALBA bloc of nations, including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and some Caribbean nations, said they will not attend future summits without Cuba’s presence.
“It’s not a favor anyone would be doing to Cuba. It’s a right they’ve had taken away from them,” Ortega said from Managua.
“At this meeting in Cartagena, I think it’s time for the US government, all President Obama’s advisers, to listen to all the Latin American nations.”
Although there were widespread hopes for a rapprochement with Cuba under Obama when he took office, Washington has done little beyond ease some travel restrictions, saying democratic changes must come on the island before any further steps can be taken.
Obama has not spoken of Cuba in Colombia, though he did complain that Cold War-era issues, some dating from before his birth, were hindering perspectives on regional integration.
“Sometimes I feel as if in some of these discussions, or at least the press reports, we’re caught in a time warp, going back to the 1950s and gunboat diplomacy and Yankees and the Cold War,and this and that and the other,” the 50-year-old Obama said. “That’s not the world we live in today.”