Summit of the Americas: an uncomfortable exercise


UP until a little over one month ago, it was barely known that a regional summit of heads of state and government in the American hemisphere is to take place in Cartagena, Colombia this April. While it was scheduled some time ago, and has been planned for months, the meeting was not publicized until the 11th Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) denounced the illegitimate exclusion of Cuba from this summit.

Reviewing what has been written and said about the Cartagena Summit, the only news about it has focused on Cuba’s exclusion. Does the event not have any other mission?

Since these regular meetings began in 1994, at the initiative of U.S. President Bill Clinton, their invariable characteristic has been the exclusion of Cuba and to serve as a forum for Washington authorities to pay a social visit to the other Latin American and Caribbean leaders, and those of Canada. Outside of these two attributes, the summits have few results to show.

In the Quebec Summit of April 2001, with the sole exception of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, attending leaders committed their nations to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a neocolonial subordination project which dramatically collapsed in Mar del Plata just four years later.

Latin America and the Caribbean have advanced a great deal since then and have intentionally directed efforts toward their own project of integration and coordination, without exclusions of any kind. As the fruit of important political changes and a more legitimate representation of the interests of its peoples, the region is consolidating its independence and promoting the recently founded Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

It is therefore worth asking what Washington will have to offer in Cartagena and what it has fulfilled in terms of its renewed commitment to the region announced in Port of Spain three years ago, plus the purpose of these meetings, the only lesson of which is that the territories north of the Rio Bravo are experiencing realities and sharing priorities which are increasingly distant from those of the nations we inhabit south of this border.

The message of Port of Spain in 2009 was a clear one and the United States acknowledged it: the U.S. government’s anti-Cuba policy must change if it aspires to normal relations with this rich, vast and vigorous region. The economic blockade has been rejected and the attempt to separate Cuba from the region is an illegitimate pretension.

Cuba has not asked to be allowed to attend, nor is it its place to do so. It has said that if invited under the same conditions as the others, it will be present and will participate seriously, in a constructive spirit and with the solidarity which characterizes its foreign policy; that it will clearly state its positions and contribute to decisions. This would not be because of any great confidence in the event’s impact, but to help the Latin America and Caribbean effort to promote regional priorities at every opportunity, including before the United States.

The U.S. attitude has generated an uncomfortable situation. Its obstinate incapacity to relate to Cuba in a regional forum has led it to use a veto and act against the will of all other countries of a region where the country enjoys legitimacy and prestige. On doing so, it is expressly disqualifying the meeting.

This prompts reminiscences of the period in which what took place in many of our republics was dictated from Washington.

It is a fact that having the Organization of American States (OAS) as an institutional supporter of these summits contributes to such reminiscences and the consequent discomfort. These Summits of the Americas are not called by the OAS, there is a mere bureaucratic link, according to experts on the subject. Thus there is no relation between Cuba’s rejection of this discredited institution of the past and the Latin American and Caribbean demand for Cuba’s presence in Cartagena.

However, the burden of the OAS, plus the effective U.S. veto on Cuba’s participation, denote an anachronism which is difficult to hide. After the clear warning issued by ALBA on February 2, it has become impossible to keep comfortably under wraps an event which was tending toward unimportance.

There are certain questions which need answering.

What has become of the promise of change toward the region affirmed by the U.S. President in Trinidad & Tobago, three years ago now?

Will the Summit of the Americas be able to express a firm commitment to social justice and solidarity, with respect for sovereign equality among states and the principle of non-intervention?

Will it support Argentina’s full sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands?

Will it defend the right of indigenous peoples to chew coca leaves?

Will it repudiate the mistreatment of migrant workers?

Will it commit to the region’s general and complete disarmament?

Will it be able to condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, as well as governments who protect its perpetrators?

Together with Latin American and Caribbean nations, will it be able to reject coups d’état and the use of financial and media resources to undermine and destabilize governments committed to social justice and the demands of their peoples?

Will it condemn the use or threat of use of economic measures to castigate sovereign governments?

This concerns political positions which the 33 sovereign nations of Our America have succeeded in formulating for themselves, as reflected in the CELAC Summit in Caracas last December, and which demonstrate the most legitimate thinking of their peoples.


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