Economy & Trade, Financial Crisis, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, North America

POLITICS: Summit of Americas Ends with a Whimper

Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Apr 20 2009 (IPS) - There is only one signature on the Declaration of Port of Spain, out of 34 slots.

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses hemispheric leaders at the Summit of the Americas. Credit: White House Photo/Pete Souza

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses hemispheric leaders at the Summit of the Americas. Credit: White House Photo/Pete Souza

Still, host Patrick Manning, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, insists that the Fifth Summit of the Americas which ended here on Sunday was a “success”.

“The declaration itself did not have the approval of all 34 countries,” he conceded. “Some countries had reservations about some elements of it and that is understandable because it is very difficult with 34 countries meeting and negotiating positions.”

However, he said, “There was consensus on the matter and the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, as chairman of the conference, was authorised to sign the document on behalf of all his colleagues, and which I was happy to do”

The declaration was intended to outline a blueprint for the future socio-economic development of the Americas, but countries like Mexico felt that the 97-page document did not adequately deal with a host of problems confronting the region.

“Some felt that the question of the (global) economic and financial meltdown was not sufficiently discussed in the document,” said President Felipe De Jesus Calderon.

“There was also the question as to whether or not we should continue to describe ourselves as ‘democratic countries’,” he added, a term many view as an implied criticism of Cuba.

In a statement to reporters, former secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) Norman Girvan said, “In the circumstances, the leaders evidently decided that it would be better for none of them to sign, than for some to do so while others abstained.”

“This would have put their disagreement on public display, exposing the signers to the charge of being ‘sell-outs’ to the United States; and the non-signers to the charge of being ‘spoilers’,” he said.

“The summit would have ended on a sour note. And much of the progress made in setting a new tone to U.S.-Latin American relations would have been undone. Having the summit chairman sign takes everyone else off the hook,” said Girvan, now a professorial research fellow at the Graduate Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies.

“It was probably the ‘least bad’ compromise. But it robs the Port of Spain Declaration of much of its political force,” he added.

Prior to the summit, the member countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), led by Venezuela and including Nicaragua and Bolivia, had vowed not to sign the document in solidarity with Cuba – which was not invited to this or previous summits.

But Havana was adequately represented at the three-day forum with the consensus being there could be an even closer relationship between Washington and the Americas’ only Communist state in the future.

U.S. President Barack Obama himself left the door open, indicating that he did not come here to debate the past, and telling reporters that he was not interested in being part of a “show”.

“I came here to deal with the future,” he said, adding that while it was important to learn from history, “We can’t be trapped by it.”

Addressing the closing ceremony, Manning admitted that the declaration, which had been negotiated ahead of the Apr. 17-19 forum, did not “really reflect” the changing global and political and social environment. For example, negotiations over the declaration had ended before the recent G20 Summit in London took place.

“Our deliberations took that into account and came to the additional conclusion that we were concerned about the allocation of resources to development institutions, particularly the Inter-American Development Bank,” Manning said.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that despite not signing the declaration, the three-day event had been a success and that the deliberations had confounded critics who had anticipated a battle between member states.

“I think the remarkable thing about the summit was the failure to fulfill expectations of great confrontation here. We all came here I think believing that we would have quite a battle among the radically different perspectives that do exist on certain subjects,” Harper told a news conference.

“That did not materialise, we saw the replacement of confrontation with dialogue, not a dialogue that lacked disagreement or robust discussion but a dialogue that was genuine and a chemistry among leaders and in particular among the main protagonist (and) that was very good.”

Harper referred to Obama’s address at the start of the meeting, in which he outlined the Washington’s new approach, and the reciprocation by other leaders, including members of the ALBA “who have the most divergent views from any of us” during the conference.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also labeled the summit a “total success” indicating that a new “atmosphere” had been created among the countries of the Americas.

“The encounter was an entire success that led to a set of tacit commitments and others expressly defined … Of all the summits that I have attended in this decade, without doubt this was the most successful, one that opened the doors to a new era of reasoning among all countries,” Chavez said.

“The Summit of the Americas, without being perfect, was close to perfection,” he added.

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