Tuesday, April 21, 2009
V Summit of the Americas: beginning of Obama era in Latin America brings hope for Cuba while Hugo Chavez confirms leadership in the region
Last weekend we witnessed a historic shift in the regional relations between the United States and Latin America, during the V Summit of the Americas held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. At least a shift of attitudes and intentions.
The meeting of 34 hemispheric heads of state has served to improve the diplomatic tone between the U.S. and the rest of the continent, and to remind Americans that America is not just a country but a continent - where the southern countries are crucial for the future of United States. Our region deserves the attention that President Obama has offered, contrary to what his predecessor Bush did- in what has been the second presidential international tour since Obama took office.
Undoubtedly is fair to welcome and celebrate the historic meeting between the two most influential presidents of the Americas: Barack Obama and Hugo Chávez, two African descent men who represent different political tendencies, but who also symbolize the hope for millions.
The meeting between Chavez and Obama has been received with surprise in the United States as most of the media here had tried to ridicule Chavez during the Bush administration, ignoring the impressive influence that the Venezuelan leader has in Latin America. But overall, this encounter has been received enthusiastically by the majority of Americans who want their government to promote peace and a most efficient international cooperation in the region.
Obama was greeted by Chavez again the next day, and those friendly exchanges have caused the angry protest of ultra-right conservatives in the U.S. and Latin America, who prefer to promote violence and division among the region -in the same fashion of Pinochet's plan Condor or Uribe's plan Colombia- and those who hate the progress of the oppressed peoples of Latin America, as they prefer to benefit the racist and corrupt elites of the continent.
President Obama also had the courtesy to greet presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, two of the staunchest critics of the Bush foreign policies, among other heads of state. There is a saying in Spanish: "a man's kindness does not take away his braveness."
Another major issue of the Summit, and in some ways a victory for leftist movement in the continent has been Cuba.
There was an impressive wave of solidarity with the government of Raúl Castro, -absent but was represented through his allies- and this left without alternative to the United States but to announc that finally there is a chance to seek for new terms in their bilateral relations, as long as Cuba is prepared to promote change in their government as well.
All countries in the Americas, excluding USA and Canada, support the return of Cuba to the Organization of American States. An important sign is that in the U.S., leaders of several movements of solidarity with Cuba are very enthusiastic that a change of the trade blockeade will occur during the Obama administration, something that the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also refered in her statements in Port of Spain, while announcing that the U.S. will soon send a new ambassador to Venezuela.
It was a pleasant surprise to see the unity of the continent, this time several countries presented their views in two main blocks: South America was represented by President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, and Central America represented by President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.
Fortunately, the obsolete right-wing forces in the region were overshadowed by its own weak political presence, something unthinkable in the 2004 summit at the IV Summit in Argentina. The political map in Latin America continues leaning towards the left, with the triumph of the FMLN in El Salvador, and president-elect Mauricio Funes was also present at this Summit.
Another surprise was the moderate presence of Brazil -it was expected to lead a third option at the Summit- and president Inazio Lula da Silva was very smart on keeping a low profile, few days after his meeting with president Obama in Washington, DC. It was obvious the mutual respect and friendship between the presidents of the U.S. and Brazil.
Back at home
President Obama has said upon his return to Washington, DC, that his Latin America tour has been successful and that the U.S. approach towards the region was worthwhile. This tour included a quick visit to Mexico, where he met not only with the controversial president Felipe Calderón -who has been accused of electoral fraud- but also with the powerful left-wing opposition, to whom Obama said "we have started a friendship that must be deepened."
The approach of Obama towards Venezuela and Cuba has been criticized by radical sectors of the Republican party -who have no majority in any federal political branch right now- but Obama has said that Venezuela does not pose a danger to the U.S. because "their military budget is 1 / 600of the U.S. budget "and has added that the V Summit of the Americas has helped to "launch a new era of cooperation" between the countries of the Western Hemisphere.
As a proof of the success of this approach, President Hugo Chávez has announced that he has appointed Roy Chaderton, former Foreign Minister and current Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS, as the new U.S. ambassador to Venezuela.
The influence of Chavez and ALBA
Rather some like it or not, Hugo Chávez was been able to use this Summit to confirm his influence and leadership on the continent.
The respect that most presidents of the continent have shown towards the Venezuelan president, has served to "shut up" to those who promoted a racist campaign of vilification and defamation against President Chavez.
Despite being democratically elected twice in his country and even winning national referendums, Chavez has been accused of being a dictator. There is an international effort to overthrown Chavez from power but he announced today that his government has bought Russian missiles to guarantee the defense of his country saying that "we don't want to declare war to anyone, but we have to equip and prepare ourselves."
During a second meeting, Chavez offered Obama with a copy of the book "The Open Veins of Latin America" an essay by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. That book has since climbed to #2 in sales ranking on Amazon.com from last Sunday, when it was ranked #66,000 in the list. The book was published first in 1971, and it describes the history of European globalized colonialism since the XV century invasions until the U.S. policies of the past century in Latin America.
The alternative presidential group ALBA -created and influenced by Chavez- received an important media coverage in the Summit. The president of Bolivia Evo Morales, was able to achieve a political success when the U.S. offered its support and openly rejected the failed attempt to murder him in a terrorist attack that has caused three deaths in Bolivia. Morales was greeted personally by Obama. Meanwhile, leftist president Ortega of Nicaragua was selected as one of the speakers at the opening ceremony of the Summit.
It was very noticeable the lack of importance given to Alan Garcia the president of Peru, which is the fifth largest country in the continent and where the U.S. might have installed a secret military base recently. This says much about the little influence that García in the region, despite the fact that he held two international summits in Lima in 2008.
The Obama era in Latin America
Impressive. The respect and admiration that president Barack Obama inspires in Latin America is unquestionable. Obama is a leader who brings up trust and respect by nature, someone who has restored honor and dignity to the presidency of the United States in the eyes of the world. This marks a huge difference from the buffoonish and unpopular presence that Bush represented in previous continental summits.
During the V Summit of the Americas, president Obama could exchange ideas with all leaders of the continent thanks to the group meetings that were held. While Obama has stated tougher views against left-wing government upon his return to the U.S., still there is a real confidence in the hemisphere that the Obama administration's foreign policy will be very different from Bush, who for 8 years merely promoted a militarism race and free trade in Latin America.
The conclusions and consequences of the V Summit of the Americas are yet to be defined. The final resolution has not been signed by several countries to protest the influence of the U.S. against Cuba. The OAS Secretary General, Manuel Insulza, of Chile, has preferred to maintain a moderate profile and abide by the mandates of the organization in a diplomatic fashion, but he was prudent to allow a progressive influence of leftist governments of Latin America during the event.
In fact, this Summit has a positive balance for the region, because it opens the possibility for better understanding between the U.S. and Latin America, who need each other in many aspects, but especially economically.
However, the friendly attitude of Obama will alsro rise anger and protest from U.S. conservative groups, who do not want to lose its negative influence in the U.S. leading role in the international arena. Conservatives also are protesting in Latin America. President Obama has to be aware of those groups, in every possible way.
Posted by Carlos QC