Left Margin The Cartagena Summit Failure Marks the End of an Era

Left Margin

The Cartagena Summit Failure Marks the End of an Era –

By Carl Bloice – BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board
April 6, 2012

One would think that someone in official Washington
would have had an inkling of what was coming. I mean,
what is with all those “intelligence” agencies? And,
wasn’t anybody awake at the State Department’s Latin
America Desk? Couldn’t anybody have hipped President
Obama before he left for Cartagena de Indias that he was
headed for a train wreck?

Now, in the wake of the uproarious gathering of leaders
of the Western Hemisphere, there are expressions of
shock and alarm that things turned out so badly. It was
not the first time that leaders of a big country
accustomed to have political sway over others were
caught off guard when the lesser minions got uppity.

Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno, confirmed after
the summit broke up that the positions of the United
States and Canada prevented reaching a final joint
declaration at the gathering. Central areas of
disagreement at the meeting were strategies for dealing
with the narcotics trade, Argentina’s claim to the
British held Malvinas/Falkland Islands, and the
exclusion of Cuba from the meeting.

In an evaluation of the Summit, the Chilean Minister of
Foreign Affairs Alfredo Moreno said a final communique
could not be signed because of the divergent positions
between the U.S. and Canada on one hand, and the Latin
American leaders on the other, about the absence of Cuba
and support for Argentinean claim of sovereignty over
the Malvinas. He told the Chilean media “the position we
have stated in Chile is that Cuba should participate in
the Summit of the Americas, because it is an
organization where all the presidents or heads of state
of this continent come together to discuss issues, and
Cuba is a country of the continent that has to speak out
and participate.”

The President seemed to be personally and sincerely
taken aback by the fact that the summit ended in
discord, that the gathered heads of state couldn’t – no
wouldn’t – issue a final communiqué because they don’t
agree on the basic questions of policy. He seemed to

Referring to the disagreements that split the summit,
Obama said, “Sometimes those controversies date back to
before I was born. And sometimes I feel as if … we’re
caught in a time warp … going back to the 1950s,
gunboat diplomacy, and Yankees, and the Cold War and
this and that.”

No doubt some of the others at the summit had the
similar feelings.

Actually, some summit participants found something
positive about their interaction with the U.S.
President. “I think it’s the first time I’ve seen a
president of the United States spend almost the entire
summit sitting, listening to the all concerns of all
countries,” said Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
“This was a very valuable gesture by President Obama.”

Calderon reportedly pointed to the fact that discussions
on Cuba and drug policy were even held, saying it marked
a “radical and unthinkable” departure from previous

“But Obama’s staid charm was unable to paper over
growing differences with the region,” wrote Reuters’
Brian Ellsworth on April 16.

On the issue of Cuba, the division was sharp. Thirty two
nations were in favor of inviting it to future summits.
Only the United States and Canada were opposed. Jackie
Calmes and William Neuman, writing in the New York
Times, said Obama had refused “to sign a statement that
would have called for the next summit meeting to include

The pair also refused to agree to inclusion of support
for Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas.

Obama criticized the media for its coverage of the
summit, alleging it focused on controversies rather than
what was accomplished. In fact, the major U.S. media
significantly played down the real message from
Cartagena and quickly moved any repercussions off the
front pages. These days the big news outlets tend to
view any and everything that takes place on the planet
through the prism of the upcoming U.S. Presidential
election and repeat by rote that Obama’s stance at the
meeting was dictated by the wishes of opponents of the
Cuban revolution in South Florida.

Obama “sat patiently through diatribes, interruptions
and even the occasional eye-ball roll at the weekend
Summit of the Americas in an effort to win over Latin
American leaders fed up with U.S. policies,” wrote
Reuters’ Ellsworth. “He failed.”

“The United States instead emerged from the summit in
Colombia increasingly isolated as nearly 30 regional
heads of state refused to sign a joint declaration in
protest against the continued exclusion of communist-
led Cuba from the event.

“The rare show of unity highlights the steady decline of
Washington’s influence in a region that has become less
dependent on U.S. trade and investment thanks economic
growth rates that are the envy of the developed world
and new opportunities with China,” continued Ellsworth.

“It also signals a further weakening of the already
strained hemispheric system of diplomacy, built around
the Organization of American States (OAS), which has
struggled to remain relevant during a time of rapid
change for its members.”

Referring to a time probably after Obama was born but
before he entered politics, Ellsworth noted that the OAS
“seen as an instrument of U.S. policy in Latin America
during the Cold War,” has “lost ground in a region that
is no longer content with being the backyard of the
United States.”

“It seems the United States still wants to isolate us
from the world, it thinks it can still manipulate Latin
America, but that’s ending,” said Bolivian President Evo
Morales. “What I think is that this is a rebellion of
Latin American countries against the United States.”

Well, not exactly.

The U.S. continues to exert considerable influence and
clout – most economic – in the region. The Latin
Americans are not monolithic in their political
approaches. And, Washington can still count on kind
words from the leaders of countries like Chile, Colombia
and Mexico. But those countries are themselves marked by
political upheavals, the latter facing a presidential
election July 1 that is expected to oust Calderon’s
National Action Party from power.

Ellsworth wrote that White House officials told him they
“disagreed with the notion that the failure to agree on
issues like Cuba signaled a new dynamic to U.S.
relations within the hemisphere.” “We were ready to be
flexible,” Roberta Jackson, who became assistant
secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs in
March, told a Miami Herald columnist. “We really regret
that we could not reach a consensus.” All this indicates
that the people on Pennsylvania Avenue and those at
Foggy Bottom either can’t see the new reality or don’t
want to admit it.

There is smelly hypocrisy to the stand Washington has
taken toward our neighbors to the south. While the
Administration demands the Cubans change their political
system to its liking for a seat at the table, over the
years, U.S. leaders have sat down with some of the
cruelest – now gone – autocrats ever to grace the planet
(Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay) – some of whom the
U.S. helped install in office (Chile).

The Republican response to the failure at Cartagena
demonstrates that given the chance, they would only make
matters worse. “Governor Romney has set forth a
hemispheric vision, one in which the United States and
our partners solve common problems and achieve common
success,” said Carlos Gutierrez, former U.S. secretary
of commerce and chair of Presidential contender Mitt
Romney’s Trade Policy Advisory Group. “His detailed
plans include negotiating new free trade agreements with
our friends in the region. He has proposed new
partnerships to promote economic opportunity, protect
political liberty and formulate joint strategies to
combat drugs and crime. He will be vigilant in
countering the depredations of Venezuela, Cuba and other
malign forces. Mitt Romney sees the future of the region
as one based upon freedom, opportunity and human
dignity. And he has a record of accomplishment that
gives grist to that vision.” Lofty and very contentious
words they are but quite unlikely to be acceptable to
most Latin Americans.

“This summit was a reminder, a wake-up call, that the
traditional way of doing business vis-à-vis the region
is eroding,” said Geoff Thale, program director at the
Washington Office on Latin America. Some would say it
has completely collapsed. Prevalent opinion in Latin
America appears to be that this was the last OAS summit.
And that means “the 1950s, gunboat diplomacy, and
Yankees, and the Cold War and this and that” is finally


BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice
is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National
Coordinating Committee of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly
worked for a healthcare union


About leftmargin

Journalist and Columnist View all posts by leftmargin

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