SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS Behind the handshakes lies resistance

George W. Bush’s handlers tried to prepare a soft-landing for him during his Jan. 12-13 trip to Monterrey, Mexico, but they failed. The announcement of a new immigration proposal was mainly geared for the 2004 elections, but the timing of the announcement was planned to smooth over rough relations between the U.S. and Latin America, in particular with the host of the Special Summit of the Americas, Mexican President Vicente Fox.

After months of frosty relations stemming from differences on Iraq, immigration, and the execution of Mexican citizens, the immigration proposal and an invitation to Bush’s Crawford ranch was warmly welcomed by Fox. But regional resistance to the U.S. agenda, which included pushing for a deadline on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), attacking left-wing governments and further seeking to isolate Cuba, was united and strong.

Bush sought to put a 2005 deadline for the FTAA into the final document, but in the end none appeared. Bush also called for banning “corrupt” governments from future summits, a mildly veiled threat against left-leaning governments in the region, in particular Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia and Haiti. No such language appears in the final declaration.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stole the show when he spoke about the need for a “new moral architecture” that “favors the weakest.” Advocating stronger cooperation within Latin America before any trade agreements are signed with the U.S., Chavez said the current economic model of “neo-liberal” policies is an “infernal machine that produces more poor people each minute.”

Chavez hailed the policies of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “courageous.” He said that the U.S. didn’t escape the Great Depression with initiatives like free trade and privatization, but through the New Deal, a far-reaching economic and social program that created public-works jobs, legalized unions, helped farmers, artists, youth, and helped break down some forms of racist discrimination. Chavez called for a humanitarian fund that could be used to help countries during financial and natural disasters. The declaration said countries would consider the proposal.

Associated Press reported that as Chavez spoke Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva nodded and smiled enthusiastically while Bush leaned tiredly on his hand.

Bush was challenged on his argument that “free trade” leads to prosperity for all. Even Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, who sought to improve relations with the Bush administration, said that developing countries are at an unfair advantage with the U.S.

Brazil, an economic power in the region, has considerable influence in these summits and it advocates fair trade, which favors people’s needs not corporate profits. President da Silva said, “It’s time to act once and for all in the collective and primary interests of all of the Americas.” Brazil is also protesting discriminatory U.S. security measures that require the fingerprinting and photographing of foreigners arriving in the United States. Brazil now requires reciprocal measures against American citizens traveling to Brazil.

While excluded from the summit, Cuba was a topic of discussion there.

Part of the Bush speech attacked socialist Cuba and its president, Fidel Castro. Days before the summit, Bush official Roger Noriega launched an anti-Cuba offensive designed to weaken the region’s left-wing governments and movements as well as isolate Cuba. Argentina called for a formal apology from the U.S. after Noriega said the Bush administration was “concerned” about the ties between Cuba and Argentina. Similarly Venezuela defended its relations with Cuba and expressed sympathy for the Cuban people who have endured almost half a century of U.S. “tyranny.” The U.S. government has a long history of overthrowing governments and destabilizing countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Cuban newspaper Granma published an editorial, “The Empire’s Fears, Lies, and Inanities,” pointing out that Cuba has relations with many Latin American and Caribbean governments and movements, which are all public and legal. Challenging the idea that Cuba “destabilizes” countries, the editorial asks, “Could it be that destabilize means sending 15,000 Cuban doctors to 64 countries where millions of people are given medical care and tens of thousands of lives are saved?”

The Summit’s “Declaration of Nuevo Leon” states, “We reiterate that among the principal causes of instability in the region are poverty, inequality, and social exclusion, which we must confront comprehensively and urgently.”

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org.