A different kind of summit

As the 5th Summit of the Americas met in Trinidad and Tobago under the auspices of the Organization of American States, Latin American leaders ran the show and the prime hemispheric power, represented by President Barack Obama, listened.

By contrast, capitalist globalization got top billing at the 2001 summit in Quebec City, and five years ago in Argentina, Washington pushed the Free Trade of the Americas Act.

One main player wasn’t there. The OAS expelled Cuba in 1962 for its socialist orientation. In the buildup to the summit, Latin American voices rose in a crescendo denouncing the U.S. blockade of Cuba and calling for Cuba’s readmission to the OAS.

“Our unity efforts in the Americas will always be incomplete if the anomalous exclusion of one of the countries of the continent persists, and that is Cuba,” said Brazilian President Lula da Silva.

Obama’s call for a “new beginning” with Cuba, willingness to “dialogue” with Cuban leaders won praise.

This “marked the end of the cold war,” said Dominican President Leonel Fernández.

Some script for the summit was written beforehand. ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) nations meeting in Venezuela had already determined not to sign the gathering’s “Declaration of Commitment.” Only one signature appeared at the bottom of the document, that of host Prime Minister Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago.

They anticipated little would be said officially on Cuba and that neoliberal solutions would be offered up for the world economic crisis. The final declaration did credit international banking contributions to private sector development. It called for loans for microenterprises and small businesses. The concluding statement, like its predecessors, acknowledged of inequalities affecting education, income levels, nutrition and health.

Lula saw the global crisis as an opportunity to create a new economic order providing for “social inclusion.” The final declaration cited possible “new financial structures” so half of the world’s energy needs could be derived from non-fossil fuels by 2050.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa regretted the declaration “did not reflect the present crisis, legitimizing the capitalist system, its solutions, and those responsible,” like the International Monetary Fund.

Correa also called for a new trial for the Cuban Five, men who have served 10 years in U.S. jails for having monitored anti-Cuban paramilitaries in Florida in the 1990s.

In a separate meeting with President Obama, Bolivian President Evo Morales denounced assassination attempts against Latin American leaders, implying U.S. tolerance. He sought condemnation of the plot represented by foreign nationals and a cache of weapons discovered by Bolivian police recently in Santa Cruz, alleging U.S. involvement.

In response, Obama acknowledged that the U.S. history in the region has left many countries mistrustful, and said, “I am absolutely opposed and condemn any efforts at violent overthrows of democratically-elected governments, wherever it happens in the hemisphere.”

During summit plenary sessions, Obama heard recitations of past examples of violent U.S. interventions into Latin American affairs.

Obama described a “new direction and new vision of the United States,” and emphasized renewable energy and cooperation on climate change.

Obama met with representatives of 15 Caribbean nations belonging to the Caricom alliance and members of UNASUR, a regional alliance modeled on the European Union.

Photo opportunities made news, notably those of encounters between Presidents Obama and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. One portrayed Chavez interrupting a meeting involving Obama to hand him a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s famous “Open Veins of Latin America,” which Obama promised to read. The last day, television cameras showed the two leaders conferring, after which reinstatement of ambassadors was announced.

Obama got high marks for approachability, for casting himself as a colleague of other leaders, and for frankness as to U.S. failures. “I didn’t come here to debate the past. I came here to deal with the future,” he declared.

Jorge Gomez Barata, writing on visionesalternativas.org, lauded “the climate that prevailed” and credited Obama with “a capacity to create consensus … never observed in a North American leader.”