US Defensive at the Americas Summit
Nil Nikandrov - http://www.strategic-culture.org
At the insistence of the US and Canadian delegations, the plenary sessions of the sixth Summit of the Americas were insulated from the media, causing the evidently shocked journalists who flocked to Cartagena, Colombia, to sarcastically describe the forum as «secret». In contrast, the past couple of summits which convened in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009 and Argentina's Mar del Plata in 2005 were absolutely open and the debates, including fairly heated disputes and spats which occasionally erupted in the process, were broadcast live across Latin America. This time, it was almost fun to watch the global sellers of transparency and media freedom refuse to practice what they normally preach.
The Latin American leaders with the reputations for breaking the rules – Ecuador's R. Correa, Nicaragua's D. Ortega, and Venezuela's H. Chaves – ignored the sixth Summit of Americas in a protest against the US policy of shutting Cuba out of the Western Hemisphere initiatives. Evo Morales, another populist leader, did show up, but mainly with the goal to attend the parallel social forum and to take part in a match with the Columbian soccer veterans.
Also under US and Canadian pressure, the agenda of the summit did not formally accommodate the Falkland Islands problem. H. Chavez stressed in response that practically all governments in Latin America and the Caribbean want London to open, without threats, the negotiations with Argentina over the territories. The Venezuelan leader further expressed the view that the Falkland Islands belong not just to Argentina, but to the entire Latin America. He generally holds that the Summit of the Americas degenerated into a ritual gathering as Washington and Ottawa prevent it from focusing on the real problems of Latin America. Chavez urges his Latin American peers to take a serious bite at the continent's problems and cites the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) which was established in Caracas last December as a genuine Latin American unification initiative which reflects the rising opposition to imperialist conduct, barriers between countries, and servile regimes.
The ALBA countries warn that they would shun future summits of the Americas unless Cuba is finally admitted to the forums, and, moreover, call for an immediate lifting of the ruthless economic blockade strangulating the country and for the launch of a dialog based on respect for Cuba's sovereignty and the Cubans' right to self-determination. Piecing together the summit picture from the accounts contributed to the media by anonymous sources, one eventually got an impression that the taboo themes of Cuba and the Falkland Islands actually dominated the meeting.
The above should explain why Washington had to impose limitations on the media coverage during the summit. With the electoral campaign in the US gaining momentum, the Administration has to take into account that the constituency, especially its part with roots in Latin America, is permanently mindful of the US policies on the continent. Obama's problem, though, is that the accomplishments that could be put on display at the right moment are completely missing. Republican rivals are sharply criticizing the current Administration for its being obviously unable to put on track the dialog with Latin American countries. Oddly enough, even the right-centrist regimes on the continent slam Washington on a regular basis over its policies with regard to Cuba, the Falkland Islands, and the drug-trafficking problem. Brazil and Argentina, the regional heavyweights, are dead-serious about their own geopolitical interests, and the presidents of the countries - D. Rouseff and C. Fernandez – left Cartagena with no appreciable deals with Obama penned. Obama keeps promising cooperation for prosperity in Latin America, but the tactic has long frayed and does not resonate.
The audience was visibly disappointed when Obama announced neutrality concerning the Falkland Islands. Latin Americans uniformly rebel against the idea that Great Britain would be allowed to maintain residual colonial possessions in the Western Hemisphere, but Obama de facto favors the status quo and thus plays into the hands of London. The US position on the issue showed no signs of change over the three decades since the Falkland Islands war, and it is clear that for Washington the strategic relationship with Great Britain far outweighs Latin America's discontent. Rather than build trust vis-a-vis Latin American partners, Obama's administration currently presses for ever greater US military presence on the continent. US military and naval bases in Latin America are mushrooming, and the US Fourth Fleet is hyperactive in the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean. The synchronism between its operations and the maneuvers performed by the British navy in the proximity of the Falkland Islands are impossible to disguise, plus the activity of the US space reconnaissance is an open secret and the US SouthCom constantly monitors the situation around the oil deposits on Brazil's marine shelf. Brazil, it must be noted, is at all times seen by Washington as a country with the potential to emerge as a key regional opponent to the US, which makes it logical that the relations between the White House and D. Rouseff who bluntly stated at the forum that another summit without Cuba would be out of question are chronically strained.
Columbian president M. Santos made an attempt to save the summit's face when he said that, even though consensus had not been reached and therefore no concluding document could materialize, the debates were sound and open. In other words, Obama had to hear a lot of things he would rather not listen to, with the criticisms of his outdated Cuban policies and anti-drug approaches mounting. The integration and cooperation slogans of the summit were actually overshadowed by the theme of fighting the drug-trafficking. Columbian president M. Santos suggested in an address that a range of scenarios and alternatives be considered to meet the challenge with greater efficiency. The Guatemalan president aired a controversial position that the existing system of narcotics-related punishments should be subjected to a radical revision, perhaps to the point of altogether decriminalizing drugs. Obama had to recognize the multidimensional character of the problem. “We can't look at the issue of supply in Latin America without also looking at the issue of demand in the United States", said the US President, adding that the problem was interwoven with those of weapons supplies to Mexico and financial infusions into the Mexican drug business coming from the US. Obama had no option but to touch upon the sensitive issue considering that the death toll in the drug war raging in Mexico with Washington's blessing has reached 60,000 in the country and 20,000 in Central America. No end to the drama is in sight, and the widely known truth is that the US intelligence community is directly involved in the drug wars in Latin America with the aim of enabling Washington's grip on the prosperous drug cartels.
The hyper-security that accompanied Obama's visit was indicative of the deep US mistrust of the forum hosts and Latin Americans in general. Staying in Cartagena for three days, the US president never ate or drank at the official dinners even though the waiters serving him were agents of his own security. Poison-neutralizing pills were with him at all times, and it did not evade the journalist community that Obama's suit and even socks were made of Kevlar, a material exceeding steel in strength by a factor of several and used in bullet-proof garments. Security agents scanned the locations to be visited by Obama for radioactivity, harmful chemicals, and bacteriological contamination. The chairs on which the US President sat had been brought from Washington. The security reacted nervously whenever the distance between Obama and Columbians contracted. The initial plan was that Obama and his team would occupy ten floors in the local Hilton, with the remaining floors given to the delegations from Mexico and Brazil, but the US security deemed the arrangement risky so that D. Rousseff and F. Calderon had to stay elsewhere.
The Columbian police and security service must have felt annoyed by the pushiness of their US colleagues and, as it appeared, did not refrain from paying in kind. The genre of the game was the same as in the case of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn – a sex scandal. Journalists witnessed a Cartagena prostitute refuse to leave the hotel room occupied by the U.S. Secret Service until she was paid, while her clients evidently withheld a sum of $5-6. “If it turns out that some of the allegations that have been made in the press are confirmed, then of course I'll be angry," said Obama in connection with the incident.
The easiness with which the media attention jumped to the sex scandal involving the US Secret Service highlighted the fact that the efficiency of Summits of the Americas falls ridiculously short of the stated goals. These days, the Empire must be defensive in Latin America.