The Islamic Post Blog

Fifth Summit of the Americas Heralds a Brighter Future by Khalida
May 10, 2009, 1:56 pm
Filed under: Latino/Caribe, May Volume I - 2009 | Tags:

By Sabeerah Abdul-Majied

Islamic Post Staff Writer

(IP) – The spotlight appeared to have been on the highest profiled delegate, U.S. President Barack Obama, to set the tone for the Fifth Summit of the Americas –and he delivered. The U.S. president contributed to the spirit of cooperation among the 34 leaders, as they deliberated in Trinidad last month “using his now familiar arsenal of insightful, eloquent utterances and personal charm,” according to local Caribbean news outlets.
President Obama listened as his hemispheric Latin American neighbors recounted and denounced previous instances of U.S. intervention in the affairs of the regional sovereign states. Although President Obama admitted having a lot to learn about the societal differences between the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean, he also cautioned against blaming all of the regions’ problems on the United States.
President Obama focused attention instead away from the past and towards a brighter future in which he was committed to working more effectively with the leaders. In his feature address the U.S. President advocated moving forward, “with a new sense of partnership.” He said, “We seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values.” He also said that the U.S. is “committed to shaping the future through engagement that is strong and sustained …based on mutual respect and equality.”
President Obama was able to win the admiration of some and the hope of many that change is possible in relations with the U.S. Shah, a columnist for the Sunday Express Newspaper remarked that President Obama “has not assumed the arrogance that typified his predecessors. He speaks as an equal, even if he remains the first among equals.” Shah felt compelled to defend the enormity of the President’s task by referring to similarities in the administration inherited by both the Presidencies of the U.S. and that of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. He said that many people blame Chavez for the poverty that exists in his oil rich nation. However, poverty was “institutionalized by the capitalist policies of his predecessors” and not Hugo’s socialist policies. He is of the view that Hugo, like Barack has started programs aimed at lifting the poor out of poverty.
A highlight of the Summit was the ground breaking handshake exchanged between President Barack Obama and Venezuela’s socialist leader President Hugo Chavez as both men met for the first time. Pr. Chavez, an outspoken critic of the U.S., is reported to have said, “Let’s be friends” as they shook hands. Mr Chavez also gave Mr. Obama a book as a gift, “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano.” The 1971 book was intended to enlighten the US president on how European and American commercial interests have dominated and afflicted Latin America since Spanish Conquest. President Chavez said that the U.S. must stop viewing the region as its backyard. He advised that change in a new relationship was imperative as the alternative was death certain to the nations.
Peruvian president Alan Garcia also felt confident that US Latin American relations will improve under the Obama administration. He said, “We are a market that is more important than China in consumption and per capita. That’s why the United States must change its logic.” Leaders, he believed want a change of relations between the United States and South America.
Also present at the Summit was Canadian President Stephen Harper. In his response to questions about Cuba’s exclusion from the Summit he expressed the view that the US trade embargo against Cuba was not the way to go. He quickly admitted however that its removal was ultimately a matter between the United States and Cuba. He also added that the fact that Cuba is a communist country cannot be ignored as progress towards freedom, democracy and human rights as well as economic matters is required. President Obama also admitted that the economic embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba almost 50 years ago had not worked. He made some pre summit concessions to Cuba by easing the travel ban and remission of money.
Though not tabled as an agenda, most of the leaders denounced Cuba’s exclusion from the Summit. Jamaica’s Prime Minister Bruce Golding said that it was the main concern of Caricom (Caribbean Community) leaders to bring about a relationship between the US and Cuba that would positively impact the lives of Cuban nationals. Similarly Leaders reiterated their commitment to supporting the impoverished nation of Haiti.
There were a handful of demonstrations in the city but they were soon snuffed out by intervening riot squad police as no protests were tolerated. Groups that made last minute attempts to gain permission for protest actions had their requests denied. The Sunday Express noted a police source which said that the host country had no experience hosting an event of that magnitude and therefore did not take any chances. Denials to protestors therefore eliminated the possibility of confrontations to prevent events which may have been reported as human rights abuses by the international media. Summit security forces boasted that they made no arrests. However, many persons like Trinidad and Tobago’s opposition leader Mr. Panday, believed the suppression of protest action was an infringement on the democratic rights of individuals to protest.
The draft Declaration of the Summit was signed by the chairman of the Summit Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning on behalf of the Heads of Government. Mr. Manning acknowledged that the document was not unanimously supported by all 34 countries in the Hemisphere. Opposition to signing the document was raised by ALBA, the Spanish acronym for Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. Members of that group which included Venezuela, Guatemala, Bolivia and Dominica, signed a joint statement which declared that the Draft Declaration was unacceptable because it failed to address the world financial crisis and unfairly excluded Cuba.
The chairman of the Fifth Summit declared it a success based on the eagerness of leaders to work together on solutions. It has been hailed as a first step towards change. “The doors have been opened to a new era of reasoning among the countries,” said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. As a follow up, Caricom leaders have been invited to have discussions with President Barack Obama in Washington this July. Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo believed the development is a new framework for resolving old problems. It seems that much was achieved through discussions and documentation of plans for improved hemispheric relations. This historic summit seems to have endorsed the Islamic principle that states, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”


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