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The Cartagena Summit: Agenda, Challenges, and Expectations

By Luis Ferreira
March 15, 2012

Additional Resources
Read Dialogue background papers prepared for the Summit on citizen security, poverty and inequality, health and technology and natural disasters.

Read the Dialogue report Remaking the Relationship

Recent Dialogue Commentary

The Right Place for a Drug Policy Debate, by Peter Hakim, El Espectador, March 13, 2012.

La importancia de la cumbre en Cartagena, by Michael Shifter, El Colombiano, February 28, 2012.

The Next Summit of the Americas: A Preview of Cartagena, by Peter Hakim, Infolatam, January 12, 2012.

In the Press

Frank talk on tough issues at Summit of the Americas, by Andrés González and Sherry Tross, Toronto Star, June 17, 2012.

The Western Hemisphere has common needs and problems that can only be solved through common solutions, asserted Jaime Girón, the Colombian government’s coordinator for the VI Summit of Americas, which will be held in Cartagena on April 14 and 15. On March 15, the Inter-American Dialogue, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, held a discussion with Girón; John Feeley, the Summit coordinator for the US State Department; Sherry Tross, the Summit secretary for the OAS; and Harriet Babbitt, former US Ambassador to the OAS and Deputy Administrator of USAID.

Girón emphasized that Colombia believes a “dynamic relationship” can be constructed through the discussion of regional issues at the Summit. Cooperation within the region sends a “message of optimism’’ to the rest of the world. Feeley agreed that the “summit truly matters” for the United States and its partnership with Latin America. He argued that robust and inclusive economies in the region are a strategic asset to US prosperity and security, affirming that the “US needs the region.”

Decisions reached at the Summit will impact everyone in the hemisphere, stated Tross. Giving leaders the opportunity to talk face to face strengthens diplomatic ties. Babbitt cited the personal exchanges between presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela in 2010 that re-established relations between the two historically tense neighbors as an example of the importance of personal relationships in hemispheric diplomacy.

Among the issues on the agenda in Cartagena, citizen security will be central. Girón noted the special importance of this issue to Colombia, given its years of experience combatting pervasive crime and violence. Feeley added that the United States is eager to engage on this issue, going beyond investment and technology transfer, to assist through “capacity building and professionalization” of institutions in Colombia, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Drug policy and the inclusion of Cuba are the two main issues creating some tension in the lead-up to April’s meeting. While drug legalization is not on the official agenda, Girón explained that any discussion of the topic is up to the region’s leaders. He also suggested that even if no decision is made, a discussion on drugs is still a positive step forward. Feeley explained that the US position against legalization will not change, but that Washington recognized the legitimacy of a debate, though it is ultimately up to Latin Americans to decide how to handle the drug issue. Tross emphasized that some amount of discord is natural in the Summit process, stating that all countries will not agree on everything and will “learn to agree to disagree.” Babbitt was hopeful that the Summit might launch a more nuanced debated that would move away from the polarizing “war on drugs” metaphor and consider a mixed strategy that incorporates treatment, regulation, legalization and prevention.

Regarding Cuba’s role in the summit, Girón explained that the question is important, but that “certain rules apply” for membership to both the Organization of American States and the Summit of the Americas, as established at the 2001 Quebec Summit. Feeley maintained that the United States would support Cuba’s inclusion only if it meets the necessary conditions. Though, as a non-democratic state, Cuba is currently disqualified from participating in the summit, other participants agreed that Santos’ recent meeting with Raúl Castro may create more space to consider including Cuba in future summits.