What Did the Summit of the Americas Accomplish, if Anything?

Q: The Summit of the Americas ended April 15 with the gathering's host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, conceding that there would be no final joint declaration because "there is no consensus." The summit was marked by discord between the United States and Latin American countries on issues including Cuba's participation, drugs and the status of the Falkland Islands. What did the summit accomplish, if anything? Did the summit hurt or help the United States' standing among other countries in the hemisphere? Will regional engagement on Cuba's participation in the summit affect the Castro government?

A: Peter Hakim, member of the Advisor board and president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue: "This year's Summit of the Americas was unusual. For the first time ever, two of the most contentious issues in U.S.-Latin America relations-Cuba and drug policy-were extensively discussed. On both, all 28 Latin American and Caribbean participants opposed the U.S. position, despite the absence of Hugo Chávez and most other virulent U.S. adversaries. On display was an independent, assertive and increasingly successful Latin America. Despite its disagreements and quarrels, this was a Latin America that stood together to say no to the United States. Yet, this summit may have been one of the most fruitful so far. It may have begun to stem the drift and indecision that have affected U.S.-Latin American relations in recent years. For the United States, three useful conclusions emerge from Cartagena. One is the old saw 'be careful what you wish for; it may come true.' Since taking office, President Obama has regularly called for 'equal partnerships' with Latin America. At the summit, the Latin Americans acted as equals; they shaped the agenda and left the United States in a distinct minority on the key issues. To his credit, Obama was little perturbed. Second, the United States should be negotiating the Cuba question with Latin America. This is a high-priority issue in the region, and it blocks U.S.-Latin American cooperation in other areas. Latin American governments might well be persuaded to press Cuba for economic and political openings if the United States were prepared, in exchange, to lift its harsh trade and travel restrictions on the island. Third, Washington should defer to Latin American leadership to explore alternatives to existing drug policies. On this subject, the U.S. government has little credibility and is unable to do much. In contrast, Latin Americans have taken considerable initiative to rethink the problems and seek more pragmatic solutions."

A: Carlo Dade, senior fellow in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa: "After each summit, the hemisphere has been left wondering if there will be another; this time the pessimism is warranted. The failure to produce a consensus declaration continued a downward trajectory from the last summit where the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago was left alone on the podium trying to explain what happened. President Santos mercifully kept it shorter, sparing everyone the convoluted explanations. So where are we? Latin America, or parts of it, having weathered the 2008-2009 global financial crisis better than the United States or Europe and flush with investment from China, feels emboldened to push long-simmering issues such as Cuba's exclusion. But this issue is a proxy to assert and make concrete the changed power relations in the hemisphere. On principle, the American president and Canadian prime minister, who will still be in office three years hence, are correct and will not budge; the summit is a meeting of democratically elected heads of state and as such Cuba cannot be invited. The issue of drugs at the summit is, unfortunately, also at the level of theatrics. At this summit, every leader went on record that current strategies are not working. The difference is the degree of domestic political freedom and the speed at which leaders feel they can safely push for change. There was also real and significant, though subtle, progress in several countries at least agreeing to discuss alternatives. As for the future of the summit, given the distance between the northern North Americans and the rest of the hemisphere, a time out may be in everyone's interest. Missing the 2015 summit would not be the end of the world. Four, five or six years without a chance to get the sole world superpower alone to berate for political points back home may be what is needed to get the summit back on track and focusing on serious issues."

A: Graciela C. Römer, director of Graciela Römer & Asociados in Buenos Aires: "For some, this was a broken summit, as it reflected polarization between the visions of the United States and Latin American countries on issues such as Cuba, the Malvinas and the fight against drug trafficking. For others, it was an opportunity to demonstrate the highest symmetry that exists today between the United States and Latin America. The United States did not arrive in Cartagena with a macro project for the region as a whole. Rather, it sat at the table as one country, listening to the presentations of most of the region's presidents. While the United States voiced its known position against decriminalizing drugs, it also said it was open to discussing alternatives and accepted that although drug production comes from the south, consumption and weapons come from the north. It is true that the summit produced few results, but it was still historic. Why? Because never before had a U.S. president so patiently listened to the questioning of two fundamental pillars of U.S. policy toward the region-Cuba and the fight against drugs. In both cases, Obama was able to witness how far U.S. influence in the region has waned. Without a doubt, Latin America spoke at this summit from a different position, based primarily on its economic performance over the past 10 years. Still, the road toward consolidating Latin America's success is not free of thorns and difficulties. Of these, perhaps the most difficult one to resolve is commercial protectionism and economic nationalism, a subject that seems revitalized. Also needed is greater regional integration, a necessary step toward sustained development in the region."

A: Stephen Wilkinson, chairman of the International Institute for the Study of Cuba: "The outcome of the Cartagena summit is another indication of the waning influence of the United States in Latin America. It is in fact the third consecutive summit that has ended without a declaration because of a disagreement between the Latin American countries and the United States. As far as regional bodies go, the OAS is losing its significance as other integrationist and regional bodies that exclude the United States grow in importance. The issue of Cuba is powerfully symbolic because the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean were of one voice in demanding that Cuba be allowed to attend the next summit. This included Washington's closest allies, Mexico and Colombia. More tellingly perhaps, even if he wanted to accede to the demand, President Obama, in election year, was unable to do so because of the political flack he would get from the Cuban-American lobby. We will have to wait until after the election and an Obama second term to see whether the issue will be resolved. One thing is plain, if the position of the Latin American countries remains the same, this could be the last OAS summit unless the United States accepts Cuba back into the fold."

A: Nicolás Mariscal, member of the Advisor board and chairman of Grupo Marhnos in Mexico City and Sergio Ferragut, a public policy specialist and author:
"Discording points of view happen when relevant subjects are brought to the table, which in itself is an achievement. The three subjects are now on the agenda of the Americas and they should stay there to pursue further dialogue and positive outcomes down the road. This process, by itself, enhances U.S. standing among Latin American countries. On the specific Falkland (Malvinas to be politically correct in the Southern Cone) Islands issue, we all need to enhance our historical knowledge, as the continental platform argument could lead Argentina to lay out some future claims on Uruguay. The Cuban issue remains because the Miami Cuban lobby has kidnapped the U.S. political process (just remember the 2000 U.S. presidential election) and the Castro brothers have no interest in letting go of their private farm with 11 million cheap laborers. Unfortunately, the embargo prevents unauthorized Cuban government officials with any self-preservation instinct to enter into contact with foreign representatives, and that only helps to tighten the Castros' grip on the Cuban people. Finally, the drug war is so stale that once the subject gets the rational attention it deserves it will turn into a no-brainer. If Obama is re-elected, then we can hope to see some sense brought into the American political scene on this subject. Drug prohibition is a negative-sum game-we all lose, except the drug traffickers. A regulated and controlled legal environment would prove to be a positive sum game-we all win, except the drug cartels. Contrary to what prohibitionists claim, proponents of drug legalization, regulation and control are not suggesting to sell drugs at every 7-Eleven."

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