The Summit of the Americas: An Open Wound

By: Clément Doleac, Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

The seventh Summit of the Americas will be held this weekend in Panama on April 10-11, providing what could be the ideal moment to analyze the fractured diplomatic forces at work in the Western Hemisphere. Since the Summit’s inception, the agenda has been analyzed as progressively shifting to the left, pushed by a number of mainstream forces among Latin America’s leadership. The United States and its close allies, such as Honduras, Panama, and Canada, are gradually becoming more isolated in the Americas. The Organization of American States (OAS), a hemispheric organization representing a declining order in which the U.S. was the paramount regional hegemon, is registering each time as being less pertinent as a united forum for the discussion of diplomatic issues in the region.[1] The Cold War-era divisions between the Latin American left wing and Washington is still open, and continues to cut deeper as long as Washington does not effectively contain its hostile influence on the rest of the hemisphere.

The Slow but Progressive shift of the Hemisphere to the left

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) has written ad nauseum regarding hemispheric diplomacy and its progressive shift to a leftist habitat for regional institutions such as UNASUR. Since the beginning of the Cold War, and as a result of Washington’s constant aggressions and interferences in Latin America, which backed some of the worst dictators, oppressive of democratic institutions and progressive governments, regional organizations and American states were pressured to officially align with Washington.[2] The only opportunity during this time for defenders of social and human rights, the promoters of freedom and democracy, was the armed struggle against dictatorships and imperialism. Through this, and all across Latin America, left-wing guerrillas emerged because democracy appeared impossible to achieve through legal means.

The overthrow of elected President Arbenz in Guatemala, due to his promotion of progressive land reform in the early 1950s, announced the beginning of a long history of US-supported coups in Latin America. The case of Cuba is also exemplary in nature. During the Batista dictatorship in Cuba, a number of democratic political parties attempted to regain power, but failed. This left only one option available for progressive activists: the incorporation of guerrilla movements, and Castro’s armed struggle at the end of the 1950s. In Chile, over a decade later, Washington’s interventionism was evident during the overthrow of Salvador Allende by the military. The United States then subsequently backed Augusto Pinochet, who led one of the most controversial dictatorships in the hemisphere.[3]

Since the return to democracy in the 1980s and 1990s, and the end of the Cold War, the subsequent U.S. administrations have been obligated to recognize the legitimacy of democratic rule and the emergence of some of the more progressive movements in the hemisphere. A fact representative of this evolution has been the election in 2005 of a Secretary General of the Organization of American States who had not been pre-approved by Washington: José Miguel Insulza.[4] As confirmed by Gonzalo Escribano, COHA Guest Scholar, Mr. Insulza was a moderate Chilean socialist who “complied with the expectations at the time of his first election, but…would eventually be challenged from both the left and the right.” Once in office, Insulza stood up to Washington on a number of critical occasions. During his term as Secretary General, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) initiative, driven by US policymakers since the 1990’s with the intention of expanding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the whole hemisphere, was officially left to die. Insulza took a significant stand against US interests after he facilitated the negotiations to revoke the 1962 resolution, promoted by the US, through which the Cuban government remained on the outside the organization.”[5]

Also, thanks to this progressive shift to democracy among Latin American governments, the left has returned to the political scene as part of the so-called “Pink Tide” governments. Pushed by the election of leftist figures such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela (1998), Lula Inacio Da Silva in Brazil (2003), Nestor Kirchner in Argentina (2003), as well as, more recently, Evo Morales in Bolivia (2006) and Rafael Correa in Ecuador (2007), Latin American governments and top leaders have been questioning the progressive nature of Washington’s policies in the hemisphere. Even within the OAS, the most pro-U.S. organization in the region, Washington has met staunch criticism, even by the closest of its allies.

For example, in 2012, during the Summit of the Americas held in Cartagena, Colombia, many expressed their rejection and criticism of the U.S.-led war on drugs in the hemisphere. As stated by the Wall Street Journal at that time, “a subtle revolt against U.S. anti-drug policy [was] spreading within the top echelons of Latin American governments…[and] the uprising [was] being led by some of Washington’s closest allies in Latin America.” This included Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has openly and increasingly questioned U.S. drug policy.[6] After having enjoyed $8 billion in U.S. military aid and ten years of U.S. military assistance in the name of the war on drugs, the Andean country is still one of the top producers of cocaine, and also one of the most violent countries in the hemisphere.[7] Even former Mexican President Felipe Calderon (2006-2012), who chose to be an unquenchable engine of the war on the drug cartels in Mexico in 2006 and welcomed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operations in the country, has since suggested that Washington retool its battered anti-drug policy, blaming the problem of organized crime on the drug consumption market in the United States.[8] Additionally, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who favored free-trade with the United States, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, Mexico’s president when NAFTA was implemented, and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, all claimed that the priorities of Washington’s drug policy need to be reviewed, and that regional governments should consider expediting the decriminalization of marijuana.[9]

The Slow Overthrow of the OAS

What can appear as subtle change, however, have in fact been irreversible evolutions within the OAS. During the last decade, Latin America began to promote a number of other regional inititatives, explicitly excluding the United States and Canada. Perhaps the most radical alternative, or supplement, of these organizations has been the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA, Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra America), founded in 2004, by, among others, Cuba and Venezuela. In 2008, the government of Cuba joined the Rio Group, a regional body created in 1986, which defines itself as a body “with the aim of producing ‘Latin American solutions to Latin American problems,’” a clearly anti-U.S. intervention rhetorical posture.[10]

Moreover, a new diplomatic bloc, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), was created in 2010. It included every country in the Western Hemisphere but the United States and Canada. The difference between the OAS and CELAC is that the latter includes Cuba which is not included within the OAS. What is most important and symbolic is that Cuba was the president pro tempore of the new CELAC, and reunited 33 head of states in the country for the 2013 summit. At the same time, many OAS member states asked for the reintegration of Cuba into the OAS.[11] These facts have emerged as part of a progressive “Cubanization” of the inter-American agenda, as stated by Natalia Saltalamacchia for the Council for Foreign Relations.[12]

These alternative regional institutions are representative of the strong discontent towards U.S. domination across the hemisphere, and the decline of Washington’s leadership in the Americas.

As COHA has consistently argued, Washington has been losing its influence in the Americas.[13] The constant interferences of Washington in the internal political affairs of the region has cost the OAS dearly, and has led Latin American governments to fear and, therefore, oppose U.S. hegemony.

The examples of U.S. violent and non-democratic interferences are numerous. According to Maurice Lemoine, with Le Monde Diplo, as a member of the counter-hegemonic organization, ALBA, Honduras has been a laboratory for such quasi “constitutional coup[s],” highlighted by the ousting of President Manuel Zelaya in 2008 and the unconstitutional movement backed by the United States.[14] This type of coup is typically tolerated by the international community and leads to the “forced resignation” of elected and legitimate authorities by eliciting the support of the private media, the military, and the corporate sector.

Furthermore, in Venezuela 2002, a small group of military leaders kidnapped President Hugo Chavez, and administered power to the President of the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce (Fedecamaras), Pedro Carmona.[15] In 2010, a situation in Ecuador focused on President Correa mirrored the sequence of events in Honduras. There are also other cases of actual or threatened coups against elected governments, such as the two coups (1991 and 2004) against elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the constitutional coup against Fernando Lugo in Paraguay in 2012, which led to the suspension of Paraguay in the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).[16]

In each one of these cases, Washington has been suspected, if not sharply demonstrated, to have been responsible for the outcomes.[17] These irreparable actions against democracy, as well as civil and human rights, have had serious consequences. As stated by Nicholas and Larry Birns, writing for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “what the US has to face at this juncture…is how little support its tone and policies have among various countries in the area.”[18]

Cuba and Venezuela: The Salt in the Wound

As stated by the Americas’ Society/Council of the Americas, “when President Bill Clinton convened the first Summit of the Americas in 1994, the founding idea was to unite the region’s democracies under a common vision of creating a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).”[19] To date, this forum has become more irrelevant each year due to the rupture of views between the United States and the rest of the hemisphere. Aside from negotiations on free trade agreements, very little is left to be accomplished, and now the most important debate for the new Summit of the Americas has been over whether Cuba is to join it.[20] Over the last 21 years, the region has seen a marked shift from a Latin America under Washington’s hegemony to the hemisphere backing the reintegration of Cuba. As stated by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “the world has moved forward, even though Washington has not.”[21]

Washington is now widely considered to be out of the game in the Western Hemisphere. For example, regarding the political situation in Venezuela, the United States is the only country in the hemisphere to declare Venezuela a threat to its security. Moreover, the Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR, Unión de las Naciones Sur-Americanas), Ernesto Samper, has said very recently that the Summit of the Americas would be the ideal moment to “resume dialogue and to redesign relations in the hemisphere.”[22] The South American organization is asking “US President Barack Obama to repeal the executive order issued on March 9, accusing Venezuela of being ‘an unusual and extraordinary threat’ to the security of the United States.”[23] The ALBA and the CELAC have predictably also condemned the recent sanctions against Venezuela, which means that only Canada remains tied to Washington.

The Summit could be tense this year. Crucial issues, such as democracy and human rights, violent crime, immigration, global competitiveness, social development and climate change, are likely to be part of the agenda.[24] Cuba and Venezuela and their respective relationship with Washington will probably overshadow these issues, but they will not go entirely unattended.

Latin American countries want to see rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, but at the same time, the recent confrontation between Venezuela and the United States, and the unilateral sanctions mobilized by the Obama administration against Venezuelan top officials, will not strategically help Washington. Cuba is certainly the closest ally of Venezuela in the Americas, as much as Venezuela is that of Cuba. President Obama has shown a willingness to undertake a cautiously progressive stance towards Cuba, but is using the Cold War-era imperialist approach for Venezuela, an approach that is well-known for its human rights violation and crimes in the hemisphere.[25] This Summit can be a decisive moment and a positive turning point for diplomatic history in the hemisphere, but will depend on the decisions of Presidents Obama, Castro, and Maduro. For now, Cuba and the United States are not likely to do more than re-open embassies reciprocally, as called for by the White House. Even if Washington tries another hemispheric policy, the wounds are numerous and the imperialist inheritance is heavy for president Obama; the changes will only come slowly.

By: Clément Doleac, Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to: LatinNews.com and Rights Action.

Featured Image: “Official logo of the Seventh Summit of the Americas (2015),” Organization of American States, Retrieved from http://www.summit-americas.org/default_en.htm.

[1] DOLEAC Clément, “Are the Imperialist Roots of the Organization of American States too Deep to Extirpate Today?” on Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on December 4, 2015. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/are-the-organization-of-american-states-imperialist-roots-too-deep-to-extirpate-with-today/ on April 6, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Reference on Chile

[4] DOLEAC Clément, “Between Independence Or Disappearance: The Organization of American States and the Challenge of The 2015 Elections” in Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on January 26, 2015. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/between-independence-or-disappearance-the-organization-of-american-states-and-the-challenge-of-the-2015-elections/ on April 6, 2015.

[5] ECRIBANO Gonzalo, “Insulza’s legacy” in Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on April 2, 2015. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/insulzas-legacy/ on April 6, 2015.

[6] CROWE Darcy, “Latin American Leaders to Question U.S. Drug Policy at Summit” in the Wall Street Journal, on April 12, 2012. Consulted on http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303624004577340212625723878 on April 6, 2015.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] SALTALAMACCHIA Natalia, “The Panama Summit and the Withering Inter-American Ideal” in Council for Foreign Relations, on March 19, 2015. Consulted on http://www.cfr.org/councilofcouncils/global_memos/p36298 on April 6, 2015.

[11] SABATINI Christopher, “Giving Cuba a Seat at the Table: The 2015 Summit of the Americas”, Americas Society – Council of the Americas, December 16, 2014. Consulted on http://www.as-coa.org/articles/giving-cuba-seat-table-2015-summit-americas on April 6, 2015.

[12] SALTALAMACCHIA Natalia, “The Panama Summit and the Withering Inter-American Ideal” in Council for Foreign Relations, on March 19, 2015. Consulted on http://www.cfr.org/councilofcouncils/global_memos/p36298 on April 6, 2015.

[13] BIRNS Larry and BIRNS Nicholas, “Brazil Between Caracas and Washington: Rousseff and Vieira Try To Chart a Middle Course At A Time of Hemispheric Polarization” on Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on March 23, 2015. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/brazil-between-caracas-and-washington-rousseff-and-vieira-try-to-chart-a-middle-course-at-a-time-of-hemispheric-polarization/ on April 6, 2015 ; DOLEAC Clément, “Are the Imperialist Roots of the Organization of American States too Deep to Extirpate Today?” on Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on December 4, 2015. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/are-the-organization-of-american-states-imperialist-roots-too-deep-to-extirpate-with-today/ on April 6, 2015.

[14] LEMOINE Maurice, “Latin American coups upgraded,” in Le Monde Diplo, on August 2014. Consulted on http://mondediplo.com/2014/08/06coups on March 3, 2015. COHA, “Attempted Coup And Misguided U.S. Sanctions in Venezuela”, in Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on March 12, 2015. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/attempted-coup-and-misguided-u-s-sanctions-in-venezuela/ on April 6, 2015.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] BIRNS Larry and BIRNS Nicholas, “Brazil Between Caracas and Washington: Rousseff and Vieira Try To Chart a Middle Course At A Time of Hemispheric Polarization” on Council on Hemispheric Affairs, on March 23, 2015. Consulted on http://www.coha.org/brazil-between-caracas-and-washington-rousseff-and-vieira-try-to-chart-a-middle-course-at-a-time-of-hemispheric-polarization/ on April 6, 2015.

[19] SABATINI Christopher, “Giving Cuba a Seat at the Table: The 2015 Summit of the Americas”, Americas Society – Council of the Americas, December 16, 2014. Consulted on http://www.as-coa.org/articles/giving-cuba-seat-table-2015-summit-americas on April 6, 2015.

[20] Ibid.

[21] WEISBROT Mark, “Obama absurdly declares Venezuela a security threat” in Al-Jazeera, on March 10, 2015. Consulted on http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/3/obama-absurdly-declares-venezuela-a-national-security-threat.html on April 6, 2015.

[22] Based on a twitter message of Ernesto Samper.

[23] “Samper: Summit of the Americas is the perfect scenario for dialogue”, in El Universal, March 23, 2015. Consulted on http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/150323/samper-summit-of-the-americas-is-the-perfect-scenario-for-dialogue on April 6, 2015.

[24] LUXNER Larry, “Cuba, Venezuela likely to overshadow Central American issues at Panama summit” in The Tico Times, on April 5, 2015. Consulted on http://www.ticotimes.net/2015/04/05/cuba-venezuela-likely-to-overshadow-central-american-issues-at-panama-summit on April 6, 2015.

[25] WEISBROT Mark, “Obama absurdly declares Venezuela a security threat” in Al-Jazeera, on March 10, 2015. Consulted on http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/3/obama-absurdly-declares-venezuela-a-national-security-threat.html on April 6, 2015.

2 thoughts on “The Summit of the Americas: An Open Wound

  • April 9, 2015 at 8:06 pm
    Permalink

    Cuba and Venezuela.

    Fantastic examples of Power to the People.

    It would be hard to invent 2 examples of such breathtaking failure as Castro and Chavez if they had not already existed.

    Cuba hs been an unmitigated economic basket case under the Castros for over a half century while Fidel dared not call for free elections and the Bolivarian Blimp took the country with the largest oil reserves in the world and turned it into the country with the highest inflation rate in Latin America, with the highest murder rate in South America, and the empty shelves of a “super market” in a communist country in Eastern Europe.

    What a clown!

    He got exactly what heserved.

    What is it that causes you losers to support people like these two?

    Reply
  • April 12, 2015 at 11:49 am
    Permalink

    Thanks for this historian review!. I agree with with all, inclus. the following: “Even if Washington tries another hemispheric policy, the wounds are numerous and the imperialist inheritance is heavy for president Obama; the changes will only come slowly.”
    It depends on the pre-condition that Obama and his administration will think over the consequences of their interferences in history, will be prepared for opening their eyes for Cuban and Venezuelan reality, leaving behind their arrogant attitude and trying to walk in Cuban and Venezuelan shoes.
    By the way, howard cox, it is an erroneous belief that Fidel didn’t allow free elections.
    Before you judge you should study the Cuban election system, which works since many years, see the Canadian author Arnold August.
    But as long as Americans aren’t allowed to visit Cuba they can believe in such fairy tales.

    Reply

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