Is the Summit of the Americas heading for failure?

Ricardo Israel
Is the future of the Summit in its past?
The ninth Summit of the Americas is due to open on Monday June the 6th, in Los Angeles, California. Today, like many other international meetings, nothing important is expected of it, and even worse, it is trying to avoid a great failure.Not only because of a group of heads of state and government who will not attend as a result of the decision of the White House to withdraw the invitation to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, since the central issue is going to be Democracy, a scenario unthinkable a few years ago because USA is still a superpower, and worse for her prestige would be that is true that is planning to invite a government representative of Cuba to reduce hostility. Although it sounds weird, that would be the “elegant” way out.

In fact, failure would already exist since nothing seems to indicate that it is even remotely close to fulfilling what the State Department said when making the call some time ago: “The success of the summit will depend on the adoption of an ambitious and action-oriented agenda”, that is, exactly what no longer happened and even more so in a post-invasion of Ukraine world and the consequent shift in international priorities.

That’s right. Everything indicates a scenario of growing irrelevance by having neither project nor leadership, which contrasts sharply with the high expectations that surrounded the first one that took place in Miami, in December 1994, with Clinton convening, although its origin was really in the government that preceded him.

So it was, since President Bush Sr. presented the Initiative for the Americas as “a program to promote trade, investment, growth and environmental protection in Latin America and the Caribbean” through a bill sent to Congress in 1991. The initiative was well received in the region since it spoke of debt reduction, investment and lifting of trade barriers, although it remained very unknown to the internal debate of the United States, perhaps due to the strong disinterest of the media. Some time later, it would be Latin America that would lose interest in a common project, except for the countries that reached bilateral and free trade agreements.

In any case, it was important for President Clinton’s call for the first Summit, and in a recent forum on May 18 (“Summit of the Americas: History and Current Affairs”), Richard Feinberg, one of its organizers recalled – also a change of era – the influence of Argentine diplomacy for this type of ideas at that time. It was, if anything, another era. It was an America full of initiative and enjoying its role as the sole superpower. In Miami, 59 mandates were approved based on 23 themes, and the declaration of principles almost word for word picked up the initiative of Bush Sr., through a pact for development and prosperity, based on the strengthening of a community of democracies.

These were days when there was only one dictatorship, and the idea prevailed that military authoritarianism would no longer return, as well as that the Cuban one would soon disappear because it did not have the support of a USSR that no longer existed. China was otherwise a secondary player on the international stage as well as in the region. It was therefore proposed that the following summits discuss an agenda that would include at least justice, the rule of law, security of the people, hemispheric security, trade, financial stability, and infrastructure.

Everything that has surrounded the holding of this ninth summit makes us look with nostalgia at the official declarations of the first, which spoke of a pact for development and prosperity through democracy and the free market, elements that today have growing opposition in Latin America and the Caribbean. not only among governments, but in the electorate, as recent elections demonstrate. Looking back, it was also a missed opportunity, one more in history, both for the region and for the United States.

The 90s were also a time of optimism, where Fukuyama recovered the Hegelian notion of the end of history, and by the reaction of the elite, surprisingly many believed him. For its part, the Internet was only seen as positive traits, and its most problematic and obscure features still did not appear in the debate. The region also spoke of the meeting of two worlds with Spain, which also contributed money for an Iberian-America that is today forgotten because of the force of indigenism.
In this regard, the question is today only one: how is not to continue making mistakes and how to learn from them?

There is no doubt that the Summits have been deprofiled, a process that already began in 1998 with the second, which took place in Chile, as well as that it is difficult today for any international summit to produce stimulating results, as demonstrated by the 2021 failure of the one for climate change in Glasgow. There is, in this regard, shared responsibility between Latin America and the Caribbean, on the one hand, and the United States, on the other. The US sees (almost) nothing relevant to it other than drugs or illegal immigration, and Latin America has done nothing with the autonomy claimed since Obama, in the sense that it wanted to resolve its conflicts rather alone.

Today, there is a double problem, for which there are no good answers, on the one hand, democracy has not been strengthened, as dictatorships continue to increase, and the electoral winds do not seem to be favoring the most reliable democrats. And on the other, in terms of the development model, China has an increasingly strong presence, and the United States seems not to be realizing it as well as the interest of the region is to go towards greater proximity to the Asian giant, increasingly a more relevant commercial and financial partner. In fact, what is happening to the White House today at this summit, is unlikely to be done similarly to China, if the invitation came from Beijing.

Everything seems to indicate that, despite its long personal experience, the Biden White House has shown a lack of expertise and an excess of wokism in its gaze towards Latin America, but for the region the problem remains, in terms how to make Washington engage.

It is also a post-Ukraine world, where the choices that seem being taken, not only by many governments but also by the electorates, give the impression that Latin America and the Caribbean are on their way to making mistakes once again in relation to what is happening, since everything seems to indicate that their political and economic decisions are moving the region away from taking advantage of the opportunities that are being offered in relation to agricultural production and energy, given the sanctions on Russia in both fields and the decrease in Ukrainian production in the first.

For its part, the US seems not to be fully aware that it is no longer the only superpower and how profound the Chinese challenge is at all levels.

In 1994 Washington enjoyed being at the top, today it seems to be negotiating with Maduro on energy and with Havana on immigration, as if there were no clearer recognition of its current insecurity, and it is difficult to expect that it will have greater respect from others, if it is proving not to have it for itself.

All in all, the future of the Summits of America seems to lie in looking at its past, not to repeat an obvious failure, but in the methodology, since to look to the future we must first look to the past, fundamentally to resume the agenda, not only out of nostalgia for a past that no longer exists and a rainbow that has long since vanished, but to return to the idea that first of all a project is needed to justify them and that today does not exist, and also a leadership that is lacking today, both in the United States and in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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