The Sixth Summit of the Americas: Partners for Prosperity
On Saturday and Sunday, 33 heads of state and government in the Western Hemisphere participated in the sixth Summit of the Americas, held this year in Cartagena, Colombia. The gathering was a function of the Organization of American States (OAS), the world’s oldest regional organization as well as the oldest international institutional system. The OAS has five principal goals: promoting democracy, defending human rights, ensuring a multidimensional approach to security, fostering integral development and prosperity, and supporting inter-American legal cooperation.
In light of these overarching objectives, the theme of this year’s summit was “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity.” President Obama, along with the Canadian Prime Minister and presidents from 31 South American, Central American and Caribbean countries addressed a number of issues affecting the entire Western Hemisphere, including anti-terrorism, public security, income inequality, infrastructure, natural disaster mitigation, urban decay, public health, education, science and technology, and continental integration.
While President Obama found common ground with the Latin American leaders on some issues affecting both the northern and southern continents, such as income inequality, he found criticism on other issues, such as U.S. policy on the illicit drug trade and America’s relationship with Cuba, which did not participate in the summit, as it is not an official member of the OAS.
This year’s summit came at a time when Latin American prowess in the region is increasing (the counties fared much better during the global economic downturn than did the United States), while the U.S. is struggling to bolster its economy and maintain its leadership role in the region. As Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communication stated prior to the summit, “As countries in Latin America become more prosperous and more people move out of poverty, that creates opportunity for us as well.”
Indeed, President Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met after the summit officially concluded and announced the implementation of a free trade agreement between the two nations that would increase U.S. imports by $1 billion a year, create 500,000 jobs in Colombia, and eliminate 80% of tariffs on U.S. products bound for Colombia. However, many labor leaders in the U.S. and Colombia oppose the agreement because they say it does not go far enough in requiring Colombia to improve its treatment of union activists.
Despite this agreement, the summit concluded without an official declaration from the participating nations. In fact, this was the first time in the 18 years the summit has existed that such a declaration of shared principles did not result. Underlying this inability to negotiate a declaration is the debate over Cuba’s participation in the summit. The United States and Canada stood firmly in opposition to Cuba’s participation, insisting that the communist nation does not meet the democratic standards of the OAS to participate in the conference. In an act of defiance, Ecuador boycotted the summit because of Cuba’s exclusion, and several more countries announced their intention to boycott the 2015 summit if the island is again left out.
This discord shows a shifted dynamic between North and South America, signaling that the latter is no longer merely the former’s backyard, but rather an autonomous neighbor. Even though the outcome of the summit fell short in some respects of its theme, “Partners for Prosperity,” the failure of a declaration evinces an inter-American community that is perhaps primed to reform its stale relationship.
Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.