The Eighth Summit of the Americas, set to be held April 13-14 in Lima, Peru, is the latest event organized by a controversial mechanism, which makes little contribution to regional integration, but contradictorily, serves to position the South’s interests in contrast to those the North seeks to impose.
The history of these summits over the last 20 years, from the first in Miami, in 1994, to Lima, reveals the tensions which exist between two very different social and political projects: U.S. Pan-Americanism and the integrationist vision of the liberators south of the Rio Bravo.
The agenda for the Peru Summit, which will supposedly focus on “Democratic governability in the face of corruption,” became a mockery after the host country’s President, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, resigned following a scandal over shady business dealings with the company Odebrecht.
Despite this, plans to use the event to single out certain countries, a common practice since 1994, remain in place.
This time however, it will be a lot more difficult to cover up the acts of corruption and crises of governability in many of the countries allied with Washington, which have lent themselves to attacking sovereign nations such as Venezuela.
Meanwhile, there are growing calls to put an end to exclusions which have marked the first six summits – to which Cuba was not invited following pressure from Washington – and allow Venezuela, whose invitation was withdrawn without the consensus of all member-states, to participate.
Peru will also be the site of the People’s Summit, held parallel to the main event since the 1998 edition in Chile.
Rather than civil society as represented by the rich and NGOs paid to carry out subversive acts, the regional encounter will bring together indigenous communities; the overlooked majorities; environmentalists; students; campesinos; immigrant and human rights activists; those fighting against torture, unlawful killings, police brutality and racism; as well as women’s rights activists, among others who enjoy the support of sovereign and progressive leaders of the continent.
THE FIRST SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
Date: December 9-11, 1994
City: Miami, the United States
Washington dreamed of creating a single market from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego with almost one billion consumers at their disposal, as well as the opportunity to exploit vast natural resources.
The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement was created by the government of Bill Clinton, who presented the idea during the first summit attended by heads of state from the region.
The site chosen for this encounter was no accident. In addition to a large Hispanic community, Miami was also the capital of subversive schemes against progressive and leftist governments of Our America, marking a clear agenda toward the region.
Although the event was created under the umbrella of the Organization of American States (OAS), since its founding the high-level segment has maintained a certain level of autonomy.
As it stands, the OAS serves at the technical secretariat of the summits, however, the host country and member-states also have power over who is invited and the issues to be addressed.
Despite this, following pressure by Washington and at a time of heightened aggression after the fall of the socialist camp, Cuba was not invited to the Miami summit.
From that moment on, the U.S. would use any kind of leverage or means of manipulation to prevent Cuba’s participation.
However, after repeated calls by Latin American and Caribbean countries for Cuba to be included, and the island was finally invited to attend the Seventh Summit in Panama City in 2015.
Seated alongside Clinton at the main table in Miami were Carlos Menem, Ernesto Zedillo, Eduardo Frei, and Alberto Fujimori, among others.
It was a time when neoliberalism was on the rise. The merriment and congratulations however, would not last long.
SECOND SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
Date: April 18-19, 1998
City: Santiago de Chile, Chile
Although the Chilean edition gave continuity to the issues addressed in Miami, concerns began to be raised over the idea of the free flow of goods between the north and south.
Neoliberalism, which had been violently imposed in Latin America, had fallen far short of its promises of “abounding wealth” and its negative effects were being felt above all among the working class.
Despite this, work continued on the FTAA and formal negotiations for its creation began. Clinton even promised that he would use his “fast track” negotiating authority to approve any free trade agreement with Latin America.
During the Chile summit Cuba’s absence began to be questioned, especially by Caribbean nations.
Prime Minister or Barbados, Owen Arthur, stated that this should be the last such summit without Cuba.
Chile was also where the People’s Summit was born, an alternative to the high-level segment, created to address the real issues concerning the region.
THRID SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
Date: April 20-22, 2001
City: Quebec, Canada
In Quebec the neoliberal vision promoted by the U.S. began to fall apart. The spirit of celebration was beginning to evaporate as constant economic crises and subsequent popular discontent swept the entire continent.
Meanwhile, a military officer in the Venezuelan army, Hugo Chávez, had been elected president and made it clear to the world of his plan to transform the country and recover its natural resources for the benefit of the people.
The Bolivarian Revolution would mark the start of one of the greatest processes of social transformation Latin America and the Caribbean had ever seen. This was the start of the end of the “long night of neoliberalism,” as Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa would later refer to it.
During the Third Summit of the Americas however, the United States continued to push for the FTAA’s implementation by 2005.
The event also opened the way for the future creation of a tool used today to manipulate and attack certain countries of the region: the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
From Cuba, Fidel would give a premonitory warning about the Quebec Summit: “The people of Latin America and the Caribbean can be devoured but not digested; sooner or later they will escape the belly of the whale.”
The Quebec Summit was also historic given the large and unprecedented mobilization of all sectors of civil society as well as brutal police repression. At least 435 people were arrested and more than 100 injured over two days of protests, marches, and clashes involving some 60,000 people.
FOURTH SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
Date: November 4-5, 2005
City: Mar del Plata, Argentina
If Miami served to give life to the FTAA, then the Mar del Plata Summit, was its official burial.
The event was marked by the participation of Chávez and Argentine president Néstor Kirchner, whose country was just starting to recover from the economic crisis following years of neoliberal economic policy.
The triumph of new, leftist political forces in countries like Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Uruguay caused a radical shift in the balance of power in the region which began to seek its own integration alternatives.
This situation would lead to the creation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-People’s Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP), Petrocaribe, Unasur and finally, the long awaited, Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Most of the countries in attendance closed ranks against Washington’s free trade agreement citing major differences between the two regions.
For the first time in a Summit of the Americas, the will of Latin America and the Caribbean prevailed. U.S. President George W. Bush was unable to hide his surprise at the decision by participating countries.
Although the issue of Cuba’s exclusion had always been present, ever since the first event in Miami, Mar del Plata was the moment when the demand to include the island really began to take root.
There, it was made clear that any hemispheric event would be incomplete without the presence of the largest island in the Antilles.
Meanwhile, the Third People’s Summit, which saw the participation of some 500 civil organizations, including a delegation from Cuba, ended with a strong statement opposing the FTAA and proposing alternative to the agreement.
In the closing ceremony of the encounter, Chávez uttered his historic phrase: “ALCA, ALCA, al carajo.” (ALCA, ALCA, to hell with ALCA).
FIFTH SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
Date: April 17-19, 2009
City: Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
This was President Barack Obama’s first visit to Latin America and the Caribbean.
His campaign for change had generated expectations about a different kind of relationship between the U.S. and its neighbors.
The Cuba issue was a focus of debates. A strong demand was made for the lifting of the blockade, while various heads of state called for Cuba to be included in the event.
“I refuse to call this summit a Summit of the Americas. There are two great countries missing; Cuba and Puerto Rico,” stated Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, during his speech.
Meanwhile, in their remarks, the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua criticized the absurdity of the U.S. government’s policy of isolating Cuba.
Trinidad and Tobago was also where the famous encounter between Chávez and Obama took place, when the Bolivarian leader, speaking in English, told the U.S. President, “I want to be your friend.” Later, before the meeting between the U.S. and Unasur began, the Venezuelan leader stood up and presented Obama with a copy of The Open Veins of Latin America, by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, which describes the effects of European, and later United States, economic exploitation and political dominance over the region.
Obama pledged to promote a relationship with Latin America based on respect and cooperation and called to open a new chapter to advance toward a prosperous future - a discourse he would maintain throughout his presidency, while his government worked to destroy all progressive and leftist movements in its path.
SIXTH SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
Date: April 14-15, 2012
City: Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
The United States’ continued refusal to invite Cuba to the Summit threatened to destroy the mechanism created by Washington. The event was marked by the absence of the Presidents of Ecuador, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, showing that the future of the event would depend on Cuba’s inclusion.
The United States and its hostile policy were clearly isolated in Cartagena de Indias where it was reiterated that the historic error of excluding Cuba must be corrected as soon as possible.
Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia stated that they would not attend another hemispheric summit without Cuba, a position supported by Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and the Caribbean Community.
SEVENTH SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
Date: April 10-11, 2015
City: Panama City, Panama
The unanimous demand by countries of the region for Cuba’s presence at the regional event was finally met.
Although the U.S. tried to make it seem like Washington had made a “concession” to Cuba, the truth is that the inclusion of the island represented a right won by the countries of the region, who had continued to demand that Cuba be invited, even threatened not to attend if the island continued to be excluded.
The voice of the historic leadership of the Revolution was heard during the Seventh Summit, the same one that had resisted U.S. aggression since January 1, 1959. Army General Raúl Castro was received with a standing ovation as he entered the auditorium.
His subsequent meeting with President Barack Obama marked another step forward in the process toward the normalization of relations between the two countries announced on December 17, 2014.
EIGHTH SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
Date: April 13-14, 2018
City: Lima, Peru
The latest edition of the Summit of the Americas will be marked by the presence of the new U.S. President, Donald Trump, and ongoing conflicts between his administration and various Latin American countries.
Trump’s electoral campaign was characterized by an anti-Latin American and anti-immigrant rhetoric, which included describing Mexicans as “murderers and rapists” and promising that the country would foot the bill to build a giant wall along the border.
Meanwhile, things haven’t improved since Trump arrived at the White House. One of his first actions was to order a review of Cuba policy, which he announced in June 2017 in Miami, surrounded by the anti-Cuban right wing.
He also ordered the tightening of the blockade and took steps to further restrict travel between the two countries.
Washington has also been targeting the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Although the current President inherited a hostile policy toward Caracas – which was described by Obama as a national security threat - from the previous administration, tensions escalated after Trump alluded to the possible use of military force against the Latin American country.
To this must be added Washington’s long list of sanctions against Venezuela, an economic boycott by the right wing, which is negatively impacting the Venezuelan people.
Trump was recently caught up in another scandal after describing a group of African and Latin American nations as “shithole countries,” sparking global outrage.
Protectionist measures announced this year by the U.S. President are also causing friction with traditional allies which are set to suffer if Washington decides to change the rules of the bilateral trade game.
The balance of power in Latin America and the Caribbean however, is not the same as in past summits.
Although the regional right, which have historically submitted to Washington’s interests, have claimed victory in several key countries, its voice shouldn’t be as strong in Lima.
Therefore, the question now, as the Peru Summit approaches, is if the region will be able to mount a united front against U.S. aggression which affects millions of Latin Americans and Caribbeans, or go back to committing the same mistakes of the past.