Seneca: 2009 Summit of the Americas

April 12th, 2009 · 23 Comments

Since 1994 when the Western Hemisphere countries began celebrating Heads of State Summits every four years, many observers have wondered whether such high level meetings are worthwhile. When President Clinton announced the first summit to be held in Miami, many noted or asked if this was a ploy to substitute for visiting the region. The Hemisphere’s leaders would come to the US, and Clinton would have a photo opportunity. After Miami, the summits have been held in Santiago (Chile), Ottawa (Canada), Mar de Plata (Argentina) and this year in Port of Spain, Trinidad Tobago.

It should be noted that the Ibero-American summits held every 12 to 18 months have competed with these hemispheric gatherings. Spain and Portugal have been the drivers for the Ibero-American process during which the King of Spain and the President of Portugal join the heads of the Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries of the American continent for these more frequent encounters.

Summitry has in fact become a vital part of the Inter-American process. It is viewed by many to have effectively substituted the OAS’ (Organization of Americans States) pretension to be the regional deliberative body. The series of summits (or summitry) have enabled the region’s leaders to become more closely familiar with their fellow heads of state and offered the opportunity to establish more effective bonds. Some observers and critics surmise that this closer relationship situation has led these countries to assert themselves with more independence and allowed them to distance themselves from the US. Furthermore, after the summitry experience, the Ibero-American countries have grown to be more united in purpose and goals. The fact that they have a permanent secretariat enables the Iberics to have more focus and follow through on any agreed endeavor for the region. This is especially true for obtaining consensus on many issues and concerns on which the US has no role to play or is ignored.

The fact is that, the US created summitry is too infrequent and has no permanent secretariat. A new US President attends the first one with only three months in office. Hence, he knows hardly any of the leaders and lacks depth on the region’s concerns. It isn’t until the second one comes around, when he has been in power for at least four years, that he is ready to reap some benefit. Unfortunately, George W. Bush’s second summit, held in Argentina, was virtually high-jacked by Hugo Chavez and his ilk. The whole affair was chaotic and totally non-productive, and President Bush became the target of Chavez’s ridicule and scorn. The up and coming summit in Port of Spain, Trinidad Tobago, President Obama’s first, is suppose to focus on violence, as well as poverty and inequality.

All indicators suggest that Cuba will be a hot topic at this summit. The clamor will be for Cuba to be re-admitted to the OAS and that all economic and diplomatic isolation of the island country be abolished. Cuba is a participant in the Ibero-American summit but not in the US one. Over the past few years, the Castro brothers have bonded with the other leaders of the region and have succeeded in becoming acceptable to all except the US. If the Obama Administration does not make a move on the Cuban issue prior to the summit and Cuba becomes the focal point of discussion at this Hemispheric summit, the US will be seen as losing its footing in the process and be forced to consider seriously moving quickly to normalize its ties with Cuba or retreat to an isolated position.

Being President Obama’s first hemispheric summit where much of the process will be based on personal rapport among the leaders attending, it could turnout to be a hindrance. Yet, Obama will most likely be saved because he is not George W. Bush, and more importantly, because he is historically the first African-American President of the US, Brazil, and the entire English and French speaking Afro-Caribbean along with Venezuela and the Dominican Republic will be most interested in Obama. The Andean and Southern Cone South Americans will be equally as interested but for other reasons such as trade, security and the environment. The ‘unofficially’ anointed regional leaders: Mexico, Canada and Brazil have already met with Obama.  Observers and critics alike will be looking at this summit for body language, as well as, the pronouncements and topics of discussions in meetings. The take away will be Cuba: What next? Equally important will be the sense the leaders of Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean feel and opine about Obama. This in effect will be a closely watched ‘coming out party’ for Obama. He will be a large part of the take away besides the Cuban reintegration issue.

The bottom line is that all this Hemispheric summitry (both the US created one and the Ibero-American) has undermined US bilateral prowess and US multilateral position of power in the OAS. The substantive prospects are limited in this up-coming summit. Unfortunately, the US is almost congenitally incapable of understanding the smaller, less developed and loosely democratic in orientation countries. The US has basically four main tools or instruments in its conduct of foreign policy. To be mindful of this is most important. The first is political influence: the US has enormous influence throughout the world given its overall strength; hence when it has problem or challenge, the US flexes its political muscle. If that does not work, then the economic option is emphasized. The US as the richest country in the world possesses enormous economic underpinnings of the world economy and selectively employs different economic options like economic sanctions, trade credits, quotas, tariffs and sanitary requirements; and of course, the ultimate weapon in the economic arsenal is an embargo. The third set of options include military preponderance like patrolling, show of arms, escorting cargo and passenger ships, mobilizing ground forces as well as naval and air assets or simply calling out the marines and attacking. The fourth set of options is diplomatic. In sum, traditionally, first the US asserts itself politically, economic and militarily. And the last thing it tends to do too often is call out the diplomats to explain the political, economic and military actions taken. Diplomacy is rarely the first option for a superpower. It comes unfortunately on occasion last to justify the prior actions. Small, weak, poor countries have no political influence, scant economic power and virtually no military might. Hence, diplomacy is their first and only option. Likewise, in a summitry process diplomacy is the first and virtually the only option. Everyone is equal, but there is always the primus inter pares (first among equals). Plainly, the US is not going to this summit with a forceful attitude, and it does not seem to have a solid agenda. If it avoids substituting slogans for process or actions, then it will have gained some accomplishments among the Latin Americans, the Canadians and the Caribbean.

Tags: Barack Obama · Cuba · Economics · GWB · Latin American Foreign Policy · Seneca

23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 india blanca // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    …whether we want to or not…we wont be able to sidestep the Cuba issue very much longer…it is an ineffective policy that should have been changed years ago…and one of those stark hypocrite stances…if we can have relations and even borrow huge amounts of money from China, if we can have relations and trade with Viet Nam…how in the world does it make any sense to isolate Cuba, a nation 90 miles away from our shores…that the Cuban American lobby has held us hostage all these years is nothing short of embarrassing….let’s hope Obama has the resolve to act swiftly not just in reference to the travel restrictions but to the embargo….a timely scene setter piece…thanks!

  • 2 jammer // Apr 13, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    it will be interesting to see how our President Obama handles this test. He won’t have the rock star appeal that impressed the European people. This group will be a harder sell…, but I feel he will be up to it. He was born for these moments

  • 3 BettyM // Apr 13, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Interesting reading – Obama will be prepared.

  • 4 DelToro // Apr 13, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Interesting how this country has unrestricted trade with all other nations but somehow our country has kept it from prospering. I guess it could not possibly be the fact that socialism does not work. Well the good thing is that after the “Messiah” fixes everything socialim will still not work and then who will Cuba have to blame?
    I can see many here have had a healthy dose of the Kool-Aid.

  • 5 Anna // Apr 13, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Let’s hope he’s better prepared there than he was in Europe. That was a disaster.

  • 6 india blanca // Apr 15, 2009 at 5:52 am

    a disaster????…would you care to elaborate???

  • 7 Michaelr // Apr 15, 2009 at 11:34 am

    A disaster…Barack Obama hasn’t stepped in political excrement yet. You’re confusing your statement with Gil Cedillo’s media blunders trying to rationalize his Dandy Don excess mentality at the California Taxpayer’s expense. Barack Obama is your hands-on take charge President of the United States. Gil Cedillo is your negative, stereotypical, wannabe Fabian Nunez U.S. Latino politician.

  • 8 Anna // Apr 15, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Re: “a disaster????…would you care to elaborate???”

  • 9 Michaelr // Apr 15, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    You need to take your medication Anna before you write your slander regarding Obama. That photograph says nothing other than you need glasses.

  • 10 Anna // Apr 15, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    I wish it were false! I was appalled when I saw it.

    What was he thinking?! I really would like to know what was going through his head. You couldn’t pay me to bow that that guy or to anybody else.

    America bows to nobody!

  • 11 webmaster // Apr 15, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Even if he did bow, what’s the big deal? George Bush was closer to these Saudis than most presidents in recent years, even calling one of them “Bandar Bush” (Prince Bandar).

    We already bow to these people figuratively by sucking up their oil, letting them buy our debt, flying Saudi family members out of the country when their relatives attack us…

    I think it will be interesting to see how Hugo Chavez reacts at this summit…

  • 12 Anna // Apr 15, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Re: “Even if he did bow, what’s the big deal?”

    Big deal? FREE people do not bow to anyone, much less dictators! Bowing is an act of subservience, something a servile person would do. BO is the President and he’s representing our country on the world stage.

    We are a free people, and we don’t bow to anybody. The founders fought a Revolution do that we wouldn’t have to bow to any monarch. It’s kind of scary that people don’t see a problem with this. When I was a little kid, they used to teach us these things in school. My parents taught me that too. When I was a little kid watching Wimbledon on TV, I asked if Tracy Austin was going to curtsie to the royal box, and my dad was like Hell No! We don’t curtsie or bow to anybody.

    I could never prostrate myself like that. It’s just not in me.

  • 13 Bearguez // Apr 15, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Anna, who are you kidding? You prostrate yourself every time you make apologies for those public thieves in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Not in your nature…it is your nature.

  • 14 Anna // Apr 15, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    LOL Nice try.

    Sorry, if I don’t get riled up over minutiae. Chrstmas cards, a bottle of wine, going out to dinner. All of that is trivial and none of it is against the law. There are people stealing trillions of dollars. Get angry over that.

    And it’s not in my nature to bow like a serf.

  • 15 india blanca // Apr 15, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Bowing is a form of greeting in some cultures…just like shaking hand….kissing either cheek…or embracing….when one visits foreign countries one must take into account their traditions….it is not arrogance that will keep us mighty and our world a safe place to live for generations to come…President Obama is a breath of fresh air….a great example…teaching us to be mindful of others and their traditions…I much rather see him bow to a Saudi prince that allow us to torture human beings….that should be against our nature….lets concentrate on substance instead of minutia…Pres Obama had a successful trip to Europe and beyond…he was received with open arms…unfortunately it was not as fruitful as we would have hoped but it was a great leap forward for our beloved nation…we need to understand that power is not thumbing our nose at others but getting them to join us in the endeavors we deem to be in our interest.

  • 16 Anna // Apr 16, 2009 at 8:05 am

    I have to say that I could hardly read your post.

    Re: “I much rather see him bow to a Saudi prince that allow us to torture human beings…

    That’s a false choice. Neither one should happen. If you think it’s OK for our President, or anybody, to bow in submission to a dictator, then you aren’t free. You have an inferiority complex, and I feel sorry for you. Nobody taught you that all men are created equal. Furthermore, nobody can exploit you unless you have the mindset that allows it. You can complain about the Hispanic Caucus all you want, but that’s not the root of the problem. They’re just a symptom of the problem. I’m not trying to be mean, but your post revealed a lot.

    As for your other points–

    Obama wasn’t in Saudi Arabia when he bowed, he was in London, so he was not practicing some local custom. (And that still would not have made it right.) Furthermore, nobody bows to the King of Saudi Arabia because they think that men should only bow to God. The King did not return the bow. BO sent a message of weakness with that bow to every leader in the world.

    Next time BO travels I hope he stands up straight. If he can’t manage that, he should send Biden.

  • 17 Reyfeo // Apr 16, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    I’m with Anna…the fact the rest of you are okay with bowing to “anyone” is insane to me…and IF you think Americans (of any origin) don’t care that he did that, your sadly mistaken…some of my most liberal friends were completely disappointed at this. Its un-American!

  • 18 WhatThe.. // Apr 16, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    From the look of the photo, I just thought Obama’s contact lense fell out.

  • 19 india blanca // Apr 17, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I am glad even though it was hard for you… you read my post…. it might just show us that whether we agree or not with each other, if we try we can still talk to one another…I just wish you had really read what I said…I made no mention of the Hispanic Caucus so I am not sure if you have my post confused with someone else’s…but let me assure I was taught from a very young age that all men are created equal…and fortunately for me I have never been exploited…though I have lived under dictatorships I was always taught my right to my self-worth and freedom to defend it…you see I had the opportunity to be born to a man of socioeconomic means and superb intellect…a man who dedicated his life to help improve the lives of others who were not quite as lucky….so you see it is dangerous to assume and speculate on things we know nothing about…as to your reference to “Obama wasn’t in Saudi Arabia when he bowed, he was in London, so he was not practicing some local custom” …again you did not read what I said…which was that bowing is a form of greeting in some cultures…that has nothing to do with your geographic presence…allow me to take it out of the Obama scenario so that it is maybe easier for you to understand…you don’t have to be in Japan to bow when you say hello to a Japanese, it is simply a sign of respect for their traditions….

  • 20 Anna // Apr 17, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    This was not on par with a Japanese bow, which is mutual, and a sign of greeting. For the record, our President does not perform the Japanese bow either. Clinton almost did it once, but the protocol people stopped him. Our heads of state bow to nobody.

    What BO did was a deep, submissive bow, his left knee bent, his left hand on his left thigh. Who knows what he was thinking, but he looked like a subject bowing to his king, instead of a head of state greeting another head of state.

    French President Sarkozy is in the picture and he’s laughing. Today he said that Obama “does not operate at the level of decision making.” Sarkozy is an idiot, but don’t tell me that BO’s dumb bow did not help create that impression.

    Power matters and images of power/weakness matter.

    One more thing: I did read your post and you did say that you would rather have him bow to a saudi prince than torture people.

  • 21 india blanca // Apr 18, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I definitely said that, Anna. I still stand by it.

  • 22 Michaelr // Apr 20, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    All that advertised higher education that you claim to have. Do you even read what you write?

  • 23 Seneca on Obama Administration’s Latin Foreign Policy Woes // Nov 7, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    […] Obama attended the Summit of the Americas meeting in the spring in Trinidad Tobago, he ran into unexpected or unscripted situations: is the […]

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