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Obama magic leaves all leaders of the Americas, even Cuba, satisfied

Monday, April 20th 2009 - 09:38 UTC
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Everyone wants to be a friend of Obama Everyone wants to be a friend of Obama

The three-day summit of leaders from the Americas in Trinidad Tobago ended without a final declaration but with evident progress on the United States' relationship with Venezuela and Cuba.

US President Barack Obama said he saw positive signs from Cuba and Venezuela, and that the summit marked a new start in US relations with its neighbours. But he also reminded his peers that “the test for all of us is not simply words but also deeds“.

The leaders of Brazil and Venezuela also said they hoped for better ties.

Brazilian President Lula da Silva agreed he saw ”potential positive signs“ between the US and Cuba and Venezuela and Mr Chavez also hinted at a thawing in relations. ”We have a different focus obviously, but we are willing, we have the political will to work together“.

In the news conference at the close of the summit, Mr Obama conceded that decades of US policy on Cuba ”hasn't worked the way we wanted it to“ but also highlighted a string of key issues where Cuba must make progress.

”Issues of political prisoners, freedom of speech and democracy are important, and can't simply be brushed aside“ Mr Obama said.

''The fact that President Raúl Castro said he's willing to have his government discuss with ours not just issues of lifting the embargo, but issues of human rights, political prisoners, that's a sign of progress'' said Obama adding that “we're going to explore and see if we can make some further steps. . . . There are some things that the Cuban government could do.''

Despite the upbeat statements, the Summit of the Americas was left without a final declaration as the 34 countries taking part failed to reach a consensus.

Leaders from Bolivia, Honduras, Dominica and Nicaragua, as well as Venezuela's president felt the document omitted crucial issues such as the US embargo on Cuba and allegedly did not adequately address the global financial crisis. But criticisms of the US were generally softened by admissions of respect for Mr Obama himself.

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega emerged as a strong critic of US economic policy, and told the US president his views during a meeting between Mr Obama and Central American leaders.

But Mr Ortega praised Mr Obama's approach to dialogue: ”I want to believe he's inclined, that he's got the will,“ he said.

Mr Obama also pointed out that he had heard his Latinamerican counterparts praise the good work done by Cuban-trained doctors working across the continent.

”It's a reminder for us in the United States that if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence“.

The US president defended his outreach with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez which was criticized in the US.

”Venezuela is a country whose defence budget is probably one six-hundredth of the United States,“ he said. ”It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.“

Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, OAS, and organizer of the summit praised the achievements of the event and said he was hopeful that at the following event in three years time, Cuba would be present.

However he discarded that the Cuban issue had “distracted” the summit and pointed out to the intense exchange triggered by the original agenda: migration, climate change and financial crisis. “Nor has Obama’s popularity in his first meeting with the other 33 presidents limited debates, on the contrary it contributed strongly for the foundations of a new hemispheric relation”.

Argentina’s Foreign Affairs minister Jorge Taiana was critical of those countries that “had observed” the final declaration since “we believe in consensus”. He added “dialogue has been very positive and it can’t be ruined by details of the declaration”.

”The main achievement of this summit has been the open, frank, friendly dialogue between the different countries and different governments, and particularly knowing the new US president and the new attitude of Washington towards Latinamerica”, said Ecuador’ Rafael Correa.

Uruguay’s president Tabare Vazquez pointed out that besides the advances in the relations between United States and Cuba, “the presidents of the region are convinced that the difficulties which signalled the period of George W, Bush have been left behind”.

“We’ve experienced the first phase of the confidence building in the change of relations between United States and Latinamerica”, said Chile’s Michelle Bachelet.

“There was no mendicant attitude at this meeting; all were equals”, said Peruvian president Alan Garcia.

Top Comments

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  • Tim

    After this giant Kumbaya Festival that cost the taxpayers of Trinidad and Tobago hundreds of millions of dollars, what is there to show for all the lavish expense? Where are the concrete proposals to expand exports and cross-border investment and stimulate job growth? For a Summit that supposedly focused on energy security and environmental sustainability, where is the commitment to creating a free trade area in alternative energy resources? Where is the proposal to establish a hemispheric cap and trade program on carbon emissions?

    Apr 20th, 2009 - 11:33 pm 0
  • L Smith

    I think that the conference, although the leaders failed to reach a consensus, was worthwhile. The money spent was enormous, but the exposure gained to Trinidad and Tobago cannot be denied. Isn't the fact that we can host a meeting of world leaders a sign of progress, are we not seeing the bigger picture here, of greater exposure to the world. This can lead to greater investments, tourism and influence. It is very short sighted to expect one conference over three days to produce energy security and environmental sustainability. Investment in this conference was will worth it. Who would deny the opportunity to host world leaders in their country.

    Apr 22nd, 2009 - 01:29 am 0
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