Latin America: Summit Reveals a Changing Continent

The fifth Summit of the Americas was held over April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago, bringing together representatives from all countries of the Americas except Cuba. The region is now marked by the dispute between a push for greater independence from US economic and political power (which includes a revolutionary, anti-capitalist bloc) and US imperialism.

The fifth
Summit of the Americas was held over April 17-19 in Trinidad and
Tobago, bringing together representatives from all countries of the
Americas except Cuba.

A far cry
from the first of its kind, convened by the US in 1994, it revealed
how much has changed in the hemisphere.

The region
is now marked by the dispute between a push for greater independence
from US economic and political power (which includes a revolutionary,
anti-capitalist bloc) and US imperialism.

The latter
is trying to undergo a facelift, led by President Barack Obama, to
repair the damage done to US regional relations by the actions of
the previous Bush administration.

The first
Summit of the Americas held was held in Miami and comprised the 34
member countries of the Organisation of American States (which excludes
only Cuba).

purpose was to begin discussions on the US-proposed Free Trade Area of
the Americas (FTAA), which aimed to cement US domination over the
hemisphere after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rolling back of
the Central American revolutions.

While the
third summit, held in Quebec in 2001, was confronted by tens of
thousands of anti-corporate protestors, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was
the sole voice of dissent inside the forum to the FTAA.

At the
fourth summit, in Mar de Plata, Argentina in 2005, protesters were in
the streets again. This time, an alliance of newly elected governments
of different political stripes (Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina,
Paraguay and Uruguay) buried the FTAA with their stringent opposition.

president George Bush left with his tail between his legs.

backdrop to the latest summit was the global economic crisis, the recent
inauguration of Obama and the consolidation of an anti-imperialist
bloc centered on the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas

Prepares Its Artillery

April 16-17, the member countries of ALBA (Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia,
Nicaragua, Honduras and Dominica), along with the presidents of
Paraguay and St Vincent and the Grenadines and the foreign minister of Ecuador
(an observer nation), met in Venezuela, to "prepare their artillery"
for the summit. St Vincent and the Grenadines has since joined

Along with
the revolutionary governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba
(President Raul Castro personally attended an ALBA summit for the first
time), the other governments, who have joined ALBA for different reasons,
signed a public document rejecting the draft declaration proposed
for the summit.

statement declared it "insufficient and unacceptable," as it "offers no
answers to the issue of the global economic crisis" and "unjustifiably
excludes Cuba."

meeting built on the decisions of the ALBA summit last November. It
resolved to create a new currency, the Single Regional Compensation Payment
System (Sucre) by the beginning of 2010.

The sucre
will be a common accounting unit used for trading purposes among the
ALBA countries. It will be backed by the funds in the Bank of ALBA,
comprised of federal reserves of ALBA countries.

The sucre
not only represents a step towards the "de-dollarization" of the
region's economic relations, but a step towards a common currency.

It will
also act as a stimulus to move away from trade dependency with the US and
towards building relations based on solidarity among ALBA nations.

The summit
also agreed upon 10 new projects totalling US$13 million in value,
as part of the ALBA food program. A special plan was developed
for Haiti (an ALBA observer nation) that included $9.3 million
for agricultural development.

Haiti will
also benefit from a literacy campaign headed by Cuban teachers
and funded by Venezuela.

Cuba was
banned from the Trinidad and Tobago summit, so Chavez said Venezuela's
representatives would also be representing Cuba.

original decision to exclude Cuba from the OAS was justified by its 1962
declaration of the "Marxism-Leninism" nature of its revolution.
This prompted Bolivian President Evo Morales to state at the ALBA
meeting: "I want to declare myself Marxist, Leninist, communist,
socialist and now let's see them expel me."

Castro and Morales re-raised the idea of replacing the OAS with an
Organisation of Latin American States – minus the US and Canada.

Battle for
the Americas

Trinidad and Tobago, the US government worked to co-opt key governments
that have been part of the process of regional integration.
One way this occurred was through the G20 Summit in London in
early April, attended by Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.

example was a March summit in Chile of "progressive" presidents
(including such "progressives" as British Prime Minister Gordon
Brown and US Vice-President Joe Biden).

Brazil and Argentina were crucial to defeating the FTAA, they did so not
from a firm anti-imperialist, let alone anti-capitalist, perspective.
Rather their position was one of defense for their economies
against US attempts to use "free trade" to weaken them to the
advantage of US corporate interests.

their economic weight in the region (along with Mexico), the US is trying
to use the economic crisis to pull these governments firmly back into
its orbit.

Obama made
sure to present himself as much as possible as just one more among
friends – in stark contrast to Bush's imperial swagger.

Obama said
he aimed to initiate a new era in US relations with the region: "I
didn't come to debate the past, I came to speak about the future."

response, Chavez presented Obama with a copy of Eduardo Galeano's 1971
anti-imperialist classic The Open Veins of Latin America, "to learn
about our history, [because] it is on the basis of this history that we
have to rebuild."

noted: "Obama said three things: there are neither senior nor junior
partners. He said relations should be of mutual respect, and he spoke of

Yet in
Bolivia, "one doesn't feel any change", Morales said. "The policy of
conspiracy continues."

called on Obama to denounce the assassination plot against him,
foiled only days before.

After the
highly publicized handshakes between Obama and presidents such as
Chavez and Morales, who agreed to resend ambassadors to the US after
withdrawing them last September, the customary group photo did not occur.

It was
left to the host president to be the sole signatory to the final
declaration, approved with some dissent and open rejection of by ALBA bloc
and Ecuador.

and Brazil approved the final declaration "with reservations."

for its part, not only talked up the moves made by Obama, but claimed a
large portion of credit for it.

Former US
vice-president Dick Cheney weighed into the events by saying that Obama
"sets a bad precedent" by shaking hands with the likes of Chavez.

responded: "Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is six hundred
times smaller than that of the United States, which is why it is very
unlikely that a handshake and a short conversation with President
Chavez puts at risk the strategy interests of the United States."

Source: Green Left Weekly