PORT-OF-SPAIN – The 5th Summit of the Americas, which ended on Sunday afternoon, came to a close amid a climate of cordiality and with passionate praise from nearly all the participants, and the general consensus was that it marked a new phase in the relationship between the United States and the rest of the hemisphere.
The expectations for a stormy summit fell by the wayside, in part because of astute diplomatic work and the display of charm by U.S. President Barack Obama, who managed to receive praise even from the leaders most hostile to the United States, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Honduras’ Manuel Zelaya.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had said at the outset that he felt “ashamed” to attend the summit, and he and his allies in the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America, or ALBA – Venezuela, Bolivia and Dominica – had announced that they would veto the final communiqué in protest over the absence of Cuba from the gathering.
But the final declaration was finally signed by the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Patrick Manning, in the name of all participants and there were no vetos, but rather only the expression of some reservations by Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina over matters as diverse as Cuba, biofuels and the world economic crisis.
Organization of American States Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza expressed it very graphically when he said: “Those who thought that this was going to be a shouting match have come away disappointed. A new, very positive spirit has been noted.”
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Sunday that he was leaving Port-of-Spain “extremely surprised” by the positive things that occurred at the meeting given that the United States and the other countries of the hemisphere had created “a new way of overcoming differences and discussing them maturely.”
But more significant were the words of Venezuela’s Chávez, the promoter of ALBA and paladin of anti-Americanism across the Americas: “Everything ended as it should have, the meeting was a complete success that led to a collection of tacit commitments and others that were expressly defined,” he said on Sunday.
“Of all the summits which I’ve attended in this decade, this is, without doubt, the most successful, the one that opened the doors to a new era of rationality among all the countries,” said Chávez in commenting on the “new era” announced by Obama at the start of the summit on Friday.
In a sign of that new phase, Chávez announced that he will once again fill the post of ambassador to Washington, tapping Caracas’ OAS envoy Roy Chaderton for the post.
The hostility of the ALBA countries toward the United States also seemed to lose steam, as became clear on Sunday with the words of President Zelaya after he and his Central American counterparts met with Obama.
“The entire summit has had an atmosphere of very fraternal dialogue and that pleases us Latin Americans. We are no longer having the strong clashes there were before. Obama’s behavior is totally different: more openness, more dialogue and more respect. There are good prospects (because) the United States changed with Obama,” he said.
Also, the OAS contributed to laying to rest the controversy about the absence of Cuba when Insulza announced that he will propose that the organization discuss in June annulling its 1962 resolution to expel Cuba, although it will be up to Havana to formally request to be readmitted.
At a press conference, Obama said before leaving Port-of-Spain that a new era of cooperation with Latin America had been established at the summit that will go beyond the traditional military and anti-drug collaboration.
He added that the meeting had served to establish a new phase of respect toward sovereign and democratic countries in the hemisphere, despite the differences of opinion that may exist.
The site for the next Summit of the Americas has not yet been determined. Colombia, Venezuela and Paraguay on Sunday each formally requested that they be selected to host the meeting, but Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said that the decision would not be made known for some days.