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Tuesday, April 24, 2012
A sad Summit of the Americas
It is a sad commentary on the Sixth Summit of the Americas, the triennial gathering of 34 heads of state from North, South and Central America, when the outcomes of the summit are overshadowed by the misbehavior of U.S. President Barack Obama's advance team and security detail.
Then again, even that commentary might be preferable to focusing on the deep disagreements that make plain the distance between Washington and most of its Latin American interlocutors.
Two issues dominated the meeting. The first was the ongoing exclusion of Cuba from the gathering. Most Latin governments prefer to have Cuba in attendance: After half a century, Cuban leader Fidel Castro has established himself as a regional player. His absence is a testimony to U.S. influence. More significantly, the U.S. policy of excluding Cuba has become a convenient tool with which to beat up Washington for its obstinacy.
Mr. Obama noted that "Cuba, unlike the other countries participating, has not yet moved to democracy ... has not yet observed basic human rights." But Mr. Castro is also the longest serving leader in the region and enjoys considerable support among the public and governments of many Latin American countries. His exclusion may gratify a powerful constituency in Florida, but it adds an asterisk to any declarations or outcomes that result from the meeting.
A showdown looms: A bloc of eight countries said it will not attend future meetings if Cuba is not invited.
The second issue is drug policy. The prevailing policy throughout the region is the "war on drugs" that has been pushed by the U.S. for over four decades, despite its minimal impact on prices or drug use. It has resulted in huge sums of money for drug dealers, while contributing to corruption throughout the hemisphere, fanning terrorism and militarizing many states. By just about every indicator, the war is being lost and demands reconsideration.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, host of the summit, said participants agreed on the "need to analyze results of the current anti-drug policy and to explore new approaches to strengthen the fight and to be more effective."
Unfortunately, Mr. Obama, like most other U.S. political leaders, is unwilling to consider possible alternatives. Inflexibility in the face of repeated failure and the continued demand that other leaders adhere to the failed policy only undermined the credibility of the Summit of the Americas once again.