What are the Summits of the Americas Remembered For?

By Gustavo Maranges on June 2, 2022

Chavez gives Obama, a book to read about imperialism in Latin America at the V Summit

The IX Summit of the Americas is about to start. The event will be held between June 8th and 10th in Los Angeles, California. This gathering been deemed a space to discuss matters of regional concern, but its historical results are very poor and forever tilted towards the developed Northern part of the hemisphere. The most important events related to these summits have come from parallel forums called the People’s Summit, where the real leaders go to talk about the harsh reality of the continent. Given its  not-so-encouraging track record , it would be interesting to make a brief analysis of the past Summits to help us in our expectations in this one coming up.

The First Summit was held in 1994 in Miami at the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, where thirty-four leaders from the Western Hemisphere attended. Cuba was the only country excluded, since it was not a member state of the OAS. Cuban President Fidel Castro called the Summit a “colossal deception” to the peoples of the region, since it promised economic prosperity that never came. The Summit was President Bill Clinton’s pretext to consolidate a regional bloc and US natural influence zone after the end of the Cold War. For the first time, the creation of a regional free trade zone, the FTAA (ALCA), was discussed.

The next meeting was a special summit that took place in Bolivia in 1996. It was known as the Summit on Sustainable Development, and at least it was able to finally include some modest achievements on environmental issues among the topics to discuss. However, that glimmer of hope 26 years after this promising summit, Latin America is still one of the most affected regions by climate change on the planet. Not to mention that the world’s largest ecosystem, the Amazon rain forest, continues to rapidly deteriorate year after year.

The II Summit of the Americas was held in the Chilean capital on April 18-19, 1998. The main issues to be discussed were the preservation and strengthening of democracy, justice, and human rights, as well as economic integration, free trade, and the eradication of poverty and discrimination. In spite of it, few of the 27 approved initiatives have had any real effect so far. According to the United Nations, 2020 was the sixth year in a row of growing poverty and marked the highest levels in 27 years.

In April 2001, Western Hemisphere leaders gathered in Quebec, Canada to hold the III Summit of the Americas. In response to the event, over 15,000 people marched against the globalization of neoliberalism, especially the FTAA promoted by U.S. President George Bush. The criticism even reached the main room, where Brazil’s President Fernando Henrique Cardoso directly rejected Bush’s position and called for sharing the benefits of free trade. The Canadian police repressed the demonstration, but the indignation and impetus of people were such that they broke through the security barrier. Fidel Castro, who was attending, expressed his support for the demonstrators and described the act as “heroic”. The Summit also served to prepare the reactionary Inter-American Democratic Charter, which has been used to hijack democracy in the interests of local elites, instead of strengthening it.

Three years later, in 2004, Latin America was going through a precarious situation after more than 15 years of neoliberal policies. At that time, 44% of the region’s population was living under the poverty threshold, which speaks for itself about the effectiveness of the three previous Summits. Therefore, another extraordinary Summit was held in Nuevo Leon, Monterrey, Mexico, on January 12-13. Despite the critical situation, the event did not go beyond declarations. Fighting poverty and inequality to guarantee governance and democracy continued to be off limits for many of those countries attending the Summit.

The follow up to that was the IV Summit held next year between November 4 and 5 in Mar del Plata Argentina and had and that Summit has gone down in history as the “defeat of the FTAA (ALCA)”, something that was immortalized by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s phrase “FTAA, go to hell!”  during his speech at the III People’s Summit.

Since the Miami Summit in 1994, the US government had been striving to establish the ALCA, its neoliberal economic shackle on Latin America. However, the pressure of the regional progressive forces led by Hugo Chavez, the host Nestor Kirchner and the presidents of Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay prevented the approval of a final declaration aiming at economically enslaving the continent demonstrating what a problem the emergence of the progressive wave of the 90’s was for the empire.

Trinidad and Tobago hosted the V Summit in 2009, as the world was going through the worst economic recession since 1929, and the impact on regional economies and poverty levels was devastating. This reality determined the issues to discuss, namely tackling the economic crisis, as well as energy security and environmental sustainability. And for the first time in the history of the summits, the US blockade against Cuba was a topic of debate, which marked the first step toward re-inserting Cuba into the meetings. In a dramatic side bar this summit is best remembered for Hugo Chavez’s clear message to US President Barack Obama when he gave him “The Open Veins of Latin America” by Eduardo Galeano, showing Obama that times had changed clearly indicating that the traditional position of the US would not be tolerated anymore.

The decline of US hegemony over the region was evident and has only grown since 2009. In 2010, the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) emerged as an alternative to the OAS. CELAC became a space for dialogue and consensus without exclusions, and its summits threatened to boycott the traditional Summits of the Americas altogether.

The V Summit in Cartagena de Indias in Colombia was planned for 2012, and Cuba’s participation was going to be an important issue again. ALBA members requested to bring Cuba in, but the Colombian Foreign Ministry refused after arguing it was a bureaucratic matter. However, the real intention was to avoid a diplomatic conflict with the United States. As a result of this refusal, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega decided their countries would not attend an event marked by the intentional and unjustified veto on Cuba by dominant countries.

Three years later, in 2015, Panama hosted the Summit, and Cuba was formally invited as a result of enormous pressure from progressive governments. The Summit also went down in history because it marked the first time a Cuban and a US president held an official meeting in over 50 years.

As a result of the evening of the balance of forces, it was impossible to agree on a final declaration. As in Cartagena the US and Canadian delegations broke the consensus of the Final Declaration. The reasons were way too clear: the region was dominated by leftist and progressive forces, which held positions incompatible with the imperialist interests of the rich developed countries of the North.

The meeting is also remembered for the large presence of political organizations and social movements that re-created the massive People’s Summit of Mar del Plata (2005). The People’s Summit declaration strongly condemned the US blockade on Cuba and the interference of the US government in the region. Likewise, the participants denounced the OAS’s attempt to supplant Cuban civil society by inviting terrorist and anti-Cuban elements.

Finally, the VIII Summit took place in Lima amid the regional right wing’s siege against Venezuela and the exclusion of the country, which was fraudulently represented by members of the opposition to President Nicolas Maduro. In the midst of the reemergence of right-wing forces on the continent, the intention was to condemn Venezuela, but the opposition of several governments prevented such an outrage.

On this occasion, civil society forums debated the most important matters, which were formally addressed by the official delegations. There was an overwhelming rejection of the exclusion of Venezuela and the US destabilizing agenda towards the South American country and other progressive governments in the region.

For this IX Summit, the Biden administration, completely ignoring the reality of the region, has decided to keep Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua out, which marks a historical setback not even seen during Trump’s tenure. This announcement has backfired on Washington and has caused massive opposition to the event itself.

Over half of the regional leaders have declined the invitations in protest against Washington’s imposition and non-constructive attitude. Likewise, it has been reported that the United States has refused to process visas for a group of 23 Cubans who were formally invited to attend the People’s Summit for Democracy being held nearby from June 8-10. However, it did agree to issue visas for some Cuban spokespersons representing the extremist lobby from Florida.

Once again, the parallel People’s Summit for Democracy seems to be the event where the real matters will be discussed by those who really care about humanity and are intent on building a movement in that direction. Some 200 US civil society organizations have confirmed their participation in the event that mainstream media is trying to ignore. Our Resumen team in the US will be there covering the People’s Summit to help show the world the reality that the elites try to hide, for more information go to Peoples Summit for Democracy.

Source: Resumen Latino Americano – English