The V Summit of the Americas was an excellent opportunity for all to observe U.S. President Obama express his policy towards his southern American neighbours. Expectation was probably even higher than during his European stint earlier this month, with the cramp Port of Spain scenario as an incentive for the crowds to jam-pack streets. Not every day does a coloured dignitary of such status visits Trinidad-Tobago. At the same time, Latin America’s leaders were expected to be even less receptive to Obama’s proposals should he persevere in a U.S. hard-line policy towards Cuba. Mistrust of U.S. foreign policy has smouldered over the past half century and CIA intromission in Latin American politics has been a constant issue of confrontation.
Obama’s magic touch has seemed to soften the highly critical tone of some leftwing leaders such as Nicaragua’s President Ortega. Even Venezuela’s boisterous President Chavez expressed his wish to be “Obama’s friend”. But other that words loaded with excellent intentions, the Summit of the Americas with a prologue meeting between the U.S. President and his UNASUR colleagues, ended in a stalemate. No official declaration was signed and economic issues were relegated to an obscure corner. Cuba’s prolonged absence in said American summit was the main topic discussed with hopes of future progress but without a clear path as to how to carry about said integration.
True to say, the United States faces a crude reality. Its foreign policy towards Cuba, and in my opinion extensive to all Central & South America, has been both faulty and arrogant. Today, the Uncle Sam image of a dollar-giving protective superpower no longer results attractive to millions of Latin Americans who have suffered regimes of atrocity tolerated and occasionally supported by previous U.S. Administrations. From Cuba passing through Chile, Argentina, Peru, El Salvador, Colombia, Panamá and ending with Venezuela, numerous duly elected leaders were overthrown or persuaded with CIA support to give way to U.S. friendly governments.
Obama has launched a challenge to Latin America’s leaders by admitting previous foreign policy errors towards Cuba, at the same time demanding counter-concessions by the Cuban dictatorial regime. In effect, all Obama is doing is to repeat the EU’s stance on Cuba sponsored by the Spanish Government since President Rodríguez Zapatero’s takeover in 2004. Should the established system at Washington D.C. slacken its firm grip on the Cuban Embargo Issue and lobby pressure from Miami-based “Cuba Libre” immigrants abide, President Obama’s path to American intercontinental understanding & cooperation may find stiff opposition in some U.S. neo-conservative circles. It must not be forgotten that the Cuban situation is beneficial to some Miami-based economic interests and these shall fight out regularization of diplomatic relations to the last ditch.
U.S.-Latin American icebreaking has just commenced but a long tortuous road awaits both the Obama team and the moderate South American leaders headed by Brazil’s President, Lula Da Silva. No single Latin American leader will be permitted to negotiate with the White House. The tale of these continents coming again together passes through a neutral mediator that understands all idiosyncrasies. Thus, it shall be the European Union that has a better chance to smoothen past resentments and inject trust in any dialogue. Spain, as the principal ex-colonizer of the Spanish-speaking nations should step forward to support the U.S. State Department in its slow approximation to La Habana regime and other distrusting Latin American leaders. The match has just begun.
Madrid, April 20, 2009