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Blocked summit in Cartagena

Latin America attempts, without success, to get Obama to accept Cuba at future meetings

The Summit of the Americas, held in Cartagena de Indias, was publicized as being “the mother of all summits.” In the pursuit of this end it took on three forms: a social forum for discussion on a variety of topics; the greatest gathering of businessmen in Latin American history; and a meeting of some 30 heads of state, brought together to discuss the future against the impressive backdrop of the historic port city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

But nobody was unaware that the pretensions of most of the Latin American countries, in bulk, were unacceptable to Washington. President Obama could hardly give his assent to the presence of dictatorial Cuba at upcoming summits, nor to serious discussion on the legalization of drugs — much less so with the November presidential elections not far away. Nor, lastly, was the United States drawn into taking a position favorable to Argentina’s claim on the Falkland Islands. On Sunday night — for all these reasons, and especially on account of the Cuban problem — there was no communiqué to paper over the disagreements. But meetings of this sort are also expected to serve as a public sounding board, solemnizing statements or agreements already adopted. And of these, in Cartagena, there were some.

As far as Latin America is concerned, agreement has been virtually unanimous on the need for Cuba to be present as a fully entitled member at the next summit: a consensus that has found its most eloquent defender in the best ally of the United States in Latin America (and at the antipodes of any Bolivarian sentiment), Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos. As for the war on drugs, a problem that has grown exponentially in recent decades, the convergence of opinions was not so general or clear-cut. It is a matter not of legalizing drugs across the board or of doing it tomorrow, but of recognizing the fact that the struggle of police forces against the drug trade — so closely bound up with the day-by-day physical insecurity that constitutes the real scourge of these countries — has failed, and that the problem requires rethinking and a new sort of approach.

Faced with this panorama of widespread consensus on matters that are, however, exceedingly touchy in US politics, Obama retreated onto the safer ground of exhorting his audience to cooperate for everyone’s prosperity, at a time when Latin America’s macroeconomic statistics are the best in recorded memory. In passing, he offered indirect confirmation of what many had been saying: the Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez would not have had to miss the summit, were he not, in fact, seriously ill.

The inability to adopt a common position on the above-mentioned array of problems somewhat takes the luster off a summit that was not the mother of all others, or even a daughter; but it cannot be denied that on this occasion Latin America has spoken with unaccustomed frankness and conviction.

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