The 5th Summit of the Americas

The cordial exchange between Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez dominated international news about the Summit of the Americas – and while visually that was the biggest thing that happened, it also symbolized a new spirit of open-ness, willingness to work together and the readiness to listen by the United States. Really, you know that President Obama had to be listening for him to speak favourably about the role Cuban Doctors play in Latin America and the Caribbean when he gave his wrap up – and he could have gotten that story from Chavez, Manning or Barrow – though we suspect he got it from all three. And while President Obama urged that symbolic leap forward, beyond symbolism was anything concrete achieved? Our team of special correspondent Janelle Chanona and Alex Ellis were in Port of Spain and they have a full wrap up.

Janelle Chanona Reporting,
Any questions about the level of security that would dominate Trinidad this weekend were answered just after midnight Friday morning. Police declared much of Port of Spain off limits to anyone not carrying special Summit accreditation tags. The move prompted an impromptu holiday for workers and students but more importantly it sent a message that some of the world’s most powerful leaders were arriving.

Between April 17th and the 19th, the heads of government from the thirty-four democratic member countries of the Organization of American States met in Port of Spain, Trinidad at the Fifth Summit of the Americas under the theme, “Securing Our Citizens Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability.” Prior to the official meetings, a 97 paragraph declaration was drafted by the technocrats.

Bharat Jagdeo, Guyanese President/CARICOM negotiator
“Almost everything under the sun is in the draft declaration and good intention or the commitment of all the countries in our hemisphere to work towards closer cooperation in these areas; environment, in drug trafficking, in ensuring prosperity for people,, education, and healthcare. The key thing now is to single out a few issues and to see if we can find practical solutions to those that can move our hemisphere forward.

The thing is that we are looking forward to like I said before in Guyana to a more enlightened partnership. We know that different countries have different interests and we will never be able to see eye to eye on every issue at all times but if we have this spirit of good will, if we have an enlightened partnership where people can recognize the good in each other and there are some common issues that are critical for our region and its people that we can work on together then I think things should be successful.”

Nestor Mendez, Belize’s Ambassador to the OAS
“We are hoping that serious discussions and serious decisions will be made about the challenges confronting our continent.”

According to Belize’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States Nestor Mendez, the signed Port of Spain declaration will have a direct effect on progress in the Western Hemisphere.

Nestor Mendez,
“These decisions are the political message that is taken into account by, for instance, the World Bank, the IMF, the IDB, the CDB, the Organization of American States, CARICOM, the Association of Caribbean States. This political document coming from the highest level in the continent is a serious element that goes into the discussions and decisions that are taken by many of these international financial institutions and multi-lateral institutions. So the OAS will look at what the heads have said for example about human prosperity, what we want to do about the environment – and they will start working to meet those objectives because it is coming as a mandate from the highest level. There is a direct connection and it does have meaning.”

But even before its official start, there is already a shadow over the summit as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has been quoted as saying he will not sign the 97 paragraph Port of Spain Declaration. Chavez has been the most vocal of the member countries which are upset that Cuba’s communist system of Government has barred it from participating in the region’s most prominent institutions. But rather than discussing the impact of Chavez’s decision, the other countries chose to focus on the potential of the event.

Janelle Chanona,
Why should they care about what happens in Trinidad this weekend?

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize
“The expectation that we will be able to influence the hemispheric process especially in so far as questions of trade and the whole business of the Inter-American Development Bank and the need for additional capitalization so that countries such as Belize can be helped, the Central American Bank of Integration as well as the CDB. So it seems to me that there is an opportunity for us in concert with other small voices to insist that there be meaningful results from this summit, from this process and it is in that larger context that I think as well people in Belize should see the summit as being very important indeed.”

For Belize, its big positive was the fact that as the current Chair of CARICOM, Prime Minister Dean Barrow was one of only five people to speak at the Summit’s Official Opening Ceremony.

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“Mr. Chairman, heads, ladies and gentlemen, the challenges, threats and turmoil with which our region and the world is confronted are almost Biblical in their proportions. From its origin on Wall Street, the financial and economic crisis has spread to every corner of the plant, demonstrating once and for all just how interconnected the global village is. More than ever therefore we are compelled to work together. When this conference is over, the question must not be whether it was more a summit accompanied by pageantry or a pageant accompanied by summitry. The Declaration of Commitment that we will endorse must contain concrete programs and plans of action and going forward, our aims and objectives must be honoured not just by invocation by realization. Any dialogue of the deaf is over. The keys now are consecration of our vision, consummation of our mission. Only so will we be able to give our citizens the chance at peace, security, and incandesce forward always, the pursuit of happiness. This is the hemispheric destiny long desired, long deserved.”

Barack Obama, US President
“All of us must now renew the common stake we have in one another. I know promises of partnerships have gone unfulfilled in the past and the trust has to be earned over time. While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we’ve at times been disengaged and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner or junior partner in our relations. There is simply engagement based on mutual respect, common interests, and shared values. So I am here to launch a new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout by administration.”

The leaders spent Saturday in plenary sessions which focussed on the topics of energy security, human prosperity and environmental sustainability. There were also a series of bi-lateral meetings between individual countries and United States and Canada.

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“In terms of the plenary, basically people are making some very interesting statements, proposals that are impressive are being promoted but because there are so many speakers involved, because there are so many personalities involved, I am not too sure how much of the practical will come out of all that. But as I said for us the bi-laterals are of critical importance and those have gone exceedingly well.”

According to PM Barrow, the potential derailing of the meetings by issues like Cuba was nullified in part by the positive Chavez/Obama interactions.

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“There is no divergence, there is no divide between CARICOM for example and the Latins with respect to Cuba. Everybody has agreed that Cuba needs to be fully integrated into the hemispheric process and I think President Obama signalled that he is prepared to begin the work that might lead to the accomplishment of that. What is perhaps critical though is that we recognize that President Obama has to work with various constituencies in the US, various elements in Congress, various elements with respect to public opinion, and I don’t think it is helpful if it appears to US interests, to US citizens, to the US media that we in the rest of the hemisphere are proposing to dictate to the United States. That might do more harm than good. One can understand that the lifting of the embargo, the incorporation of Cuba into the OAS for example are fundamental issues. But there is a way to approach these things, there is a way to massage this process that is going to be more constructive and more productive than hectoring or attempting to bully.

Chavez made a speech, made an intervention and repeated his desire, he said it in English, ‘I want to be your friend,’ to President Obama and certainly I think that contributed to a sense of increased goodwill generally. President Ortega’s speech last night may have kind of given the impression that things would be acrimonious today in plenary, that was not how it turned out and clearly the stars of the show determined to as I said foster this climate of goodwill.”

CARICOM’s negotiator with the US, Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo agreed.

Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyanese President
“If we don’t get all the decisions now, if we just have improvement in the relationship between countries in hemisphere, particularly the rest of the countries and the United States of America, that will set the basis for us to resolve many of the region’s issues in the future and that is what I think is historic about this summit. Also President Obama agreed that he will meet with us later in the year again, CARICOM leaders.”

Janelle Chanona,
What do you think is the Caribbean’s greatest leverage in negotiating with the US, knowing they are perhaps the only superpower left?

Bharrat Jagdeo,
“You mean leverage to achieve what?”

Janelle Chanona,
Exactly what you are talking about, enlightened partnership.

Bharrat Jagdeo,
“I don’t think it has to do about leverage. If you focus on leverage, you go back to past relations that if you don’t have enough of a global significance then the US, because it works based on its own interests, it will not pay attention to you. So from the time you start speaking about significance and leverage, you go straight back into politics of interest. So if you don’t have strategic interest to the US and the Middle East does, they will focus on the Middle East and neglect Latin America and the Caribbean. This relationship has to be built on what President Obama said yesterday, respect between countries, an approach where we want to see prosperity for all the people of the world and maybe improve relationships between our region. So it is based more on commitment to some common principles; democracy, prosperity, the fight against poverty, educating the people of our region, than on interest and level and I think that is why it is different.”

Janelle Chanona,
As the negotiator for CARICOM is there a list of priorities that you will be working your way down?

Bharrat Jagdeo,
“Yes we raised all the issues that we want to. I listed them with President Obama, explaining the region’s perspective and it was very good. He was very engaging and we will meet later again to discuss them.”

Janelle Chanona
What was a the top of that list?

Bharrat Jagdeo,
“Well we focused on several things, we didn’t isolate them, but I think the key thing is economic prosperity for our people; economic prosperity, creating this new partnership between the Caribbean and the US based on a better understanding of how our region is different from other regions.”

Music is an important factor in the region’s identity. For Trinidadian Calypsonian, the 5th Summit of the Americas provided an important opportunity to promote integration.

Dr. Black Stalin, Trinidadian Calypsonian
“Since I born I know it’s been important to keep the Caribbean unity together. Yesterday I was listening to your Prime Minister and I think one of the things he said that was so important is that the Caribbean unity is the longest running unity in the world and I think this is all because we’ve been able to contribute all those years to keep this unity together. So I think it is very important. I think it is important to keep unity because when you look around the world everybody, everything in blocs. There are the Europeans, the North Atlantic Treaty and the world is in blocs now. So I think it is important that we stay in our little bloc.”

Penelope Beckles, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Trinidad
“We have differences but there are many common issues that are important to all CARICOM countries and it is really how you approach those issues. We have been involved in the energy sector for a number of years now, we’ve done very well. We’re the largest exporter of natural gas to the United States and I think it is important, particularly for the closeness of Belize and Trinidad to share some of those experiences that we have learnt in the energy sector, particularly issues probably as it relates to the environment because that is big now, I think it is really important that so many leaders are actually recognizing the negative impact you can have if you really don’t plan for the environment. So I think those are some common issues we looked at; the energy sector, the environment of course, the whole issue of culture.”

While Cuba was a prominent feature at the official summit, at the People’s Summit on the Savannah, Trinidadian activists were pushing for attention for Haiti.

Avondell, Trinidadian Activist
“People keeping hearing about Haiti getting a lot of help and they always need help and people don’t understand the dynamic of the Haiti situation. Yes Haiti has gotten a lot of help but Haiti has also suffered a lot and there is no quick fix to the solution so we have to keep helping them, looking at short term immediate projects for the people who are hungry and need to be fed now but also long term development projects. So if the Caribbean comes together and we really work at it, I believe in the long term we could fix Haiti’s problems.”

Patrick Manning, President of Trinidad and Tobago
“No country in the Western Hemisphere could feel proud over the fact that a Haiti exists. It is a credit to none of us and regardless of how it may have come about, none of us can rest comfortably in the knowledge that such a situation exists at our doorstep and therefore there was a general spirit of commitment and cooperation in doing something about Haiti. A particular proposal was made by President Pevral and we agreed to study it and it has to do with funding a development program of some kind in Haiti and we agreed that the matter should be taken up at the OAS and we can do so at the 1st of June when the OAS meets in San Pedro Sula.”

Barack Obama,
“If our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can over time increase our influence and have a beneficial effect when we need to try to move policies that are of concern to us forward in the region and I think that’s why it is so important that in our interactions not just here in the hemisphere but around the world that we recognize that our military power is just one arm of our power and that we have to use our diplomatic and development aid in more intelligent ways so that people can see very practical and concrete improvements in the lives of ordinary persons.”

As the heads of state and government conclude the Fifth Summit of the Americas, they will all leave Trinidad with the hope that the unexpected but certainly welcomed friendship that appeared to have develop between Presidents Obama and Chavez will signal the beginning of a new future for the hemisphere’s citizens - one in which their fundamental rights of human prosperity, environmental sustainability,, and energy security can be assured. Reporting from Trinidad for 7News, I am Janelle Chanona.

Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll move form politics and have a taste of Trinidad looking at the vibrant culture and lovely scenery on that island.