The im­pli­ca­tions of a di­vi­sive Sum­mit of the Amer­i­cas

Stabroek News Sunday - - NEWS -

In just over a week’s time the Sum­mit of the Amer­i­cas will take place in Lima, Peru. It will likely il­lus­trate just how di­vided the hemi­sphere has be­come.

Since the last such event was held in Panama City in 2015 much has changed. Then, im­proved hemi­spheric re­la­tions seemed pos­si­ble. President Obama’s De­cem­ber 2014 de­ci­sion to pur­sue dé­tente with Ha­vana and President Cas­tro’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the sum­mit, ended Wash­ing­ton’s grow­ing iso­la­tion in the Amer­i­cas. It demon­strated, at least sym­bol­i­cally, that the US and it neigh­bours saw them­selves as equals in the Amer­i­cas and marked the high point of hemi­spheric com­pro­mise.

Three years on, the Lima sum­mit will likely be very dif­fer­ent. So much so that it may come to de­fine the point in twen­ty­first cen­tury his­tory when ir­rec­on­cil­able di­vi­sions emerged in the Amer­i­cas over US pol­icy, po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy, trade and trade wars, and the pres­ence of newer ac­tors such as China.

At one level, the sum­mit prom­ises po­lit­i­cal the­atre. Both President Trump and re­port­edly President Cas­tro will be present, as will it seems President Maduro, al­beit out­side the con­fer­ence hall, cast in the role of the dis­in­vited guest.

Not­with­stand­ing, some­thing much more se­ri­ous will be tak­ing place. The meet­ing will by de­fault re­volve around the changes that have taken place in US pol­icy to­wards the hemi­sphere since Jan­uary 2017. This is even though the sum­mit’s core is­sues re­late to hemi­spheric co­op­er­a­tion and are aimed at ad­vanc­ing the de­vel­op­ment of Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean.

In Lima, par­tic­i­pants will want to assess US think­ing about its neigh­bours in the hemi­sphere and be­gin a process that will lead to de­ter­min­ing their fu­ture re­sponse to the uni­lat­er­al­ism of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ‘Amer­ica First’ pol­icy.

When the US President speaks, par­tic­i­pants will want to un­der­stand bet­ter how he in­ter­prets in a hemi­spheric con­text the lan­guage con­tained in his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­cently pub­lished US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Strat­egy. What they will want to hear is how the US gov­ern­ment in­tends achiev­ing its stated ob­jec­tive of restor­ing the unipo­lar­ity that ex­isted at the end of the Cold War, and what is meant by the sug­ges­tion that the US in­tends com­pet­ing ‘with all tools of na­tional power’ to en­sure ‘the re­gions of the world are not dom­i­nated by one power’.

They will also un­doubt­edly be seek­ing clar­ity on how the White House in­tends act­ing on the view ex­pressed in Fe­bru­ary by the for­mer US Sec­re­tary of State, Rex Tiller­son, that the Mon­roe Doc­trine, which as­serts US au­thor­ity in the Amer­i­cas, is still of rel­e­vance.

Not only are both mat­ters linked di­rectly to al­most every mat­ter slated for dis­cus­sion, but they are also cen­tral to the hugely di­vi­sive is­sue of how the hemi­sphere re­sponds to the in­ter­nal sit­u­a­tion in Venezuela.

The is­sue po­ten­tially pits the US and like-minded na­tions in the Lima group, in­clud­ing Guyana, St Lu­cia and the host coun­try Peru, which re­scinded Venezuela’s in­vi­ta­tion to the sum­mit based on a ‘rup­ture of the demo­cratic or­der’, against oth­ers that are mem­bers of the Bo­li­var­ian al­ter­na­tive, ALBA.

De­spite this, the mat­ter is far from straight­for­ward. While many Latin and Caribbean na­tions are deeply con­cerned about the still grow­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in Venezuela and its wider ef­fects, they are cau­tious about be­ing seen to sup­port too closely a US President who is un­pop­u­lar on the street and in­tent on engi­neer­ing regime change in a hemi­spheric coun­try.

How much sup­port the US re­ceives on this is­sue will very much de­pend on how sen­si­tive President Trump is to the fact that sovereignty and in­de­pen­dence of ac­tion are cen­tral to public opin­ion, iden­tity and politics in every Latin Amer­ica and Caribbean na­tion.

Re­gret­tably, the signs are that the US President is tone deaf to hemi­spheric sen­si­bil­i­ties. His de­ci­sions and provo­ca­tions do not au­gur well.

They in­clude: the im­po­si­tion of tar­iffs on steel and alu­minium af­fect­ing Brazil, Mex­ico and Canada on the spu­ri­ous ba­sis of de­fend­ing US na­tional se­cu­rity; or­der­ing the US na­tional guard to the bor­der with Mex­ico in the ab­sence of his promised wall; of­fen­sive com­ments about Haiti and El Sal­vador, as well as about mi­grants from Latin Amer­ica; ag­gres­sive rhetoric on Cuba; the ex­pul­sion of so called ‘dream­ers’; and the end­ing of pro­tected sta­tus for some mi­grants from four Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tions.

All of this poses a par­tic­u­lar dilemma for the Caribbean which has is­sues of its own that it hopes to ad­dress with the US at and in the mar­gins of the sum­mit. These in­clude ob­tain­ing as­sur­ances that the Caribbean Basin Ini­tia­tive is se­cure, and the US will seek a new WTO waiver in 2019; as­cer­tain­ing the ex­tent to which the US might sup­port the re­gion’s wish to mit­i­gate and adapt to the ex­is­ten­tial threat of cli­mate change; and ex­plor­ing whether the US recog­nises the threat that de-risk­ing has for the re­gion’s fu­ture fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity.

If, as seems to be the case, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sees the res­o­lu­tion of these and other is­sues as be­ing trans­ac­tional, the Lima sum­mit may in­di­cate, in pri­vate at least, what the po­lit­i­cal cost of any fu­ture ac­com­mo­da­tion with Wash­ing­ton may now be.

Writ­ing re­cently in the Ja­maica Ob­server about the sum­mit, Bruce Gold­ing, Ja­maica’s for­mer Prime Min­is­ter, sug­gested that al­though the prac­ti­cal gains from tri­en­nial Amer­i­cas sum­mits have been lim­ited, the im­por­tant ad­vances have been in build­ing trust in what he de­scribed as “a re­gion that has been be­dev­illed by a huge trust deficit”.

Un­for­tu­nately, not only is trust now dis­si­pat­ing rapidly across the hemi­sphere but may go into free fall if Wash­ing­ton fol­lows through on its de­sire to iso­late na­tions not will­ing to con­form to President Trump’s world view.

All the in­di­ca­tions are that not only will this the 8th sum­mit of the Amer­i­cas be di­vi­sive, but may also leave Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean in dis­ar­ray and lead­er­less at just the mo­ment when rapidly chang­ing in­ter­na­tional re­la­tion­ships re­quire it to strengthen its unity and unique iden­tity.

Pre­vi­ous col­umns can be found at https://www.caribbean­coun­cil.org/re­search-anal­y­sis/

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