Summit of the Americas sparks debate about the future of U.S. policy in Latin America


President-Elect Funes appears in first international gathering alongside other Central American leaders


From April 17-19 heads of state from throughout the Americas gathered in Trinidad and Tobagoth Summit of the Americas.  President-elect of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, was invited as a guest and accompanied current president Tony Saca at the Summit.  The Summit marked the first opportunity since US President Barack Obamas election for him to meet and share with other leaders of the region, and to define the new relationship he has promised with the rest of the Americas.  Obama has pledged to break from the Bush Administrations policies and forge multi-lateral relationships based on mutual respect and cooperation. for the 5

Despite this pledge, Obama stated early on that the US role in the world would remain central considering the size of its economy.  Many of Latin Americas growing number of leftist presidents took issue with this assertion and Nicaraguas Daniel Ortega and Argentinas Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner criticized this economic imperialism in speeches they made. 

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The member countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the People of Our Americas (ALBA) regional integration initiative refused to sign the final statement released at the 5th Summit of the Americas.  In a statement signed by ALBA countries Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Honduras, Cuba, and Dominica; the two reasons cited for not signing on were the failure of the document to address or propose any solutions to the current global economic crisis, and the fact that the Summit unjustifiably excludes Cuba in a criminal manner. 


The final declaration of the Summit, which despite the lack of consensus was officially approved, calls for continued promotion and development of the Americas private sectors through the strengthening of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).  ALBAs statement faults these institutions, along with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Bank, for causing the global economic crisis through the neo-liberal economic conditions they put on their loans.  Another part of the Summits final declaration calls on increased investment in and production of bio-fuels to address the energy crisis.  In a region being hit hard by the global food crisis, the idea of devoting land and natural resources to fuel instead of food is condemned by ALBAs declaration.


In the first point of the ALBA statement, the member countries declared that Capitalism is putting an end to humanity and the planetthis is not a failure of the regulation of the system but rather a constitutive part of the capitalist system  In Funes speech at the Summit, he reiterated the need for a more systemic change, [We have] the opportunity to redefine the relationships between the State, society, and the market with the purpose of keeping individual interest from prevailing over the general interest [of the population].


Presidents from Central America had a chance to meet with Obama separately from the rest of the Summit to discuss themes of specific interest to the region.  As president of the Central American Integration System, Nicaraguas President Ortega presided over the meeting.  US immigration reform was a central theme of the meeting, with Ortega noting that over 5.5 million Central Americans live in the United States.  A record was set last year with the deportation of over 80,000 Central Americans in 2008 alone.  Other themes discussed at the meeting included US companies shutting down operations in Central America and laying off mass numbers of employees, organized crime, and drug trafficking.


Overall, the Summit was a friendly affair; however at one point Obama found himself defending the US against reminders of recent and past forms of intervention.  The United States changed. It wasn't easy, but it changed. I think it is important to remind the leaders here that the US is not the only one that has to change, he said. 


Still, Obamas promises left many people in Latin America skeptical.  Said Wilfredo Berrios, a union activist and social movement leader with the Frente Sindical Salvadoreño,   Claiming that the U.S. has changed is really a ridiculous assertion for Obama to make.  Up until today El Salvador and Latin America have continued to see the US intervention we have always known.  Most recently Republicans in Congress tried to sway the Salvadoran elections; meanwhile, the US continues to train Latin American police at the Salvadoran ILEA, and very recently was supporting violent opposition movements in Bolivia intent on overthrowing democratically elected President Morales.  Added Berrios, Obama has the opportunity to change the US relationship with Latin America, but it certainly has not happened yet.  If that change is going to happen, he will have to take concrete actions to make it happen.


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