Summit: What a Difference a Day Makes
By Al Giordano
Yesterday’s banner headline on Trinidad and Tobago’s daily Guardian (see below) was “Chávez vs. Obama.”
Today’s is above.
Ponder that for a moment.
Also today, the Venezuelan President said aloud he wants to restore his country’s Ambassador to the US (and, it follows, restore a US Ambassador to Caracas.)
Meanwhile, the foreign policy wonk community and US media has finally figured out what was evident to many of us for the past two years that candidate and then President Obama had been calling for easing the US embargo of Cuba. As Ginger Thompson and Alexei Barrionuevo report from Port of Spain for the New York Times:
…the crack in the door Mr. Obama had opened for new engagement with Cuba felt more like unlocking a floodgate.
For the first time, some diplomats said, the question being asked was when — not whether — the next move will be made…
Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the small but significant shift in policy has set off a chain reaction of expectations that the White House may have trouble controlling. “This is starting to feel as if the ground is moving beneath our feet,” she said.
Meanwhile - if anybody was under the misimpression that Obama's campaign talk about the problems with certain "free trade" agreements would not be addressed at the Summit - US Trade Representative Ron Kirk spent Friday and Saturday huddled with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (who continues to push for the scuttled US-Colombia “free trade” agreement) and his top aides. At a 1:30 p.m. press briefing this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs commented:
"The President has asked our Trade Representative, Ambassador Kirk, to work with the Colombians to work through our remaining concerns, the President's remaining concerns, about violence against labor leaders in Colombia.
"Ambassador Kirk met with President Uribe yesterday and with the Finance Minister today. And we hope that that dialogue continues and that we can make progress about the remaining concerns that we have."
At the same press briefing, White House economic advisor Lawrence Summers responded to a reporter who asked “on Colombia, would you describe yourselves as optimistic that these remaining issues can be worked out and you can come to a point where you could recommend this agreement?” He replied:
"Look, I think it's -- I think it's hard enough to judge things as they are and to predict economies without trying to predict political negotiations. So we're working on it with respect to Colombia, but I don't want to try to -- I don't want to try to predict what's going to happen."
The overall “feeling” one gets from the Summit is that Latin American presidents are a bit taken aback – but pleasantly so – at what is a strange and new situation for them: a United States government that arrives at the meeting not to impose decrees or dictate other nation’s policies with blackmail tactics, but, rather, one that many have noted is really trying to listen and learn from its long neglected neighbors.
It’s a block association meeting, basically, one with a new community organizer in the neighborhood, and a very different approach to how things get done.
I can relate, as one who has been reporting on these regional meetings for a dozen years now. I’m almost too familiar with so many of the protagonists: Lula of Brazil, Chávez of Venezuela, Morales of Bolivia (who was a professor in the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, class of ’04), Ortega of Nicaragua (whose 1985 inauguration I attended in Managua), and others like the narco-presidents Uribe of Colombia and Calderon of Mexico who have been the subject of years of investigative reports from this corner. I reported all of their elections. And each of them – including Obama of the USA – look like they feel a little out of place, but in a good way; like, who thought that a Summit of the Americas might ever be this fun and fearless all at once?
What is happening in Port of Spain is almost unrecognizable. It’s going to take some getting used to. But I don’t think there is a single participant or careful observer from any country in the hemisphere that isn’t pinching himself right now wondering, “can this really be happening?”