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Somnambulant in Cartagena

by ROBERT SANDELS

“I watched Obama closely at the famous ‘summit gathering.’  Fatigue sometimes overcame him, he involuntarily closed his eyes and occasionally slept with his eyes open.”

– Fidel Castro [1]

The Sixth Summit of the Americas, held April 14 and 15 in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia was supposed to be about what President Barak Obama wanted to talk about; instead it was about everything he didn’t want to hear.

The theme of the summit was “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity,” but what most of the 33 leaders present wanted to discuss with Obama was decriminalizing drugs, supporting Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) and an end to US exclusion of Cuba from the summits.

Having no good answers on these and other matters Obama shut down, — if Fidel observed correctly — put his mouth on auto pilot, recited the words to the anthem about free trade, national security, and prosperity for all and then refused to sign the final declaration.

The US agenda of prosperity through promotion of market capitalism, asymmetric free trade agreements, privatizations, unfettered flow of capital, and excessive protection of intellectual property rights is currently out of favor in most of the region.

Free trade of the kind pedaled by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush is no longer a regional issue.  In a sense, all of these summits have been pointless if one recalls their main purpose.  When Clinton convened the first one in Miami in 1994, it was not to address the forever problems of the region but to follow up on the successful negotiation of a dubious free-trade agreement with Mexico (NAFTA) by extending US commercial and financial penetration into the rest of the region under a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).  That drive was stopped cold at Mar del Plata, Argentina during the 2005 summit.

Led by Brazil, – the largest regional economy and the “B” in the BRICS — many leaders in Cartagena saw Obama’s free trade and monetary obsessions as his way to help resolve US economic problems but not theirs.  The cheap-dollar strategy may help US exports, job growth and narrow its trade deficit but those gains are seen as other people’s losses.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve makes nearly interest-free dollars available to financial institutions that then can engage in the lucrative carry trade – moving cheap dollars to places like Brazil where, perforce, interest rates are higher.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rouseff has complained to Obama’s face that the Fed’s actions have caused a “monetary tsunami” and are driving up Brazil’s currency.  [2] The central bank has tried to reduce upward pressure on the real through capital controls and dollar purchases, a situation that seems at odds with Obama’s “partnership for prosperity.”

Cuba: the Phantom of the Summit 

Most or all the delegates (except Obama and his faithful Canadian companion Stephen Harper) wanted an end to the US policy of excluding Cuba from the summits and to the 50-year old blockade of the island.  The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which includes Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela, had already formally demanded that Cuba be invited to Cartagena.  Ecuador’s President Evo Morales reported that it was not just ALBA but Rouseff and other leaders in the Caribbean and South America who were saying, “there will not be another summit without Cuba.” [3]

In his speech opening the Cartagena summit, host President Juan Manuel Santos said that another summit without Cuba was  “unacceptable.”  [4]

Of all the speeches and rumors of speeches in this hermetically sealed summit perhaps Santos’ remarks were the most striking.  Here was a conservative president of one of the few loyal US allies left in Latin America, the recipient of billions in US aid to fight a proxy war on Colombia’s coca leaves under Clinton’s 1999 Plan Colombia, one of the few countries to sign a free trade pact with the United States and host to US troops on seven Colombian military bases telling Obama that his views on Cuba were based on an “outmoded ideology.”  It was a “cold war anachronism,” he said.  [5]

The Cuba issue could not have taken Obama by surprise.  What did he expect after it was pounded into him when the previous summit foundered on the issue?  At the 2009 summit in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, his colleagues wanted to talk about readmitting Cuba to the OAS.  The summit ended with no agreement on the final declaration, which only the host government signed, but there was consensus that Cuba could re-apply for admission.  That is not going to happen because Cuba does not want to rejoin the OAS and even if it did, Obama could impose the majority-crushing one-country veto arguing that Cuba isn’t democratic.

The constant harping about the lack of democracy in Cuba seems especially odd considering that the US government has never paid attention to the annual lopsided vote in the UN condemning the blockade.  And in this very summit there was little exercise of majority rule when the United States and Canada blocked agreement on a final declaration because it contained inconvenient resolutions.

Obama, in office only a few weeks when he went to Port of Spain in April 2009, was well regarded in the region.  He talked about cooperation and admitted that mistakes were made by his predecessors.  He was generally praised for dropping Bush’s harsh restrictions on Cuban-American travel to Cuba.  He has tried to live on those meager crumbs ever since, pretending that by reverting to the travel rules in play under Clinton he was “easing” Cuba policy when in reality the policy has remained the destruction of the Cuban revolution.

Soon after Port of Spain, however, Obama supported the June 2009 Honduran coup that followed the arrest and defenestration of President Jose Manuel Zelaya — who of course was democratically elected.  Then as now Obama never tired of calling upon Cuban President Raul Castro to hold elections, without which, the island could never attend a Summit of the Americas.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, the direct beneficiary of that coup, attended the summit.

The lesson of Port of Spain was that John F. Kennedy’s 1962 expulsion of Cuba from the OAS was now reversed.  The lesson of Cartagena was that there wouldn’t be any more of these summits without Cuba.

Who said summits are pointless?

A war on the war on drugs

Latin American leaders of all political hues have been murmuring recently about legalization or decriminalization of drugs.  Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina is probably the furthest to the right in that group, which includes ex-presidents Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox of Mexico and current Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who, against a background of some 50,000 deaths in his militarized war on drugs, has lately suggested the idea should be on the table.

Appearing slightly flexible on the issue, Obama told Univision News, “I don’t mind a debate around issues like decriminalization,” but added, “I personally don’t agree that’s a solution to the problem.”  [6]

Whether or not there was a debate on drugs during the closed-door sessions, Vice President Joe Biden had already made the rounds in Mexico and Central America to promise there would be no legalization while Obama was in office.

And, as if to drive the point home, the summit had barely closed when General Douglas Fraser, chief of the US Southern Command, (Was there a democratic vote among the peoples of the region to include themselves in a US military zone?) made it clear that what Obama doesn’t like, the United States doesn’t like.  The general called for greater cooperation from the region on planning for the naval side of the war on drugs.  It seems that Operation Hammer, which will cover the Caribbean coast of Central America and the Pacific coast of South America, is about to begin and he wants “the naval forces of all the region” to get with the plan.  [7]

If Obama’s views on legalization were not clearly spelled out in Cartagena, they are in his 2012 National Drug Control Strategy, which “rejects the false choice between an enforcement-centric ‘war on drugs’ and the extreme notion of drug legalization.”  [8]

His 2012 budget to pay for that strategy authorizes $15.1 billion for traditional enforcement methods and $10.1 billion for prevention and treatment.  The Marijuana News and Information blog notes that the percentage for enforcement is the same or higher than what Bush proposed spending.  [9]

While hinting at flexibility on the drug issue, Obama announced at the summit that the United States was increasing funds for the foreign war on drugs led by “our Central American friends” and pledged more than $130 million dollars for it in 2012.  [10]

As for the Malvinas, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner argued for inclusion in the final declaration of Argentina’s claims of sovereignty.

Pressed to declare himself, Obama pleaded neutrality.  That’s a “no.”

There was a certain airy dismissiveness about Obamas demeanor at the summit.  He danced away from the serious issues and, apparently forgetting he was president, said, “I’m not somebody who brings to the table here a lot of baggage from the past, and I want to look at these issues in a new and fresh way.” [11]

That was a curious, even astonishing statement by a man who has willingly shouldered a good deal of imperial baggage.  Of course the baggage is his to dump or carry: 54 years of it since Dwight Eisenhower tried to block Fidel from taking power, 51 years of it since the Bay of Pigs, 50 years of it since JFK got Cuba kicked out of the OAS and now nearly four years of Obama continuing the blockade, instituting his own cyber warfare against Cuba and continuing to pay Cubans to act as agents of US policy inside the island.

What baggage has he not made his own?

The other summit 

Obama’s election-year intransigence on the issues at Cartagena has badly damaged and probably sunk the Americas summitry and with it maybe even the OAS.  The best thing for Obama is to let the summits die and blame it on Fidel and Raul Castro (also on Santos, Rouseff, Morales, Rafael Correa, among many others).

Waiting to take its place is the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), inaugurated in Caracas last December as an OAS without the United States and Canada.

Behind it is ALBA, which held its own, little noticed meeting in Caracas just before the Cartagena summit. It was the summit that most of the Cartagena delegates most likely would have preferred.  Its final declaration supported Argentina on the Malvinas, condemned the blockade of Cuba and called the exclusion of Cuba from the Americas summits “unacceptable.”  [12]

“Perhaps,” wrote Fidel, “CELAC will become what it should be, a hemispheric political organization without the United States and Canada. The decadent and unsustainable empire has earned the right to rest in peace.” [13]

Robert Sandels is a writer for Cuba-L and CounterPunch.

Notes.

[1] Fidel Castro, Reflexiones, Granma, 04/17/12,
http://www.granma.cu/espanol/reflexiones/17abril-reflexiones.html.

[2[Reuters, 04/14/12,
<http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Scandal+mars+Obama+wooing+Latin+America+wi
th+video/6473757/story.html>.

[3] ALBA-TCP website, http://www.alianzabolivariana.org/modules.php?
name=News&file=article&sid=8495.

[4] La Jornada (Mexico), 04/14/12,
http://www.lajornadajalisco.com.mx/2012/04/14/inaceptable-una-nueva-cumbre-s
in-cuba-santos/.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Interview, Univision News, 04/14/12,
http://univisionnews.tumblr.com/post/21081359245/obama-dont-mind-debating-le
galization-of-drugs.

[7] United States Southern Command website, 04/18/12,
http://www.southcom.mil/newsroom/Pages/Western-Hemisphere-Defense,
-Security-Leaders-Gather-to-Discuss-Transnational-Organized-Crime-in-Central
-America.aspx.
[8] White House,
http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/2012-national-drug-control-strategy.
[9] Marijuana News and Information, 04/20/12,
http://www.theweedblog.com/obamas-2012-drug-strategy-is-a-reminder-the-feds-
are-addicted-to-the-drug-war/.

[10] Xinhua, 04/14/12,
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-04/15/c_131527076.htm.

[11] Washington Post, 04/15/12,
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/obama-concludes-summit-of-t
he-americas-on-the-defensive-about-inviting-cuba/2012/04/15/gIQAVrgAKT_story
.html.

[12] Granma Internacional, 04/18/12,
http://www.granma.cu/ingles/cuba-i/18abr-17gobierno.html.

[13] Fidel Castro, Reflexiones, Granma Internacional, 04/17/12,
http://www.granma.cu/espanol/reflexiones/17abril-reflexiones.html.

ROBERT SANDELS is an analyst and writer for Cuba-L Direct. This article was written for CounterPunch and Cuba-L Direct.

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