Summit of Americas to help chart course of U.S.-Latin American ties
www.chinaview.cn 2009-04-11 20:08:21   Print

    By Xinhua writer Pan Guojun

    MEXICO CITY, April 10 (Xinhua) -- Leaders from 34 countries are expected to attend the fifth Summit of the Americas on April 17, with the theme: "Guaranteeing our future by promoting human's prosperity, energy safety and sustainable development of the environment."

    But media reports in Latin American countries believe that the three-day summit in Trinidad and Tobago would be more meaningful to the future development of U.S.-Latin America ties.

    OBAMA KEEPS A LOW PROFILE

    In contrast to his predecessor George W. Bush, U.S. President Barack Obama has kept a low profile on the summit. He has yet to make any comment on whether to restore talks, suspended since 2003,on the setting up of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

    Obama also said in mid February, he will neither issue a policy nor make a comment, but will only attend the summit to listen to the opinions and proposals of leaders of Latin American countries.

    He hoped that there would be an atmosphere of "dignity, equality and mutual respect" between him and his Latin American counterparts at the summit.

    During a visit to Central and South America, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on March 28 in Santiago, capital of Chile, that "the time of the United States dictating unilaterally, the time where we only talk and don't listen is over." He said the United States is expected to cooperate and conduct dialogue with Latin America.

    Biden's five-day visit was aimed at paving the way for President Obama to attend the summit.

    Talks toward the establishment of FTAA began at the first Summit of the Americas in Miami, United States, in which 34 leaders approved a resolution to start negotiations.

    The negotiations were suspended in 2003 when Brazil and Argentina demanded that the agreement provide for the elimination of U.S. agriculture subsidies, the effective access to foreign markets and further consideration toward the needs and sensibilities of its members.

    The last summit was held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in November 2005. Prior to the meeting, Bush said talks on FTAA should be re-established.

    But it was opposed by members of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) and Venezuela.

    Venezualan leader Hugo Chavez described FTAA as a "tool of imperialism." He accused the United States of forcing other American countries to sign the agreement.

    The summit ended without any progress, and the ties between the United States and Latin America cooled.

    SOFTENED ATTITUDE TO WASHINGTON

    Since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Bush administration had been preoccupied with the war on terror and paid less attention to the Latin American countries, which caused the estrangement of relations. The relations between the U.S. and Venezuela and Bolivia deteriorated to such an extent that the two countries and the United States expelled each other's ambassadors.

    Chavez founded the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas to challenge FTAA, while another organization, the South American Community of Nations, was founded through the promotion of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Few Latin American countries today still show an interest in FTAA.

    However, some Latin American leaders have adopted a conciliatory attitude toward the upcoming summit. "We are a democratic and peaceful continent and the United States should look at production and development, not only drug-trafficking and organized crime," Lula said during a visit in Washington in February.

    On February 4, Chavez said: "We are willing to achieve rapprochement at any time. We intend to return to the level of relations we had with former President Bill Clinton, which, although they were not easy, were easy-going."

    Former Cuban President Fidel Castro also showed willingness to restore normal relations with the United States when he received a U.S. congressional delegation that visited Cuba earlier this month.

    According to Latin American media reports, Obama will change the Bush administration's policy toward the region as he expressed willingness to improve relations during his presidential campaign. Obama has also adopted some measures to ease relations with Cuba since he took office.

    OPPORTUNITIES AND DIFFICULTIES

    The theme of this upcoming summit is not closely related with the current economic and political situations in Latin American countries against the background of the financial crisis. Discussions are expected to center on the cause of the global financial and economic crisis and measures to restore economic growth.

    The Obama administration is dealing with the crisis with the introduction of economic stimulus measures, increasing government investment and boosting domestic demand.

    However, most Latin American countries, including Brazil and Argentina, think that the United States should reform its economic policies and financial system, and tighten supervision of its financial market.

    The Latin American countries want the United States to increase imports from them to check emerging protectionism. Many economies of Latin American countries depend heavily on the United States.

    Trade with the United States comprises about 50 percent of the region's global trade volume. Many Latin American leaders hope to find an effective way to jointly tackle the financial and economic crisis with President Obama.

    The Cuban issue could also be a possible focal point during the summit. Many Latin American countries have been demanding that the United States end its trade embargo against Cuba since its legitimate member status in the Organization of American States was stalled by the United States in 1962. The Venezuelan government recently said the upcoming summit could not avoid the Cuban issue, and its final communiqu should have a clear and reasonable reference to it.

    Analysts said since the Democratic Party has usually paid more attention to relations with Latin America compared with the Republican Party, the United States may improve its relations with the region, including Venezuela and Bolivia through dialogue during the summit.

Editor: Wang Guanqun
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