Flying Down to Cartagena: The Sixth Summit of the Americas

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Accompanied by an official entourage of 1,500 people, on April 14-15 President Barack Obama journeyed to one of the most beautiful and storied cities in Latin America-- Cartagena, Colombia. Cartagena has a prominent place in American history.

Logo VI Americas Summit

The crown jewel of Spanish imperial defense, it withstood a siege by English and American invaders in 1741. 3,000 American colonials were part of British Admiral Edward Vernon’s expedition. Spanish and colonial troops, disease, heat and humidity, and incompetent leadership inflicted a terrible defeat on the invading force of 26,000. Only 300 Americans made it back, including Lawrence Washington, George’s brother, who gave the name to Mount Vernon.

The purpose of the visit was the Sixth Summit of the Presidents of the Americas, whose theme was “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity." The summits began in Miami 1994 with the euphoric promise of a common effort to build stronger democracies, integrated economies, and security. But the achievements have been meager, even more so because of the rising opposition of populist governments (Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Argentina) in recent years to a common agenda. Indeed, one of the biggest stumbling blocks that host President Juan Manuel Santos had to overcome were strident voices that Cuba (It does not qualify because it’s not a member of the Organization of American States and is not a democracy) should attend the summit. Another was the potential that Argentina would use the event to push hard on the Falklands/Malvinas issue. Santos diplomatically persuaded Cuba not to press on attending. But easily the biggest elephant in the room turned out to be how to deal with the emerging pressure to change strategy on the menace of narcotics, though no clear alternative was put forward, other than some noise about decriminalizing or legalizing narcotics. The United States agreed to look at alternatives.

The Summit ended without a consensus statement. Analysts of the Latin American affairs, such as Chris Sabatini of the Council of the Americas, commented that it’s time to relook the value of the Summits. Either eliminate them or develop more focused agendas than the sprawling “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity." 

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