EspañolSummits aren’t as useful as they say: they don’t change destinies, influence decisions, or promote public policies. Nor do they build bridges between countries.
But they are useful spaces to observe how political forces measure up, how the chess pieces are aligned, and where the represented countries stand in the court of public opinion.
Last week’s Summit of Americas didn’t fail to disappoint, providing spectacle in the form of a love-in between Cuban dictator Raúl Castro and US President Barack Obama, and pathos in the form of the awkward guest, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Obama’s about-turn in US foreign policy towards Cuba, welcomed by Castro as a historic turning point, has disarmed the ideological justification of countries such a Venezuela for their outdated policy of socialism in the 21st century. The days of their “anti-imperialist” campaign, presenting the North American giant as responsible all their domestic failings, are numbered.
One of the first signs was the declaration by President Dilma Rousseff a day before the Summit began that “we don’t think that a better relationship with the opposition is imprisoning whoever it might be … if the person hasn’t committed a crime, he can’t be imprisoned.”
During the Summit, she announced that she would visit the White House in June. A clear snub to Venezuela’s recent record of locking up opposition politicians, or pure coincidence? There are no coincidences in politics.
Maduro has done all he can to lose the unconditional support of his neighboring allies, with constant violations of human rights, disaster after disaster in his economic management of Venezuela, brutal intolerance of opposition, and his constant insults (he learned well from his comrade Hugo Chávez) directed towards “Yankee imperialism.”
All of the above have degraded his image, in the two years he’s been in power, to a nadir even worse than that of Chávez earned in 14 years. And the Venezuelan community in Panama made this painfully obvious, with multiple demonstrations rejecting his visit to the country.
En algunos puntos de la Ciudad de Panamá se vieron carteles como este: pic.twitter.com/v5gSBY7ngd
— Marcos G Morin Aguirre (@Mmorin_informa) April 11, 2015
“At several points in the city you can see banners like this.” Text: No to Dictators! Enough of Silence! No to the violator of human rights! No to the illegitimate leader!
This isn’t the kind of welcome put on for a president who’s doing well and boasts good relations with the region.
— DolarToday® (@DolarToday) April 11, 2015
“Spreading out a giant banner with the text ‘Dictatorship in Venezuela’ on the coastal road at the Summit of the Americas.”
Obama was absent during Maduro’s speech to the Summit, nor was there any attempt by Washington to listen to his outraged howls over the sanctions against seven officials in his government guilty of corruption and violating human rights.
Maduro was left to babble about his “respect” for Obama and the United States — after all, he professed to be a huge fan of (British) guitar musician Eric Clapton — and the best he could hope for was a rushed meeting with Obama on the fringes of the summit.
Maduro’s payment of US$1,500 for sympathizers to his government to roll out the red carpet, using a body double to trick the press, and walking around in a bulletproof vest are nothing more than signals of the weakness and fear that have debilitated the Venezuelan president, desperately resorting to illusions to shore up his moribund image as a strong man of Latin-American politics.
Just as Raúl Castro has distinguished himself from Maduro’s foreign policy by calling Obama an “honest president,” so too will follow other regional leaders. The image of the Venezuelan dictator is falling in pieces around him, and no human power can change this while he jails political prisoners, while shortages and scarcity are rampant, while economic failure threatens individuals’ survival, and freedom seems a distant memory.
Maduro’s embarrassment came at a Summit hosted in Panama, a country which once lived under the military jackboot and has since risen from the ashes to become the greatest economic power of Central America. It’s an unequivocal message that dictatorships are inevitably bound for the abyss. For rulers that look more absurd with every day that passes, irresistible cries for freedom invariably follow hot on the heels of laughter.