These summits lost all meaning during the 2005 edition, when the goal that motivated them — the creation of a free-trade zone — fell apart. Since that failure in Mar del Plata, Argentina, the summits have become little more than occasions for Latin-American officials to take tours at taxpayer expense. The agendas have increasingly become political in nature and based on a faulty notion of integration.
Instead of discussing trade liberalization and how to attract investors, presidents push forward overly ambitious and far-fetched development plans, like the Colombian government’s proposal this year to institute an Inter-American education system. This idea will remain a distraction for President Juan Manuel Santos and his collaborators, wasting precious time and resources.
But the mixing of summits with superficial politics is where the failure really lies. International meetings to address poverty and growth become marred with feel-good rhetoric. Even efforts that have sparked multilateral action, such as the Millennium Development Goals, have been the result of mere political negotiations, to be evaluated on political terms. Keep in mind that instead of choosing strategies to spur growth, they put the cart before the horse and set objectives have already been met thanks to growth elsewhere.
The programs put forth parameters that underdeveloped American nations struggle to respond to coherently. Representatives try to show off the efforts carried out by their governments, but they also use the stage to lament insurmountable challenges that can only be overcome if developed countries send them resources.
But there is an even more fatal problem: no practical solutions or action plans are ever presented. It’s all a rhetorical show.
Even worse are the discussions about other issues, such as democracy. Except for unofficial and uninvited protests and criticism, the summit did not pronounce any concerns whatsoever about the crisis in Venezuela. Nor was there any mention of what’s happening in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, or Argentina, countries where the next Latin-American crises are brewing.
In Panama, the American leaders put the state before democracy: they resort to the principle of self-determination and non-intervention to avoid condemning the abuses committed by their peers. They claim they want to defend international legal statutes, but the truth is they end up backing repressive governments.
Of course one cannot be so naive as to believe that a summit can solve domestic problems or help consolidate a liberal democracy. One is left questioning why these issues are even addressed there, and the very existence of these summits.
The latter seems to be confirmed by the alleged good news reported by the mainstream media, but the interesting thing to note is that the nominal advances would’ve happened regardless of the summit.
Activists and civil-society groups would have protested against Nicolás Maduro anyway, and the big reports about the presidents of United States and Cuba meeting are overblown.
The normalization of relations between the two countries had nothing to do with the summit, and it’s a controversial program that even renowned Cuban intellectuals are against.
But it’s good news in the sense that it will take away from the Cuban “revolutionaries” the argument that their failure is not due to their socioeconomic model, but rather to external US pressure. I hope the next step is the complete elimination of the embargo, a move that will surely have nothing to do with any summit, even if the announcement and photo session take place there.
Every few years, leaders of the continent thus meet to discuss issues that are not really addressed and to set goals that are either irrelevant or never met. No important changes for the region come about from these summits. On the contrary, faulty models get legitimized via a platform of purported respectability they don’t enjoy domestically.
It’s downright tax-funded diplomatic tourism, with no net benefit for Latin-American citizens.
Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.