Barack Obama spent the equivalent of a diplomatic “Lost Weekend” in Cartagena, Columbia. The sixth Summit of the Americas turned out to be a disaster in Cartagena for Obama and American efforts in the hemisphere.
The meeting started with a disastrous beginning when 12 Secret Service agents were sent home due to what officials described as “misconduct”. It turns out that the misconduct has all of the signs of a sex scandal that involved visits by prostitutes to various rooms that the agents were staying in.
“There have been allegations of misconduct made against Secret Service personnel in Cartagena, Colombia prior to the president’s trip,” Secret Service special agent in charge Edwin Donovan said in a statement Friday. “Because of this, those personnel are being relieved of their assignments, returned to their place of duty, and are being replaced by other Secret Service personnel.”
After this inauspicious beginning, it was all downhill for Obama and American diplomacy. The United States and our hemispheric allies were divided over a new strategy for the illicit drug trade. Some Latin American leaders called for the legalization and regulating of the drug trade. Obama made it clear that he doesn’t believe that legalization was a more effective approach than law enforcement.
With the specter of continued violence in Mexico and several smaller countries in Central America, perhaps, it’s time for a fresh look at the way forward over this dangerous issue.
Another issue that was brought up by Columbia President Juan Manuel Santos and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was the weakness of the economic recovery in the United States. Both leaders publicly criticized American monetary policy for devaluing the currencies of developing countries. Rousseff reiterated the criticism that she expressed during her recent visit to Washington.
Santos worried whether the United States was “exporting unemployment” to Latin American countries, especially with our stringent “Buy American” requirements. As the host, Santos tried to put the differences in the best light.
Obama did announce that Columbia had complied with the key condition of the free-trade agreement passed last year. This condition was the better protection of labor activists from political violence. The deal can now take effect on May 15th with the elimination of the tariffs on 80% of $14.8 billion in consumer and industrial products from the U.S. to Columbia.
Of course, there’s always a dark cloud under the silver lining. U.S. labor leaders continue to criticize the Colombian’s progress on this issue. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka wrote a letter to Obama last week, that details the labor movement’s unhappiness with the agreement.
The number one issue between the United States and the rest of our hemispheric neighbors centered on Cuba. This on-going issue of inviting Cuba and the continuing U.S. embargo of the communist county has long divided the United States and Latin America.
Once again, the issue reared its ugly head at a hemispheric summit. The United States, as usual, resisted an invitation to the Cubans. The issue is all-the-more important in any election year, particularly because of the anti-Castro Cuban-American community in the swing state of Florida.
In response to U.S. intransigence, a number of Latin American leaders failed to attend the summit, including Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa.
The summit also ended without a statement of shared principles that is usual for this type of event.
Obama pointed out that “The fact of the matter is that Cuba, unlike the other countries participating, has not moved to democracy, is not respecting human rights. I’m hoping the transition takes place.”
Despite his parting words, the next Summit of the Americas may be a long time coming since many of the leaders including Rousseff and Santos said that they would not attend another one with Cuba. The summit also ended without a statement of shared principles that is usual for this type of event.