7th Summit of the Americas: Panama sets the stage for prosperity!

Blog by Joy Huppe

family photo

“Family Photo”… 33 out of 35 leaders attended this year’s Summit

As many of you know, the 7th Summit of the Americas just wrapped up in Panama City last week. The Summit is a meeting that takes place in a different American country every 3-4 years with the aim of fostering discussion among top political leaders in the Western Hemisphere on a variety of issues concerning the social, political and economic well-being in their slice of the world. This year’s official theme was “Prosperity with Equity” and featured hot-topics such as education, health, the environment, security, civil society, participation and governance.

However, at the conclusion of the Summit no official declaration was issued, due to lack of consensus on six paragraphs of the document being discussed. Believe it or not, a non-consensus is not all that surprising. It is hard enough sometimes getting agreement between three or more people on just one topic… now imagine this multifold! In fact, this is the third consecutive summit to not produce an official declaration, prompting questions (and criticism) as to whether or not the summits have out-lived their usefulness.

Despite mixed opinions and lack of an official communiqué, there is one thing we can all agree upon: The 7th Summit of the Americas was indeed a historic event. Panama President Varela credits the Summit as heralding “the beginning of a new era of dialogue and cooperation in our region.” Others have called the event a “tipping point in a new chapter of the Americas.”

While the main impetus for such sentiments is no doubt the newly-lifted embargo between Cuba and the U.S., which opened up the opportunity for Cuba to participate in the summit after over 50 years of being excluded from the event, other newsworthy happenings should not be overlooked. These include hemispheric-wide support for peace in Colombia, a new proposal to institute an Inter-American education system, current tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela, and overwhelming praise to Panama as the host country.


Obama & Castro: The shake heard ’round the world

First things first: Obama & Castro. Yes, it happened. The current presidents of the United States and Cuba met, talked and shook hands, signaling the end of the last vestiges of the Cold War and the beginning of a renewed relationship. This is cause for celebration, as many feel the fledgling reconciliation will have profound political and economic effects for the entire hemisphere (and in particular, the Caribbean), yet it is prudent to note that the differences between the two countries are vast and still persist. Both Obama and Castro, though cautiously optimistic, are realists.

“We have very different points of view on how to organize society. I was very direct with him that we will not stop talking about democracy, freedom of press and human rights,” Obama said in regards to the meeting with Castro that lasted over an hour.

A representative for Castro relayed that the process “will be long, difficult and complex” and emphasized that while the dissolution of the blockade and the subsequent promise of Obama to remove Cuba from the list of terrorist countries are steps in the right direction, nothing concrete has yet to occur. In remarks directed at Obama, Cuban Foreign Minister Rodriguez Parrill warns, “I hope your decision conforms to reality and therefore is fair.”

Moving on… a second item of note from the recent Summit is majority support for the ongoing peace talks between the Government of the Republic of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Though talks have been underway since November 2012, the Summit of the Americas provided a platform where leaders could vocalize their stance on the matter. Overwhelmingly, they urged for the parties involved to come to an early agreement, which they hope will finally bring peace to a region which has been in civil war for over 50 years. With over 220,000 casualties (mostly civilians) due to this conflict, peace cannot happen fast enough.


Colombian peace talks (in Havana, Cuba) draw support from Summit leaders

A negotiator in Havana, Cuba (where the peace talks are actually taking place) acknowledged the Summit leaders’ input and responded in turn: “Saluting the successful completion of the Seventh Summit of the Americas, we can only thank the explicit expressions of support for the peace talks seeking an end to the painful confrontation between Colombians.”

The next item of interest was the bold proposal from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos of the creation of an inter-American system of education. This proposal was aligned with the “equity” theme of the Summit, as the proposed system would increase the quality of education in the region and in turn help combat the inequality which is all too prevalent throughout Latin American.

“If we want to get out of poverty, if we want to combat poverty, and if we want to stop being the most unequal continent in the world… which we are, worse than Africa… education has to be the main tool,” said Santos. Furthermore he alluded to leveraging connections with the United States which he said had “the best universities and many facilities to learn [from]” and encouraged his hemispheric peers to “take advantage of that knowledge.” However, a definitive plan has yet to be outlined, and although the proposal did garner support, it is uncertain if Santos’ vision will actually materialize.

Meanwhile, tensions between the United States and Venezuela remain high due to a deepening dispute over recent U.S. statement that Venezuela is a “threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” This rift stems from recent U.S.-issued sanctions on several senior Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights abuses in the suppression of protests in Caracas last year.


Venezuelan President Maduro and U.S. President Obama at odds, but reportedly “cordial”

During a 40-minute speech at the Summit (which Obama coincidentally did not attend), Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said any effort to normalize relations depends on the U.S. repealing its financial and travel sanctions. Several Latin American countries in support of Maduro (i.e. Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador) added fuel to the fire by heaping criticism on the U.S. leader, calling the sanctions “ridiculous” and “a mistake”, while other less-biased countries (Mexico & Colombia) spoke of the necessity for dialogue between the opponents.

President Obama did not take the criticism lying down. In his Summit speech, Obama said that when the United States speaks against injustices it sees around the world, it’s not seeking to meddle in the affairs of other nations but rather live up to the democratic ideals it defends at home. He continued by saying that the U.S. would continue to promote the right of Latin Americans to peacefully demonstrate against governments without fear of arrest or retribution.

Obama and Maduro did hold a private bilateral meeting at the Summit that has been described as “cordial”, though no official comment on their discussion has been released.

And last but not least, on to more joyful news: Panama’s recognition of being an excellent Summit host! Former Panama Vice President observed that “…the country was notable for many things: organization, tolerance, hospitality and love of country pride.” Current President Varela added, “Panama has always acted as a mediator. The summit has affirmed that. Panama should be proud.”


Panama is receiving praise for being such a welcoming (and impartial) host country!

Other countries agreed, encouraging Panama to remain in a mediatory position even though the conference has ended. It is hoped that Panama can continue to be a place where “different thoughts converge” and potentially play a key role in easing relations between the U.S. and Cuba and Venezuela.

It has been announced that Peru will have the honor of being the host country for the next Summit of the Americas. No date has been set, but there is an estimated time of three years.

So, as you can see, lots happened at this past Summit! Tucked away in the green mountains of Boquete, blissfully removed from the hustle and bustle of Panama City, we at Casa de Montaña keenly watched the events unfold. It is exciting to witness history in the making, and as silly as it may sound we are proud of our home-country of Panama… land not only of breathtaking beauty, but also significant political relevance. “Gracias” to all who continue to work for a better world.

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