By Frederick Mills and William Camacaro
* This article was originally published on COHA.org
The United States will host the Ninth Summit of the Americas June 6-10 in Los Angeles, California with the theme of “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future” for the Western hemisphere. This Summit comes at a time of growing disenchantment in Latin America and the Caribbean with an inter-American system rigged to advance US corporate interests, attack left and left leaning governments, and once again plunge the region into US-NATO cold war politics. The Biden administration’s approach to the June Summit, by failing to recognize the firm regional commitments to sovereign equality, integration, and engagement with a multipolar world, has turned the planning and implementation of the Summit into a space of North–South confrontation.
This will be the second Summit hosted by the US, the first one being the inaugural conference held in Miami in 1994. At that first Summit, the Bill Clinton administration aimed at spreading the neoliberal gospel of free trade and free markets throughout the Americas. Clinton met with limited success in advancing these policy objectives and it was the first of several Summits which excluded Cuba. In subsequent Summits, the failure of the neoliberal model and the harm caused by IMF structural adjustment measures (paquetazos) to the working class became increasingly evident. The continued exclusion of Cuba from the Summits also evoked growing indignation throughout much of the region.
The tomb of the US backed FTAA
At the Fourth Summit of the Americas held in Mar del Plata, Argentina in November 2005, the George W. Bush administration’s push to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) that would extend from Canada to Chile garnered the support of 28 countries but was blocked by Mercosur member countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) and Venezuela.
Tens of thousands of protesters filled a soccer stadium and the streets of the city to voice their opposition to the free trade proposal championed by President Bush. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (who had just survived a coup and oil industry sabotage backed by the United States) said, “Every one of us has brought a shovel, because Mar del Plata is going to be the tomb of FTAA(…) FTAA is dead, and we, the people of the Americas, are the ones who buried it.”
Cuba was present in 2015
At the Sixth Summit held in 2012, the political landscape in the Americas had changed dramatically after fourteen years of Bolivarian revolution. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who held office from 1999 until his death in 2013, had been a major force in the advancement of the cause of regional independence, integration, and the diversification of trading partners, leading the way to the energized process of the “second emancipation” in several nations of the continent, this time from the domination of US corporate interests. For this reason the Pink Tide of left and left leaning governments were able to wield more influence at the conference. Their strong advocacy for the inclusion of Cuba made it clear that there would be a significant boycott of the Seventh Summit of the Americas in April 2015 in Panama City should Cuba be excluded.
The Seventh Summit finally included the participation of Cuba. But the use of economic sanctions and other forms of coercion against leftist governments made this a particularly contentious conference. A series of speeches by Pink Tide presidents expressed a growing skepticism about the efficacy, democratic legitimacy, and direction of the US dominated inter-American system. There was indeed praise for the process of rapprochement underway between the US and Cuba, but this was overshadowed by criticism of President Barack Obama’s executive order declaring Venezuela an extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States, a measure which President Cristina Fernández characterized as “ridiculous”.
The key policy speech of the Seventh Summit was delivered by then president of Ecuador Rafael Correa who made the following proposal:
“The reality is that we need not only a new system of human rights, but a new inter-American system. We must understand that the Americas on the north and south of the Río Bravo are different, and we must talk as blocks.
The Organization of American States (OAS) has historically been captured by interests and visions of North America, and their accumulated biases and atavism are inefficient and unreliable for the new times in which we are living in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States – CELAC – must be the forum for Latin American and Caribbean discussions, and the OAS should become the forum in which, as blocks, CELAC and North America discuss their conflicts.”
Correas’ speech turned out to be prescient, as the extreme partisanship of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, on behalf of Washington, against leftist governments, led to the departure of Venezuela and Nicaragua from the OAS and criticism of the interventionist role of the OAS by Mexico and Bolivia.
The eighth Summit of the Americas was held in Lima, Peru from April 13–14, 2018 and was marred by Peru’s revocation of the invitation of the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. US Vice President Mike Pence called on US allies in the region to further isolate Venezuela, and suggested that the Trump administration would push for “additional sanctions, additional isolation and additional diplomatic pressure — beginning in our hemisphere but across the wider world.” The use of the Summit to advance Washington’s relentless campaign against the Bolivarian revolution confirmed the skepticism of Correa and others about the Summit and the OAS as tools for the imposition of US foreign policy.
2022 Summit: Boycott if Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are excluded
The Ninth Summit presents an opportunity to forge a new spirit of cooperation and unity and forestall the demise of the Summit as an inter-American institution. This year 2022, on February 11, the State Department announced “In the spirit of fostering a more inclusive Summit” the formation of “partnerships with stakeholder groups drawing in participants from across the Americas.” The State Department’s intention to exclude Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba from participation, however, has already provoked a majority of governments in the region, with Mexico and Caricom nations leading the way, to boycott the conference should these exclusions stand. By practicing politics of exclusion and confrontation under cover of promoting “democracy,” Washington will lose an opportunity to put aside ideological differences to more effectively and collaboratively find solutions to growing economic inequality, the refugee crisis, organized crime, the drug trade, human trafficking, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Summit planned for June is perhaps the most contentious of them all. The President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who is now a leading voice in the struggle for the so called “second emancipation”, has insisted on a Summit that is all inclusive: “Participation in the Los Angeles Summit has not yet been resolved because we are proposing that no one is excluded because we seek the unity of all America” AMLO’s recent visit to Central America and Cuba underlines his commitment to regional cooperation.
The cards are already stacked against a successful conference. Fifteen Caricom nations, plus Mexico, Bolivia, and Honduras have already declared their intentions not to attend the Summit on account of the exclusion of these three countries. Chile has urged full participation. And Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will not be attending. A Worker’s Summit of the Americas (Tijuana) (June 10 – 12) as well as a People’s Summit for Democracy (Los Angeles) (June 8 – 10) are being organized by social movements– North and South– to give voice to those excluded by the US-OAS Summit.
The US lacks understanding of the new geopolitics of Latin America
The State Department has seriously misread the historic changes that have taken place South of the Río Grande. In 1994 Washington saw the Summit as an opportunity to consolidate a neoliberal economic model with “free” trade dominated by the global North. But times have changed. Regional associations that do not include the US and Canada, such as CELAC, are fast becoming alternative forums for inclusive deliberations on issues of common concern. CELAC–China cooperation has led to significant commercial ties that are not limited by ideological commitments. Russia, Iran, India, and other countries have also been increasing trade with Latin America and the Caribbean. These are countries in the forefront of a global trend rejecting Washington’s deployment of unilateral economic sanctions to subvert non-compliant governments.
Since 1994, the unipolar world championed by the Washington Consensus has met with ongoing resistance and given way to a multipolar world, and this multipolarity, to the horror of neocons in Washington, is firmly established in Latin America and the Caribbean. Rather than adjust to these changes in the world economy through cooperation and competition, the Biden Administration is doubling down on the Monroe Doctrine approach to reimpose US hegemony in the region by various means of coercion.
To counter this multipolarity, and to recruit Latin American and Caribbean governments to its new cold war with Russia and China, the US seeks to anoint NATO partners in the region, starting with Colombia. In a policy paper by the Atlantic Council (October 14, 2020), Skaluba and Doyle argue that “Eventual Mexican membership in NATO may be a necessary ingredient for keeping the United States invested in European security over the long term.” Thanks to the prudent statesmanship of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, however, NATO membership for Mexico is highly unlikely. And Colombia may soon take a decolonial turn, despite the open warfare being waged by the Colombian ultra right and their paramilitary allies against leftist presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, who is presently ahead in the polls.
The feasible, constructive alternative to a faltering Monroe doctrine is for Washington to respect the right of Latin America to have a diversity of trading partners and engage the global South based on the principles of sovereign equality and complementary trade. There is no appetite anywhere in Latin America to bring a new cold war to Abya Yala. CELAC is committed to establishing the continent as a zone of peace (zona de paz) and resolving any inter-American conflicts by mediation, not sanctions and war. Washington’s heavy handed approach to hemispheric affairs neither dampens Bolivarian resistance to the coloniality of power nor does it curtail the continent-wide aspiration for a second emancipation.
William Camacaro is a senior analyst at COHA and national co-coordinator for the Alliance for Global Justice. Frederick Mills is deputy director of COHA and professor of philosophy at Bowie State University.
[Credit main photo: Open source]