Last lap for Summit of the Americas?


OAS Ambassador Ramdin doesn’t think so


Rickey Singh, Jamaica Observer


TO follow international media reports on the just-concluded Sixth Summit of the Americas (SOA) in Colombia one could reasonably come to the conclusion that this important hemispheric event — which takes place under the aegis of the Organisation of American States (OAS)— may well be on its way out by the time of the seventh summit scheduled for Panama in 2015.


And, at the core of concerns about the future of this triennial event of summitry politics, started in Miami in 1994, is the Caribbean nation that has been excluded from the OAS some half a century ago.


That was three years after the historic Fidel Castro-led revolution, which was to significantly influence social, political and economic changes in nations across the Latin America-Caribbean region — and not forgetting in Africa as well.


Now, at the Sixth Summit — that concluded on Sunday in Cartagena, Colombia, with highly contentious and unresolved issues such as Cuba's continued exclusion from the hemispheric event; new strategies in the war on illegal drugs; and poverty reduction — there were warnings from various Heads of Government, including host President Juan Manuel Santos, that it could well be the last unless Cuba is a participating state at the one planned for Panama.


So, could the Summit of the Americas be really on its last lap?


"I do not see it that way, and this would depend very much on the member nations of the OAS themselves," OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin said.


The Suriname-born Ramdin, a former assistant secretary general of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) for Community and Foreign Relations, said that the OAS Secretariat stood ready to enable any policy decisions emanating from the general membership of the hemispheric body, but ultimately the ball, in this case Cuba's participation in future Summits, is in their court.


Recognising that there is growing incessant demand for Cuba's participation in the SOA — particularly following the Fourth Summit in Honduras in 2009, when a decision was taken to end the exclusion of that Caribbean nation from membership of the OAS — Ambassador Ramdin said that the only specific mandate given to the OAS by the just-concluded summit was on the issue of new approaches in battling illegal drugs.


In contrast to the strident, passionate rhetoric of some Latin American leaders on the issue of Cuba's participation in future summits, Caricom leaders reportedly adopted a low-keyed approach, but stuck firmly in collective support for representation from Havana the next time they meet for such an occasion under the umbrella of the OAS.


Colombia's president was left to declare that there was no consensus on major agenda issues such as new approaches in the war on drugs, or Cuba's presence at the next summit as his guests, including President Barack Obama were preparing to leave for home.


"Exclusion of Cuba," he said, "is due to ideological stubbornness and another summit without Cuba is unacceptable."


The arithmetic of the divisions over Cuba, as it was for enactment of law with limits to legalising drugs like cocaine and marijuana, was largely a case of two against 31 with the prevailing two being the USA and Canada.


While the initiatives for Cuba's participation in the summit planned for Panama will unfold over the coming three years by the governments of OAS member countries, the secretariat of the Washington-based hemispheric organisation will be at work, according to Ambassador Ramdin, in fulfilling the mandate on new initiatives in the war against narco-trafficking.


As Colombia's President Santos has explained, the debate was not so much about whether illegal drugs should be legalised, but about conducting an "independent and unbiased study" into the most appropriate way to counter drug trafficking and crime.


On the issue of crime and security, President Obama — who faced strong criticisms at the summit from Latin American states on issues of US lingering anti-Cuba policies and hostilities, as well as on what Brazil labelled as America's "expansionist monetary policies" — had some good news for Caricom leaders when he met with them in a special session. Washington has pledged US$130 million to help Caricom in its ongoing battle against drug trafficking and related crimes.


However, given the disagreements over contentious issues and the tradition of taking decisions by consensus, no customary declaration from the summit as concluded after two days in Cartagena.


For the Fifth Summit, hosted by Trinidad and Tobago, then host Prime Minister Patrick Manning was left alone to sign the Declaration that was subsequently made public.



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