(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 26, 2009
THE fifth summit of the Americas held in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in the third week of April was the first official interaction that the newly elected US president, Barack Obama had with the heads of the government of Latin American and Caribbean States. The Summit of the Americas was the brainchild of the Clinton administration to get together the leaders of the Organisation of American States (OAS) once every five years. The goal originally was to further Washington’s globalisation agenda in the region. That goal is now a mirage in Latin America and the Caribbean. Many of the leaders present at Trinidad were elected on the basis of their opposition to the hegemonic policies of the US in the region.
Before leaving for the Summit of the Americas, president Obama had talked of dealing with hemispheric issues on an equal footing with his fellow heads of state. There was also talk of the new administration’s willingness to engage diplomatically with Cuba after fifty years of unremitting hostility. Obama had also announced the lifting of some of the draconian travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans wishing to visit their close relatives on the island as well as raising the amount of money that could be remitted to relatives back home. This move was hailed in the American media as a radical break from past policies.
But there have been no concrete steps to even slightly relax the economic blockade which has caused so much misery to the Cuban people. President Raul Castro had in response to the move by the Obama administration said that the Cuban government was willing to engage diplomatically with Washington. “We are willing to discuss everything — human rights, freedom of press, political prisoners, everything, everything they want to talk about, but they keep their conditions without even attempting to respect Cuban sovereignty, while violating the Cuban peoples right of self-determination”, Raul Castro said at a meeting of leaders from the Bolivarian Alternative for the America (ALBA), held a few days before the Trinidad Summit. ALBA is a regional grouping consisting of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Dominica. This trade bloc was formed to counter the American sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Fidel Castro wrote that the steps taken by Obama are “positive, although minimal”. Fidel’s view was that the changes do not go far enough. He pointed out that Obama has chosen not to utter a word so far on the blockade. In fact, the Obama administration, just after taking over, had penalised a French company which supplied milk products to Cuba. Obama’s main adviser during the Trinidad Summit was Jeffrey Davidow. Davidow, a career foreign service officer was in Chile during the coup against the elected government in the early seventies. After that he was assigned to South Africa, where he helped the apartheid regime to mount covert operations to destabilise Angola and Mozambique. He has played a major role in “Plan Colombia”, the US funded counter-insurgency program. Obama’s choice of advisers is a clear sign that American policy is not likely to undergo radical changes in Latin America.
During the eight year presidency of George W Bush, the region, once considered Washington’s political backyard, had begun to chart out its own economic and political course. The Bush administration’s “war on terror” had very few takers in Latin America. Bush according to opinion polls was the most hated US president in Latin America ever. The people of the region were also the first to turn their backs on the IMF/World Bank dictated neo-liberal economic policies. Unlike the elites in countries like India, the intellectuals as well as the people of the Americas strived politically to get out of the embrace of the “colossus of the North” –– the US.
SOLIDARITY WITH CUBA
And in the last couple of years, the region has spoken as one on the issue of the economic blockade on Cuba. For the first time ever, the Latin American countries held a summit hosted by Brazil late last year, pointedly excluding the US. Cuba took its designated place at that summit. Cuba was of course not there at the recent Summit of the Americas. Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1962 soon after the Revolution under orders from Washington. At that time almost all the Latin American countries toed the US line with the exception of Mexico. Today, the reverse is happening. The only Latin American country which does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba is El Salvador. Now it is only a question of time for diplomatic relations to be established between the two countries. The left wing FMLN which has close links with the Cuba has won the presidential elections there.
There was a strong demand at the Summit that Cuba be invited back into the OAS. President Hugo Chavez in his speech said that the grouping would be incomplete without the presence of Cuba. Almost all the leaders present at the summit called on the US to change its policy towards Cuba. Argentina’s president Christina Kirchner demanded the lifting of the “anachronistic blockade” on Cuba. President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua in his speech said that he was “ashamed of the fact that I am participating in a summit with the absence of Cuba”. Cuba’s only crime he declared was fighting “for the sovereignty of its people”. Cuba also got the full support of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) members at the summit. They called on the US government to reverse the policy of non-engagement with Cuba.
But the Cuban government is not all that keen on re-joining a club that was used for so long as an instrument to destabilize the revolution. The OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza had the gall to say that Cuba should adhere to “democratic principles” if it wants to be re-admitted. In response to Insulza’s statement, Fidel wrote that Cuba would not join the OAS in its present form as it as an “incarnation of betrayal”. He emphasised that the OAS was an accomplice of the US in its aggressive actions towards Cuba for the last five decades. “The United States doesn’t have any right to speak about democracy, because from over there they install coup d’etats”, said the Bolivian president, Evo Morales. Washington had unscrupulously used the OAS to isolate Cuba. Till a few years ago, the US was using its influence to veto any discussions on Cuba.
But as the latest summit exemplified, those days are over. Cuba was at the centre of the debates in Trinidad. To show their solidarity with Cuba, OAS members led by countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Venezuela ensured that a “Declaration of Port of Spain” was not signed as was envisaged. Obama in a press conference after the summit had to concede that US policies against Cuba for the past 50 years have not succeeded in destabilising the government there.
CUBAN MODEL – AN INSPIRATION
With capitalism in crisis, the people of the region are looking up to the Cuban model for inspiration. Though the economic blockade has caused considerable hardship for the economy, the tangible benefits of the revolution for the Cuban people in the field of health, education etc are there for all to see. Hugo Chavez said recently that the Cuban economic model is the one to be emulated. “Socialism is the way forward”, said Chavez and if election results in recent years are an indication, most of Latin America and the region agree with this formulation.
Chavez, Morales and Rafael Correa of Ecuador have already started nationalising important assets for the benefit of their people. The Obama administration views these developments as a “strategic threat” to US interests. The US gets around 40 per cent of its oil and gas from the region. Despite the bonhomie displayed at the summit between Obama and Chavez, Washington will continue to view left wing government as threats to the empire. An assassination plot against president Morales was thwarted a few days before the Trinidad summit. Both Bolivia and Venezuela had expelled American envoys for interfering in the domestic affairs of their countries.
President Obama criticised Chavez again during his interaction with the media in Trinidad. While running for president, Obama had said that Chavez “exports terrorism” and “was an obstacle to progress” in the region. But Chavez for the time being seems to have given Obama the “benefit of the doubt” and is keen to re-establish normal diplomatic relations with Washington. He declared that the summit was the “most successful he has attended”. President Morales however has no illusions about the Obama presidency. “One hundred days have gone by and we in Bolivia have yet to feel any changes. The policy of conspiracy continues”, said Morales.