By Tamara Pearson
April 21st 2009
Venezuela and the countries of the Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas (ALBA) decided not to sign the final document of the Summit of the Americas held on April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago, saying it excluded Cuba and offered no viable solution to the current economic crisis.
The economic blockade of Cuba imposed by the United States was one of the most anticipated themes of the summit, in which 34 heads of state across the North and South American continent participated, with the notable exception of Cuba, whose president was not invited.
The dynamics of the summit were somewhat different compared to previous summits, as ALBA countries worked together to assert the needs of Latin America, whilst the new president of the United States, Barack Obama, was also more respectful to the other countries.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said, “Of the three Summits of the Americas that I have been to, the first was cold, behind a wall and driven by imperialism and everyone else was quiet, except Venezuela. Later, in the Mar del Plata [in Argentina, 2005] the summit ended up fragmented in pieces, but we defeated FTAA [Free Trade Area of the Americas], now this summit has opened the gates to a new era of relationships between all the countries of this continent.”
Chávez said that although this meeting hadn’t been perfect, cordiality had reigned and that “it has finished with success and with a new climate.”
However, Chávez criticized the nature the summit, saying, “Someone notes all these proposals and later comes the big question, who is in charge of carrying them out? This is one of the failures of all these summits over the last few years, the incapacity to put projects into practice.”
ALBA countries who attended the Summit (Bolivia, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela) had previously decided at their conference, held just days before in Venezuela, not to sign the final document of the Summit, the Declaration of Trinidad and Tobago.
The 22 page document, with 99 points, in general favors the private sector and its development, promotes the production of bio-fuels and the increasing of credit lines to business, amongst other things.
In a joint statement about the document, ALBA countries said that it “offers no answers to the …global economic crisis” and “unjustifiably excludes Cuba…without mentioning the general consensus … in the region in favor of condemning the blockade.” ALBA then proposed alternative themes for discussion, including problems caused by capitalism, climate change and the food and energy crises and the need for solidarity not competition.
Chávez said the document is “totally de-contextualized, as if time hasn’t passed,” and complained specifically about its characterization of Cuba as non-democratic.
“Where is there more democracy, in the United States or in Cuba? Who has the democracy meter?… I have no doubt that there is more democracy in Cuba than in the United States,” said Chávez.
Chávez justified ALBA’s rejection of the declaration to the press saying, “It is a sovereign decision and it forms part of the battle that we are waging from ALBA, not only of resistance to imperialism and its hegemony, but also with viable proposals and in full construction of a better world.”
“The Summit of the Americas was born to try to impose the FTAA and it failed,” Chávez said, referring to the previous summit in Argentina in 2005. In this case Chávez signed the final declaration but expressed reservations around the point on free trade. Venezuela created ALBA with Cuba in 2004 as a counter project to the FTAA.
In the end, only the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Patrick Manning, signed the declaration, saying that whilst there wasn’t unanimity around the content of the document, there was a consensus that he should be the only one to sign it.
Another highlight of the conference was the resumption of US-Venezuela relations and a resumed cordiality between the presidents of those countries, Chávez and the newly elected Barack Obama.
Chávez said “we affirmed a desire to initiate a new stage of relations. The president of the Unites States said that he would keep his word to not interfere in the internal issues of any country and we agree that we want to work together.”
Various presidents also expressed hopes that the summit would mark new relations between the United States and the rest of Latin America, especially given the new president of the US.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said, “[The Summit] was a fantastic meeting, we understand it as … the start of a new type of relationship. There was an environment of …optimism and high hopes.”
Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa said he felt the main achievement of the summit was “open, frank, and friendly dialogue.”
Speaking about the theme of energy security discussed at the summit, Chávez said, “We’re prepared to continue with initiatives like Petrocaribe, the gas pipeline of the South, promoting renewable energy… and to continue doing our part because we have the biggest reserve of petroleum and one of the largest reserves of gas. We propose a true energy revolution across the continent.”
In his intervention in the conference, Chávez expressed his concern about the resurgence of economic forms of intervention. “Be careful with the International Monetary Fund [IMF] because they have revived it…In Latin America the IMF was the big destabilizer of the region,” he said.
Chávez also alluded to the “media terrorism of the powerful elites against the state,” giving the example of the recent assassination attempts towards Bolivian president Evo Morales, and said these efforts reflect a form of fascism in the region.
After the summit, Chávez classified Venezuela’s participation as “one of the biggest victories of our history” because of the positions it defended of resistance, dignity, sovereignty and independence.
He said he was happy about what is happening in Latin America and the Caribbean where “Bolivarian unity is being consolidated, the dream of San Martin, Bolívar and Artigas; only united will we be free and be able to talk on an equal footing and with dignity with the powers of the world, this has started to become reality in these latest meetings and summits.”
Chávez proposed the next summit be held in Havana, Cuba.