By Stephen Kangal
January 27, 2009
It is imperative on the Manning Administration having regard to the current global financial and economic meltdown that is ravaging all Latin American economies to appreciate that it cannot spend over $2bn to provide an April platform for the conduct of hemispheric multilateral diplomacy as if it is business as usual. Since May 2008 when the T&T Concept Paper detailing the agenda of the Fifth POS Summit of the Americas was accepted, the economic, social and trading conditions in the 34- membership of the OAS including in the USA and the Summit Host, T&T, have deteriorated radically. Latin America is not the same today.
The April Fifth Summit of the Americas cannot now prosecute the same agenda as identified in June 2008. The Summit must engage in a rescue package of strategies.
The adverse environmental impact resulting from the use of fossil energy and the conservation of the hemispheric environment- top issues on the agenda of the April Summit are no longer as critical and compelling. The environmental preservation standards have been met by market forces.
The oil price meltdown (from $147 to $34), considerable reduction in oil consumption (30% to date), factory closures (reduction of CO2 emissions), reduction in pollution- causing maritime traffic (50%) and the near collapse of the pollution-generating Caribbean tourist and leisure industries have fundamentally altered the development-diplomacy Hemispheric operating environment.
The Hemisphere is now faced with a different cluster of more urgent, economic and social security-threatening challenges. These new front-burner issues demand the development of an urgent intra-hemispheric contingency response by the Summit to assist member countries to avert social and political unrest arising from escalating unemployment, bankruptcies, collapse of banks, widespread poverty, reduced government revenues, zero/negative GDP growth, the drying up of foreign remittances from the USA, reduction in commodity prices and the overnight disappearance of foreign markets in a range of manufactured goods and services. These are the real bread and butter issues to be addressed by the Summit – not diplomatic niceties and run of the mill issues.
The current Hemispheric concerns contained in the draft POS Declaration of the Fifth Summit of the Americas/Concept Paper have little or no relevance to these new medium-term and day- to- day pressing and urgent problems resulting from the US/global recession. Accordingly the hosting of the Fifth Summit of the Americas must be postponed for six months to allow enough time for technocrats, the private sector organizations and NGO’s to forge and brainstorm a completely new, more relevant and people-centred agenda.
The Summit must adequately treat with and be responsive to the fundamentally changed and current challenging hemispheric economic, trade, investment and financial climate. Participating delegations must attend in the full knowledge that they will derive value-for-money returns from their participation in the Summit.
The Obama Administration must appreciate that it has an inescapable obligation to lead the Hemisphere out of the recession having brought the respective member countries into their current economic woes. It is not enough to justify the holding of the Summit merely for the rest of the OAS to meet with the first black African-American President. More is needed to justify a $2bn expenditure by T&T.
In fact President Obama must make a Summit apology to its Hemispheric partners for having led them into the jaws of a cruel and oppressive recession for encouraging sub-prime mortgage lending in the housing market of the USA. He must also tell us what compensatory financing package is on the table for us.
Hemispheric Presidents and Prime Ministers will find it difficult to leave their capitals in April to dialogue on an agenda that is out-dated and will offer neither relief to their ailing economies nor respite from the decline of the social infrastructure.
The Hemisphere is fast becoming a powder-keg. It can explode on the smallest spark having regard to the high expectations of the people in the oil-producing countries of Latin America and cause social unrest.
A collectively-determined regional contingency response must be crafted as an aspect of economic disaster preparedness by the Summit.