Sunday, April 19, 2009

Obama a hit as Americas Summit drawing to close

Latin American leaders are hailing as a success an Americas summit closing on Sunday that consecrated President Barack Obama as a positive partner in the hemisphere who won over even die-hard anti-U.S. critics.
A formal closing ceremony on Sunday was due to set the seal on the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago that served to introduce Obama to a region where America-bashing has long been accepted as a nationalist reflex.
In contrast to the previous 2005 summit in Argentina that ended in discord, the Port of Spain meeting was humming with good feelings projected by the young new U.S. president, who promised a cooperative partnership of equals with his peers.
"We made a lot of progress. With the expectations for tensions that had originally existed, I think the fact that the summit was cordial must be qualified as a success," Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez told reporters.
Obama had to field a chorus of calls to lift the U.S. trade embargo on communist-ruled Cuba, but that did not stop him from brainstorming with the other 33 heads of state on the global economic crisis and regional energy and security challenges.
The United States' first black president appeared to have been a hit with his counterparts from the racially mixed region, even with those who often pilloried his predecessor, George W. Bush, as the diabolic epitome of "imperialism."
The most prolific Bush-basher, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was a model of effusive civility with Obama, telling him, "I want to be your friend" in English and presenting him with a left-wing book on Latin America as a gift.
Chavez felt sufficiently reassured by Obama to propose naming a new ambassador to Washington to restore normal ties. He had expelled the U.S. envoy to Caracas in September and Washington had responded by kicking out Venezuela's ambassador in a dispute over U.S. activities in Bolivia.
Washington said the move to restore ambassadors was "positive." [nN18370657]
Chavez headed a group of left-wing presidents, including Evo Morales of Bolivia, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, who denounced Cuba's absence from the summit and rejected the final draft declaration as deficient.
They said it failed to address Cuba's exclusion and also did not provide concrete solutions to the global economic crisis that threatens to send millions in the region back to poverty.
The more than 60-paragraph declaration, which diplomats worked on for months, commits the hemisphere's leaders to "Securing Our Citizens' Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability."
Given the objections to the document from some presidents, there were doubts whether a formal signing would be held.
Regional leaders said that did not detract from the generally positive spirit and progress of the meeting.
"I think the summit has been a great success by itself, through the quality of the dialogue that occurred between the presidents," Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza told reporters.
"The presence of President Obama has certainly made a powerful contribution to the positive climate and success of the summit," Insulza said, adding the leaders had held substantive talks on the economic crisis and other issues.
Insulza did not believe the summit had been distracted by a debate over U.S.-Cuban ties that dominated its buildup.
Hopes for a rapprochement between Washington and Havana have risen after both Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro signaled they were ready to talk to try to end the long-standing ideological conflict between their countries.
Obama told the opening session of the summit on Friday he wanted a "new beginning" with Cuba and had made a gesture by easing some aspects of the U.S. embargo earlier in the week.
The U.S. leader also made clear he wanted Cuba to reciprocate by opening up political freedoms for its citizens.
In the past, Havana has rejected placing such conditions on an improvement in ties as meddling in its sovereignty.
Despite the need for further concrete steps to back up the conciliatory language from both sides, many believe the momentum may be in place for a breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba ties.
"I believe that at the next summit in three years' time, it's reasonable to think that Cuba will be present," Insulza said.

No comments: