The Summit of the Americas in the historic Colombian city of Cartagena ended Sunday, with North, Central and South America's most privileged and powerful united by their desire for economic growth but divided by politics and ideology.
What happens to those who are not privileged and powerful? Should we push headstrong for faster growth, hoping that the rising tide lifts all boats? Or should we focus more on redistributing the massive wealth that is being created? Some, like Brazil, Peru and Colombia, are now trying to thread the needle and do a little of both. Let's hope that in the years ahead that the nations of the Americas converge rather than split further apart. A more united Americas is in all of our best interests.
At the very least, this summit provided a venue for presidents, diplomats and business people in the Americas to make deals, discuss, debate and argue face to face. Despite some of the lingering political divisions, which often make the most news, we are getting closer as a hemisphere. The US is becoming more Latino and Latin America is becoming more developed. We are speaking the same languages--a majority of people at the Summit were bilingual--and communicating the same way--for example we all use cell phones and smartphones and Twitter and YouTube. Our economies are becoming more integrated.
Here are 10 other things we learned from the Summit.
Cartagena is awesome. The beauty of Cartagena was in full display over the weekend. Those based inside the ancient walls were able to enjoy the city's stunning colonial architecture, world-class restaurants, unique night life and friendly inhabitants--many of whom were able to keep a smiling face despite having to put up with a lot of inconveniences. During the weekend President Obama said that he was putting Cartagena on a list of places to vacation with his wife Michelle. Colombian President Santos should get a lot of credit for hosting the Summit and doing a good job of keeping the peace. Hereceived a boost by appearing on the cover of Time magazine's international edition next to the title: the Colombian Comeback. He was successful in positioning Colombia in the middle, literally and figuratively, of the region's major powers--the US and Brazil. He also showed that he can relax, wearing a linen shirt and a pair of green pants to an interview with Univision News.
Obama was more popular with cartageneros than with some of his Latin American counterparts. President Obama may have received alukewarm welcome from some Latin American presidents but the people of Cartagena were excited to host him in their city. The man on the street wasmore interested in getting a glimpse of Obama or giving him a special gift rather than his views of Cuba or the Falkland Islands. To me this is relevant and actually an example of the change in attitude toward the US that we are seeing in the region.
Cuba continues to divide the Americas. Cuba was not invited but that didn't keep them off of the discussion agenda. There seems to be more of a consensus that Cuba should be invited to these types of events in the future but the US is not going to budge in an election year. I am still not convinced that Cuba even really wants to come to a Summit where they spend most of the time talking about trade, investment and foreign policy.
Chávez must not be doing well. Despite pledging to visit for a few hours President Hugo Chávez missed the Summit. Some say it was a boycott but it seems more likely that he missed stopping in Cartagena because of health reasons. He ended up flying directly to Cuba for cancer treatments and missed the opportunity of having another encounter with President Obama. The cancellation does raise the question: if Cáávez is unable to make a quick stop to have a few meetings and take a few pictures, how is he going to campaign for the presidency in Venezuela?
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has lost touch with reality. Apparently all she wanted to talk about was the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) when perhaps she should be focusing more on how to increase trade and investment and fight inflation in Argentina. Upset at the lack of interest in the issue (it was, rightly in my opinion, not included in the official agenda) Kirchner was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying "this is pointless, why do I even come here?"
Everyone was talking about drug legalization. Neither President Santos nor President Obama wanted this to become the centerpiece of the summit but it may be remembered as the place where an official debate about drug legalization was started. The OAS just announced that they would be conducting a review of the current drug war strategy.
Brazil continues to fight the currency war. Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff made some nice comments about Brazil's relationship with the US but she did not pass up the opportunity to continue the "currency war" firing a few shots President Obama's way during a panel discussion with MSNBC's Chris Matthews. There is not much that President Obama can do about US monetary policy, which is controlled by the Federal Reserve Bank, but Dilma's argument does show us that the region would benefit from more coordinated economic policies.
Hillary is having fun. The US Secretary of State seems to be enjoying herself during her final year in the job. The internets were abuzz this weekend with photos of the Secretary enjoying herself Saturday evening in Cartagena at the Café Havana (rubbing it in Cuba's face a bit?). She was photographed sipping a cold bottle of Aguila, a favorite beer among both costeños and foreign journalists. Between this and "Texts from Hillary", the former first lady has become an overnight Internet sensation.
The Secret Service is not so secretive. The prostitution scandal involving US Secret Service body guards was the talk of the town during the first few days of the Summit. Details remain fuzzy but some police sources have said the trouble started when one of the women involved got upset when a servicemen refused payment. The embarrassing incident and its vast coverage in the US media overshadowed many aspects of the Summit.
I love the gauyabera. And so do a lot of Latin American presidents and CEOs. The Univision team enjoyed the relaxed dress of Cartagena, making full use of our linen pants and guayabera shirts. We asked a series of heads of state and business leaders their thoughts on comfortable linen shirt--most were fans.
This blog was published both on Univision News and Latino Voices as part of joint coverage of the Summit of the Americas.
Follow Stephen Keppel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@StephenKeppel