OAS summit in Cartagena: consensus without Washington.U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean has lost considerable ground. Investments, trade and leadership have all declined, and President Obama--despite his lofty promises of a "restart" of U.S. relations with the region at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, back in 2009--has failed to reverse that trend inherited from his predecessors.
This latest Organization of American States summit, held last month in Cartagena, Colombia, was a disaster for Washington policymakers--Secret Service agents and call girls notwithstanding--and the issue of Cuba made the disaster even worse.
A few days before the OAS gathering in Cartagena, Mexican President Felipe Calderon visited Cuba. And a few weeks before Calderon, Cuba received Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Pope Benedict XVI.
Calderon's visit resulted in a rescheduling of Cuba's debt with Mexico as well as joint cooperation in oil exploration of Guff of Mexico waters. He insisted that common interests, not differences, should characterize Mexican-Cuban ties, and upon his departure from Havana declared that "Mexico condemns, and will continue to condemn, the unjust embargo enforced on Cuba."
Colombia is by every standard a close ally of the United States, yet Santos was quit blunt when he said: "You better look south, because for the United States its strategic interests in the long run are in Latin America, not in faraway places. Isolation, embargo, indifference and looking the other way have shown their inefficiencies. They are anachronisms that keep us anchored to the Cold War era."
Santos went on to warn that future summits without Cuba "would be unacceptable" and concluded by saying "We cannot be indifferent to a process of internal changes in Cuba."
Mac Margolis, writing in The Daily Beast, put it this way: "It was Obama's fourth trip to Latin America and he landed in the Caribbean with an impressive 1,000 aides and handlers in tow. And yet from day one of the gathering of 32 heads of state, the U.S. and the rest of the Americas appeared to be living in different hemispheres.
"Instead of effectively leading a conversation on how to mend the strained relations south of the equator, Washington found itself on the defensive, battered by Latin American gripes and resentments, both real and imagined, and sucked into no-win arguments on issues (legalizing drugs, democracy, free trade) and anachronisms (Cuba) that not even Latin leaders agree on."
Obama's personal efforts to blame Cuba in his speeches and interviews were absolutely useless and fell on deaf ears. His main arguments were the absence of democratic change in Cuba and the fact that Cuba doesn't want to join the OAS despite the resolution cancelling its expulsion which was adopted in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, two years ago.
Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the administration's most prominent advisers are still incapable of grasping the most important trends and developments throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
The region, which long ago rejected the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas has been building its own foundations and regional blocs, as well as its own tools for diplomatic consensus and cooperation without the help of the United States and Canada.
Grupo de Rio, Unasur, Mercosur, Petrocaribe and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in Spanish) are all homegrown institutions in which Cuba has been active for years, and which Washington policymakers blindly refuse to consider.
Times have indeed changed, from the days of the Washington Consensus 20 years ago to today's consensus without Washington.