Summit of the Americas: We’re all friends here, right?

I’m a huge nerd for Latin America, so just seeing the signs and billboards for the sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena last week was like Christmas. We were staying in an apartment building with a direct view of the Hilton where Obama and possibly other leaders will be staying during the Summit, and another building owned by a friend’s family was completely bought out for these two weeks by what we presume to be U.S. security forces. I mentioned the intense police presence last week and I can’t imagine how choked the city is with security and press now.

Thirty-three of thirty-four presidents are supposed to attend this year, including everyone’s pal Hugo Chavez. Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa isn’t going because Cuba is banned, and given that he’s an argumentative, outspoken populist, I don’t think he’ll be missed or the conditions of his absence taken too seriously. There are various anticipations for the Summit, including predictions that it will be a royal waste of time. Many Latin American nations are trying to move away from relations centered on the U.S. and forge stronger, exclusive ties among one another.

The U.S. has tried to at least appear as an equal contender with nations to the south, but it also seems like there’s little motivation or action to go beyond the images. The U.S. has had an imperial relationship with this region for so long that it’s like we don’t know how to do things differently, and we don’t see reason to do so. Countries in Central and South America have historically been our providers of raw materials and willing or unwilling hosts of military interventions in the name of breaking down communism and drug trafficking.

The past fifty years haven’t shown a particularly stable or influential Latin America, but the region has advanced significantly and its countries must be considered vital international partners, especially in the past three years or so. Brazil has emerged as an economic powerhouse and Mexico is on the rise as well. With so many historical, social and geographic ties, it doesn’t make sense not to establish positive and proactive relations with our fellow American nations before they fortify among themselves or with powers in Asia and the Middle East. Venezuela is quite chummy with Iran lately, and it might best to make up with Chavez’s Andean allies before they go the same route.

(There are countless things to be said about trade relations between the United States and countries in Central and South America. Unfortunately, the extent of my understanding of trade relations is bargaining for pretty things in markets and even then I’m not so great. Read the WSJ or something.)

The Sixth Summit of the Americas could be a chance to reinforce the POTUS promise of the Fifth SOA to establish stronger connections with Latin American nations that has since been cast off and forgotten. It could be a chance to introduce the U.S. as an active player in the Americas instead of a distracted neighbor. The politics in this region are the only politics that remotely interest or make sense to me, so I’m trying to keep up. Also, more U.S.-Latin American ties mean more jobs for degrees in Spanish and Latin American Studies, and that means more blogs for you to read!