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December 17, 2008
The fifth Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago scheduled to be held on April 17-19, 2009 will be the first hemispheric forum for President-elect Barack Obama to engage with leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean. The Port of Spain Summit will also be the first meeting of all 34 democratic heads of government from Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada, and the United States since the contentious 2005 Summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Taking place less than four months after his inauguration, the Summit could set the tone for hemispheric relations during the early stages of the new Administration.
There have been four Summits of the Americas, two Special Summits of the Americas, and a number of ministerial-level summits held since 1994. Past Summits have led to a number of successful initiatives in the region, including the creation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, reductions in the cost of remittance transfers, and increased provision of anti-retroviral therapy to victims of HIV/AIDS. Although some view the most recent Summit as a failure because of its divisiveness, it too produced a number of important initiatives, including support for Haiti's democracy, improved infrastructure, and reductions in child labor.
Despite these accomplishments, many observers have criticized the Summits of the Americas. Civil society representatives contend that the Summits lack transparency and believe their organizations should play larger roles in the Summit process. Some observers have questioned the Summits' effectiveness, drawing attention to the fact that the majority of Summit goals have never been met. Other analysts doubt the Summits' ability to advance U.S. interests and argue that the United States should pursue its own priorities outside of the Summit process.
The theme for the Port of Spain Summit is, "Securing our citizens' future by promoting human prosperity, energy security, and environmental sustainability." Summit organizers have stressed the need to refocus the hemisphere's priorities, set achievable goals, and create the institutions necessary to hold countries accountable for implementing the Summits' mandates. As a result, the Draft Declaration of Commitment of the Summit focuses on areas of consensus in the hemisphere, such as promoting human prosperity, promoting energy security and environmental sustainability, and strengthening public security and democratic governance. The Draft Declaration also sets measurable goals and seeks to strengthen the follow-up mechanisms of the Summit process. Congress may be particularly interested in a number of initiatives concerning energy, the environment, and social justice which coincide with proposals of the Obama Administration since it may be asked to commit U.S. resources to projects in the region. This report will be updated as events warrant.
Contents Background on Previous Summits of the Americas: From Miami to Mar del Plata Achievements of the Summits of the Americas Political Economic Social Criticism of the Summits of the Americas Transparency Effectiveness Ability to Further U.S. Interests 2009 Port of Spain Summit Agenda Promoting Human Prosperity Promoting Energy Security Promoting Environmental Sustainability Strengthening Public Security Strengthening Democratic Governance Strengthening the Summit Process and Implementation Expectations Congressional Interest Contacts Author Contact Information
Background on Previous Summits of the Americas: From Miami to Mar del Plata
By the early 1990s, after decades of civil war and military rule in parts of the hemisphere, 34 of the 35 governments in the region were elected civilian democracies. Likewise, most of the countries in the region discarded statist economic policies in favor of economic liberalization. In order to build on these values shared by the United States and Latin America as well as develop an agenda for the hemisphere's future, President Clinton organized the first modern Summit of the Americas. Held in Miami in 1994, the Summit was the first meeting of the region's leaders since 1967 and was attended by all 34 democratically elected heads of government in the region, excluding only Fidel Castro of Cuba. After much discussion, the region's leaders approved a comprehensive Plan of Action with 23 separate initiatives under four major themes: preserving and strengthening the community of democracies of the Americas, promoting prosperity through economic integration and free trade, eradicating poverty and discrimination in the hemisphere, and guaranteeing sustainable development and conserving the natural environment for future generations. One of the most important initiatives to emerge from the Miami Summit was the agreement to work towards the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which was to be …