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Summit miseries

Published: 
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sadly, though hardly unsurprisingly, the 8th Summit of the Americas hosted in Peru last week came and went with precious little fanfare out of Port-of-Spain. There must have been more important things on the minds of the prime minister and his embattled foreign minister.

It has however been like this since April 2009 when, as hosts for the 5th Summit, organisers resisted the label of an expensive diplomatic dalliance and promoted the process as being critical to the development agenda of T&T and the Caribbean.

My involvement in the planning exercise as communication director, prior to the event, meant that I was exposed to the inner workings of a rather peculiar hemispheric process riddled with politics, intrigue and drama. The jockeying for advantageous negotiating position, the diplomatic posturing, the vulgar displays of political opportunism, inter-personal tensions and the lure of the photo-op.

As a former Caricom Secretariat employee, I was also no new-comer to the destructive impact of private and territorial parochialism and insincerity in delivering on what are indeed noble commitments. Yet, here we were. On the big stage. In charge of a grand agenda.

As far as many of us were concerned, the challenge was always to move our tiny nation out of mere dateline status in international reporting on such events and under the spotlight as a relatively influential, strategically-located epicentre of hemispheric debate and decision-making. The billion-dollar investment was meant to initiate a baby step en route to full acceptance as a key sub-regional player capable of punching above our meagre weight.

Additionally, the summit agenda was meant to aid in signalling that while, in the Caribbean context, virtually every development objective is a priority, such aspirations are all subject to a survival hierarchy we can help define both among ourselves in the Caribbean and to potential benefactors and partners.

The 1st (Bill Clinton) Summit in Miami in December 1994 (which I attended) had laid out, through its Declaration of Principles, several overarching developmental objectives among which Caribbean countries could have easily identified areas of priority.

However, by the time the Summit reached Port-of-Spain, the disparate vagaries of geo-political advantage and opportunity were on unco-ordinated display. I had been to Chile for the 2nd Summit in 1998 and saw where the now marginalised Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) gained further traction. In Montreal, in 2001, agitating anti-globalisation campaigners stole the headlines from an FTAA-led agenda and contributed to its eventual demise as a standing Summit agenda item.

By 2009, Hugo Chavez was already in office for 10 years and was well into his Bolivarian rampage. Barack Obama was only months into his second term as president and Patrick Manning had eager eyes set on the PoS CHOGM in November and on what he thought would have been a resounding 2010 election victory.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales crept away quietly for a game of football in the Queen’s Park Savannah, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua grossly exceeded his speaking time as vengeance for being delayed on the Piarco tarmac, Chavez delivered a fresh copy of Eduardo Galeano’s ideological polemic “The Open Veins of Latin America,” to Obama as they shook hands shyly for the first time. There could not have been found a more potentially chaotic, distracted assemblage of national leaders. And, for summit organisers, the conference agenda seemed increasingly to be coming apart at the margins.

But by the 7th Summit in Panama in 2015, with Cuba in attendance for the first time, there were signs that important features of the inaugural discussions in Miami, partially reinstated by the Port-of-Spain agenda, had begun to re-enter the debate.

Health, education, energy, the environment, migration, security, citizen participation, and democratic governance staged a somewhat wholesome return.

However, in Peru last week, even a strengthened programme did not stand a ghost of a chance. No Donald Trump. No Maduro. No Cuba. Brazil in disarray. A hapless, marginalised Caribbean presence. And a silent and invisible T&T contingent hardly remembered for its

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