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All Quiet on the Latin American Front? Not Quite.

April 30, 2009

by Liz Harper

The Summit of the Americas brought a ton of Latin American coverage in the U.S. media.  Finally. But, now that the Summit is over, press attention to the hemisphere is waning. That is except for the swine flu spreading from Mexico.

There were a few news nuggets that came out of the Summit, but judging from post-Summit news coverage, you’d think that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Cuba were the only stories.  Of course, those are the two boilerplate favorites for covering Latin America. There have, in fact, been a number of positive developments—some of them coming out of the Summit. Unfortunately, none of them makes the U.S. news.

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On Venezuela, the big story, especially for media like Fox News, was the handshake that shook the world between Presidents Hugo Chávez and Barack Obama. In one segment, Fox deferred to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for commentary on the regional implications. Huh? Newt Gingrich is now a Latin American expert?

For days after the Summit, dignified people debated the proper etiquette for greeting world leaders, and whether to accept gifts—like books, from thuggish strangers.

Some of it is good and thought-provoking.   Most of it is junk.

The press needs to stop its own simplification of Venezuela and Latin America. The U.S. media uses Chávez to differentiate between amigos and enemigos in the hemisphere—and then pigeon hole which Latin American leader belongs with Chávez’ “loco left.”

This makes it easy to digest, but it’s also a misleading template. And way too simple.  

Unfortunately, improved coverage of Latin America wasn’t one of the results of the Summit. 

First, Cuba. Even before President Obama left for Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba was in the U.S. news due to the administration’s move to undo some restrictions on travel and remittances to the island for Cuban-Americans.

Momentum picked up further when President Obama addressed Cuba head-on in his speech at the Summit, saying how the U.S. seeks a new beginning with Cuba.

That ball is still rolling. 

Earlier this week, on April 27, U.S. State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood told reporters at the daily briefing that Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon and Jorge Bolaños, the chief of Cuba's Interests Section in Washington had met on April 13—and that they planned to meet at the State Department that very night.

Sure, such meetings are not unusual. But in the context of the administration’s intentions to explore a new dialogue with Cuba, they are more interesting. 

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is usually lumped as part of Chávez’ loony left, probably for good reason.  But, shortly after the Summit, Ortega’s government on April 24 agreed to join the Merida Initiative and cooperate with the U.S. on security projects (and receive $1.5 million from the United States).  Yet, I didn’t see any mainstream coverage of this.

Hats off to Bloggings by Boz for picking it up, calling it “another quiet success” out of the Summit.

Albeit small, these are important developments to emerge from the Summit. Then we’ve got great stories about the Paraguayan president’s “love children,” Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa getting re-elected by a wide margin, and another about a British spy who accidently lost top secret information about covert operations after leaving her handbag on a bus in South America. Whoops! 

Yet, in the midst of this, after the flood of attention, there’s nothing in the U.S. media, except crickets chirping.  Or, rather, pigs squealing.

Tags: Summit of the Americas, Cuba, Chavez, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ortega

To speak with an expert on this topic, please contact the communications office at: communications@as-coa.org or (212) 277-8384.
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