I applauded the initiation of Summit of the Americas Process in Miami 1994 and the subsequent meetings in Santiago and Quebec, the latter in many ways reflecting the high-water mark of inter-American cooperation. But now with the approaching April 2009 Summit of the Americas meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, I can’t help wonder: what’s the point? In reflecting on the distortion in the coverage of the 2005 process during the Mar del Plata, the growing divisions over free trade and the accumulation of declarations and mandates with each summit (each one seemingly having less to do with the original intent than the previous) I can’t help wondering if the whole thing has outlived its usefulness. Sure, I understand (and still sympathize) with the initial goals of the first—and believe that even the mere act of assembling the elected presidents from the 34 countries (for most it will be the first time they’ve met our new U.S. President-elect) is worthy. And yes, anything that gets the U.S. president focused on the region is important.
Look, though, at the sediment of mandates that have piled up over the last four full summits. They range from everything from the original stated goals (trade and democracy) to other more domestic issues (education spending and municipal administration). The latter make great international talking points, but quite frankly I don’t know what they are doing on a summit agenda if the skeletal body that is responsible for managing the process(SIRG) isn’t vested with the authority to make them mandates (as they’re referred to in the statements and the website). In fact, the insistence of referring to declarations as mandates risks only diluting the meaning of the word. Is it a mandate if no one has the authority to enforce compliance with benchmarks?
The April Summit will be dedicated to “Securing our Citizens’ Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability.” Again, I worry we may be straying from the possible into the realm of platitudes and in doing so eroding the very legitimacy of the process.