The Fifth Summit of the Americas, to be held in Port of Spain, the capital city of the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago, from April 17-20, 2009, is already capturing intense regional and international interest. On the Summit's website, the Prime Minister of the host country Patrick Manning, says in his official welcome statement:
It is indeed, an honour and a privilege for Trinidad and Tobago to have been chosen to host this most important summit of hemispheric leaders, especially since this is the first time a Summit of the Americas is being held in a Caribbean state. This provides a strategic opportunity for Trinidad and Tobago and its CARICOM partners to play a leadership role in the geopolitics of our hemisphere and help shape a development agenda that will serve to enhance sustainable development across the entire region.
At the top of this “development agenda” is the current global financial crisis, with other topics tabled for discussion ranging from energy security and environmental sustainability to tangible ways of promoting human prosperity.
Agenda aside, though, much of the attention focused on the Summit has to do with the attendance of new U.S. President Barack Obama and his team. The Caribbean citizenry, at least judging from the voices of regional bloggers, closely followed the 2008 U.S. elections and were thrilled when Obama was elected the first black President of the United States. But seeing President Obama in real life – even along the travel routes – may turn out to be a pipe dream: the security is so tight and the accreditation process so stringent that many feel sidelined by a Summit that is supposed to be about them – the people of the Americas. Hence the emergence of a parallel summit – The IV Peoples’ Summit of the Americas, described as “an encounter of social movements of the hemisphere opposed to neo-liberalism and that stand for social justice, equity, peace and sustainable development.”
Meanwhile, the Fifth Summit Secretariat is doing its utmost best to convince the general public that they can participate in the goings-on – albeit virtually. There is a Facebook page dedicated to the Summit and the official website has a blog feature (with just one entry thus far) and a chat/feedback feature, which, at the time of this post, was offline. There is also a flickr photostream and the Summit is claiming a space on Twitter, providing the tech-savvy (and Internet-accessing) public with other avenues to keep track of developments.
There is also immense curiosity about the possible fallout from Presidents Obama and Chavez being in the same room, not to mention rife speculation over Cuba, the only nation barred from the Summit.
The Civil Society Forum of the Summit begins today. It is expected that more than 300 delegates from international and regional NGOs, including members of academia and indigenous and faith-based groups will participate, adding value to the overall outcome of the Summit talks. Regional bloggers, meanwhile, have been vociferously talking about the Summit…
Trinidad and Tobago News Blog posts a comprehensive list of mainstream media stories on various aspects of the Summit preparations, along with a link to Summit photo albums, while another of the blog's contributors, Stephen Kangal, takes issue with the Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister's pre-Summit decision to “travel to 6 out of 33 Latin American countries with leftist leaning Presidents within a short period of four days using a most expensive private jet merely to ascertain the perspectives of these heads of state on the summit agenda of energy security and the Cuban question”, calling the move “nothing short of egoism gone mad” and “an exercise in futility.”
Jamaican diaspora blogger Mark Lee, writing at Abeng News Magazine, says:
At issue is whether the leaders will move from the realm of platitudes to political action on things that occupy the minds of the man and woman in the street. The issues that should stir debate may include the criminality that is undermining Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Haiti and the not so mundane but perennial matter of Cuba’s admission to the OAS.
Cuban bloggers, particularly from the diaspora, are also weighing in. The Cuban Triangle, seeing some flaws in the U.S. administration's new policy on Cuba, posts a breakdown of what it calls “Obama's package to carry to Trinidad”, calling it “humanitarian, unsustainable, small-bore, a kind of inoculation, and a question mark.”
Barbados blog Bajan Dream Diary has been following the Trinidad and Tobago mainstream media reports and republishes two stories – one which suggests that T&T citizens are unimpressed with the amount of money being spent on the Summit, and the other which speculates about a possible devaluation of the Trinidad and Tobago dollar post-Summit.
Back in the host country, bloggers seem both excited and amused. 5am at Mango Media Caribbean thinks that the Summit will make for “one hell of an interesting week”:
Despite the big personalities, the Trinidad Summit represents a real chance for leaders of the Americas to communicate and engage in substantive discussion in ways that only face to face interactions can permit.
There are big issues on the table: the lack of a special envoy to the Americas, the 11 undocumented workers in the US and their path to legalistion, a cheaper and more environmentally cleaner ethanol for the US that Brazil, Central America and the Caribbean can help produce, and the impact of the global meltdown on the developing nation states that comprise the Americas.
…while This Beach Called Life puts a humourous spin on the entire affair, spoofing a reported telephone conversation between President Obama and Prime Minister Manning:
President O: Anyway, I am calling about the Summit.
PM PM: Yuh want to change de agenda again? No probs. Some ah dem leaders real soft and de rest is only mouth. Dey feel because dey have a few oil dollars dey big. Stupees!
President O: No, I didn’t really call about that. I am actually calling about my plane and the accommodation for it.
PM PM: We bill a new hanger and thing. Doe worry bout nothing. We taking care of it.
President O: Nice PM PM. Glad to hear that.
PM PM: So yuh bringing de Beast?
President O: Huh? Yes, Hillary will be arriving ahead of the Summit…I understand this Summit is costing the country a pretty penny and people are worried about their jobs, just as in the US.
PM PM: You think I have dem to study. I is de leader, I will spend their money how I want. When yuh doe spend it dey say yuh doe do nothing. When yuh spend it bad dey say he thief. All dem people want is hospital and school, like ah could hole a Summit in a Senior Comp. Look, I fed up yes. Stupees!
President O: I think all Good Leaders must relate to their population and talk to All The People, not just some. A Good Leader must speak with compassion and not arrogance. A good leader must not swell up like a bullfrog on stage.
PM PM: Ah hah tu tell some ah dem leaders that, yes.
It will be very interesting to watch Cuban American relations in the near future. With the new Obama policy: http://www.newsy.com/videos/big_change_for_cubans_not_enough_for_critics/ lifting curbs on travel and money transfers for Cuban Americans, I think we are moving in the right direction.
The Summit is the buzz and will be for a while. There is so much going on I don’t know if all can be assessed in a short space of time. But that is where blogs and Global Voices come in.