The Carnival in Trinidad

The carnival came to Trinidad twice this year. It held its festive pre-Lenten rite of carnal debauchery a few weeks ago and a post Easter one filled with verbal excess, mostly courtesy of Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega. Danielito, as we not so fondly call him, went on a near hour long tirade providing an overview of the tragic legacy of  US imperialism in Latin America. To be honest, I am surprised that he could manage it in only fifty minutes. While all Nicaraguans know who William Walker is, not too many Americans are aware that he attempted to install himself top the perch in Managua in the 1850s.

And while the filibustering of William Walker has been long assigned to history if not folklore, events during my lifetime continue to impair US-Latin American relations. It's hard to trust when one thinks that Jaime Roldós and Omar Torrijos were murdered in 1981 on the orders of William Casey. And while the Bush Administration distracted by its global wars of necessity in Afghanistan and of choice in Iraq and the Philippines and who knows where else ignored the region except to demand eradication of coca crops, it is also impossible to ignore in the attempted coup against Hugo Chávez that the United States didn't exactly uphold the inviolability of democratic norms. Tsk, tsk. So forgive us for chiding you because it seems that United States only values Latin democracies when it's convenient for the United States. But democracy in Latin America is ever more vibrant and likely in the near term if not the longer term to be rather inconvenient for the United States. Danielito, Hugo, Rafa and Evo aren't going anywhere so get used to them. I personally don't care for them either but it's not for me to approve or disapprove the electoral choices of my Latin brethren.

Still I can't help but laugh and concur with Secretary of State Clinton who ignored two questions about Danielito's speech, instead offering lengthy praise of a cultural performance of dance and song opening the summit.

"I thought the cultural performance was fascinating," Clinton said. Asked again about the Ortega speech, Clinton said: "To have those first class Caribbean entertainers on all on one stage and to see how much was done in such a small amount of space, I was overwhelmed."

Nicely done, Madam Secretary, nicely done. But don't dismiss Danielito entirely for he does have a point.

"This summit and I simply refuse to call it summit of the Americas. Yes, we are gathered here, we have a large majority of presidents, heads of state of Latin America and the Caribbean," Ortega said, lamenting the lack of Cuban participation in the summit due to it exclusion since 1962 from the Organization of American States. "They're absent from this meeting. One is Cuba, whose crime has been that of fighting for independence, fighting for sovereignty of the peoples. I don't feel comfortable attending this summit. I cannot feel comfortable by being here. I feel ashamed of the fact that I'm participating at this summit with the absence of Cuba."

There won't be a sixth Summit of the Americas if Cuba isn't included. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told President Obama during a meeting today with leaders from the Union of South American Nations that another Summit of the Americas without Cuba was unacceptable. The day when the United States dictates to Latin American is setting if not already set. And it is in this light that I welcome the President's 17 minute and heavily applauded speech.

I think everybody recognizes that we come together at a critical moment for the people of the Americas. Our well-being has been set back by a historic economic crisis. Our safety is endangered by a broad range of threats. But this peril can be eclipsed by the promise of a new prosperity and personal security and the protection of liberty and justice for all the people of our hemisphere. That's the future that we can build together, but only if we move forward with a new sense of partnership.

All of us must now renew the common stake that we have in one another. I know that promises of partnership have gone unfulfilled in the past, and that trust has to be earned over time. While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values. So I'm here to launch a new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout my administration.

To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements. I am very grateful that President Ortega I'm grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old. Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. And we've heard all these arguments before, these debates that would have us make a false choice between rigid, state-run economies or unbridled and unregulated capitalism; between blame for right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents; between sticking to inflexible policies with regard to Cuba or denying the full human rights that are owed to the Cuban people.

I didn't come here to debate the past -- I came here to deal with the future. I believe, as some of our previous speakers have stated, that we must learn from history, but we can't be trapped by it. As neighbors, we have a responsibility to each other and to our citizens. And by working together, we can take important steps forward to advance prosperity and security and liberty. That is the 21st century agenda that we come together to enact. That's the new direction that we can pursue.

But Latin America has heard this before and going on a century at that so words just won't do. Latin America expects at a minimum that the United States will do more to curb its voracious drug habit. This, more than anything, will relieve the region of the burden of waging a war that it cannot win and that only perpetuates the conditions that threatens what Latin Americans value most, democratic societies that work for all of the region's 570 million people. The President is right to note that "true security only comes with liberty and justice" and it is the greatest of injustices for the United States to push solutions that fundamentally undermine Latin stability and progress simply because the United States refuses to own up to the fact that prohibition has not worked.

Tags: Cuba, daniel ortega, Drug Trade, Hugo Chávez, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Summit of the Americas, US-Latin American Relations (all tags)

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