Summit Shows 'Maturing' Of US-Latin America Ties
Chile gathering took a step toward creating a free-trade area of the Americas. But the US role remains unclear.
Miami, site of the first Summit of the Americas in 1994, was about vision.Skip to next paragraph
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But Santiago, Chile, which hosted the second summit of the region's 34 democracies this past weekend, was about getting down to the business of hemispheric cooperation.
To understand the process of expanding cooperation and progress toward creation of a free-trade area of the Americas, one might picture a rocket flying to the moon. "It's the takeoff and landing that get all the attention," says Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "No one pays much attention to the interim stages unless something goes wrong, but that doesn't make them any less important."
The Santiago summit displayed neither disaster nor triumph. Leaders took a first step toward creating a hemispheric free-trade area stretching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego by 2005. But while talks will be launched within a month, a final agreement is not certain, both because of opposition in the US Congress and questions about economic growth in Latin America.
Education, human rights focuses
Meeting on a continent where the average child receives only five years of education, leaders also earmarked more than $40 billion for achieving a goal of 100 percent primary education by 2010. They created a hemispheric justice-studies center to train judicial personnel and make the region's justice systems work better.
Noting the central importance of a free press to sustaining democratic freedoms - and that more than 200 journalists have been killed in the hemisphere since 1994 - the leaders created the office of a "special rapporteur" to focus international attention on threats to a free press and to investigate specific rights-abuse cases.
The leaders endorsed the idea of a multilateral system of evaluating fellow countries' progress in battling drug trafficking and cutting drug consumption.
Those initiatives may not pop like fireworks. But they underline a shift in hemispheric relations that portends greater integration and cooperation.
The summit also demonstrated the growing comfort of Latin American countries about working with a less-domineering US, and cemented a growing conviction among observers that the occasional glance the US has traditionally made southward is becoming a steady focus.
"The difference from Miami," says Genaro Arriagado, summit coordinator for Chilean President Eduardo Frei, "is that the first summit was an invitation of President Clinton, but [Santiago] and subsequent summits result from the work of ministers from all the countries on all the issues involved."
Noting that Mr. Clinton arrived in Santiago without the "fast-track" authority from Congress to facilitate negotiation of a free-trade accord, Mr. Arriagado says the US arrived "weaker" than might have otherwise been the case. But he says that helped make for a "friendlier" and "more balanced" US leadership that is a "great opportunity for the region."
US officials also noted the shift in relations since 1994. "We have moved from the celebration of democracy" in Miami "to the hard work of making cooperation work," says Thomas "Mack" McLarty, Clinton's special envoy for the Americas. And Latin countries, he adds, demonstrated a "much more mature, more confident relationship with the US" at the summit.