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Chummy Obama, Chávez mark 'spirit of cooperation' at summit

Despite worries that the agenda would be hijacked by a debate about America's Cuba policy, the Summit of the Americas finished with a feeling of goodwill.

By Staff writer / April 19, 2009

Making his point: President Obama addresses the media during a press conference in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, at the end of the Summit of the Americas Sunday.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters


Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

With frank exchanges and the appearance of a new maturity, regional leaders including a travel-weary but enthusiastic President Obama breathed new life into the Summit of the Americas – a meeting that at least one member thought had outlived its usefulness before this weekend.

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The North and South American leaders who came together in Trinidad and Tobago failed to reach unanimity on a final declaration issued at the summit’s close Sunday. But if anything, the decision instead to end proceedings with only a “consensus” suggested – not acrimony – but a new openness to robust dialogue in regional relations.

At a Sunday press conference, Mr. Obama hailed a "very productive" event that “replaced the ideological divisions of the past with a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to act.”

His determination not to be provoked by aggressive, anti-US leaders such as Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela typified the esprit de corps of the meeting.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper admitted at the summit’s close that he was not even sure before arriving if the periodic gatherings continued to serve a purpose – this was the fifth Summit of the Americas since 1994. But he said he had changed his mind after two days of discussions that revealed a new “spirit of cooperation” despite different approaches to common challenges.

Officially, the summit focused on three issues: the regional economic crisis, common security threats, and energy development and global warming.

On the economy, the leaders agreed to urge the Inter-American Development Bank, the region’s international financing institutution, to commit additional lending capital to help struggling countries confront the economic downturn.

One reason some leaders balked at signing the summit’s declaration is that the document was negotiated last fall, before the full impact of the global economic crisis was evident. Publicly, however, some leaders, led by Mr. Chávez, held to their threat to snub any final document unless it included a condemnation of the US embargo of Cuba.