Task for Americas Leaders: Keep Spirit of Miami Summit Alive

President Clinton ended three days of talk about the most extensive cooperation the Americas has ever known by calling on Latin leaders to ``remember the spirit of Miami.''

The question now is whether that spirit is kept alive or fades as leaders return to capitals from Ottowa to Buenos Aires.

Most observers predict progress will continue on the summit's goals of integrating markets, furthering democracy, and producing prosperity while preserving resources.

Today the United States and Canada are convinced of their interdependence with their own hemisphere. The US sells as much to Brazil as it does to China, Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera Rodriguez said, and as much to Mexico as to Germany and France combined. And Latin American countries - all with democratically elected leaders except Cuba - have embraced the free-market economic model to allow fuller participation in a competitive global economy.

But there are early signs that the ``Miami process'' of convergence won't be free of the same trouble that past cooperation efforts faced.

The Clinton administration faces a Congress more hostile toward the president and more snarly toward the rest of the world. After a Miami post-summit press conference that shifted Clinton to domestic and other international issues, a Bolivian journalist watching the presidential plane take off for Washington said, ``I guess he's leaving Latin America for reality.''

Nevertheless, this summit stood out for its ``action plan,'' a specific and detailed set of steps, including target dates and accountability measures. ``Our goal is to create a whole new architecture for the relationship of the nations and the peoples of the Americas to ensure that dichos become hechos, that words become deeds,'' Clinton told his 33 fellow leaders on Dec. 11.

``This time there's sufficient assignment of responsibilities and accountability to make sure things get done,'' says Ambler Moss, director of the North-South Center at the University of Miami and an Organization of American States (OAS) official at the 1967 summit.

Others say a new breed of leaders is what will keep the region moving toward a new level of integration. ``For once we did not see a complaint session or a battlefield of subgroups positioning themselves,'' says Chilean Foreign Minister Eduardo Aninat, whose country starred as the one invited to join the US, Canada, and Mexico in the North American Free Trade Agreement by 1996.

Concerns can also be heard that the Miami ``architecture'' does not include any new institution to keep governments pursuing their commitments. The OAS was assigned a higher-profile role in evaluating reform progress solving regional problems. ``We don't need new forums. The decision was to reinvigorate what we already have,'' says US Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs Joan Spero.

The action plan sets the OAS, led by newly elected Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria Trujillo (formerly Colombia's president) on a more activist course. And the Inter-American Development Bank, is, after a recent capital replenishment, the world's second-biggest loaning institution.

Some of the action plan's more ambitious measures - such as giving the OAS power to take preventative measures against threats to democracy - were dropped in the name of national sovereignty. ``Sooner or later the kind of cooperation being talked about here will entail some supranationality,'' Mr. Moss says, ``but this [summit plan] doesn't contain a shred of that.''

On the economic front, the summit left lingering questions about how ready the US is to fairly play the free-market game. Latin officials worry that as tariffs fall, the US will find other ways to protect its markets - ironic now that Latin America has largely ended its protectionism.

Beyond that, opposition is sure to grow if the integrationist economic model doesn't begin reducing Latin America's staggering poverty. ``The [free-market] economic model is what caused the impoverishment in the first place, so accelerating and expanding it will only make things worse,'' says Stephen Hellinger of the Development Gap, a nongovernmental organization opposing the region's embrace of free-trade policies.

The issue of freer movement of people will also clamor for attention as borders are wiped away for goods, services, and investment capital. But as Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada notes, ``That's one of the touchiest issues this hemisphere will face - and not one the US and Canada are ready to put on the table.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.