... there are still tensions over how the US and other countries handled the Honduras coup. Honduras, like many countries in the region, still has some significant flaws in its democratic system and ongoing human rights abuses. If democratic governance is debated as an issue, expect Honduras to be example number one for all sides in the debate.
es, the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, this weekend will debate drug policy and Cuba. And when you're done reading the thousandth boring article on those topics, you may wonder what else is going to be discussed. Here are eight other things to watch at the Summit:
The actual Summit agenda. You may not know it from the media coverage, but the Summit has an agenda and there are a list of topics that will be officially discussed. The leaders are supposed to spend the majority of the time talking about topics like physical infrastructure integration, citizen security, poverty and inequality, disaster relief, and access to technology. Will any new projects come of those five topics? Will a final declaration be agreed to by all the countries? Some of these topic aren't overly controversial and there is room for agreement by all countries, if they can actually focus on them.
Can Central America agree on new messages or ideas on security? Separate from the broader legalization debate, the countries of Central America are discussing other new ideas including the potential for a regional court system to prosecute organized crime. Security programs designed under the SICA (Central American Integration System) strategy remain slow to start and fingers are pointed in all directions within Central American countries and at donor nations slow to disburse funds. The leaders of Central America are set to meet before the Summit. A unified position on concrete ideas and messages would help the region. More divisions and vague statements will not help at all.
The debate over Honduras. With Ecuador not in attendance, every country at the Summit will have the same official position on Honduran democracy. Every country voted at the OAS to sanction the 2009 coup. Every country voted in 2011 to readmit Honduras to the OAS as a democracy. For that reason, President Lobo, unlike Raul Castro, will be in attendance at the Summit. That said, there are still tensions over how the US and other countries handled the Honduras coup. Honduras, like many countries in the region, still has some significant flaws in its democratic system and ongoing human rights abuses. If democratic governance is debated as an issue, expect Honduras to be example number one for all sides in the debate.
Haiti. Rebuilding is slow. The political system is a mess. Half a million people still live in tents. Many countries in the hemisphere contribute to the Brazilian-led UN peacekeeping force. In a better world, helping Haiti would be a priority above the debates over Cuba and drugs.
US-Caribbean issues. While Latin America is sometimes on the presidential agenda, the Caribbean outside of Haiti and Cuba has received little POTUS (Presidents of the United States) time since the 2009 Summit in Trinidad. A third of Summit leaders are from the Caribbean, which will allow for interactions throughout the event. Additionally, Obama will attend a meeting with Caribbean leaders following the Summit events on Sunday morning. Certainly, the CBSI (Caribbean Basin Security Initiative) will be discussed, but Caribbean leaders may have additional issues to raise with the US including their current economic problems and climate change assistance.
OGP. Based on yesterday's media conference call with the White House, they are going to heavily promote the Open Government Partnership with Brazil. Secretary Clinton will attend the OGP (Open Government Partnership) meeting in Brazil after the Summit. The Obama administration sees this as an important leadership role for Brazil and a sign of US-Brazil cooperation, as well as a program that can promote democracy and fight corruption in the hemisphere.
Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela. "Compete" may be too strong a word, but there are at least four countries competing to show regional influence and leadership at this Summit other than the United States. If Brazil wants to show itself as a regional and even global leader, it can't just sit on the sidelines at this Summit and watch things happen. It needs to engage other countries and lead them to decisions and concrete actions. Mexico will be hosting the G20 meeting later this year, it has a key role to play on citizen security and Calderon has made climate change a top issue on his international agenda. Colombia's diplomacy has been praised so far in the Summit preparation, but it still needs to pull off a successful Summit and then transition that into future leadership roles. While Venezuela's regional influence is slowed, in part due to the health of its president, don't count out the leader of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) and his oil money yet. Venezuela leads a significant bloc of states that can still play spoiler or agenda setter under the right conditions.
Unofficial bilateral meetings. Many analysts believe the most important part of these Summits are not the official statements but the unofficial meetings that occur on the sidelines. Everyone wants to know what Obama will say to Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, but the other meetings will be equally important if less high profile. Will Chile's Sebastián Piñera Piñera talk to Bolivia's Evo Morales about border issues? Does Paragua's Fernando Lugo have anything to say to Argentina's Cristina Kirchner, given recent trade disputes? Will Perua's Ollanta Humala and Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos talk about counter-insurgency and Shining Path-FARC issues? Do Mexico's Felipe Calderón and Brazils' Dilma Rousseff talk about the upcoming G20 meeting? Do Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Costa Rica's Laura Chinchilla speak to each other at all?
With 528 potential bilateral meetings among leaders, plus dozens of other cabinet and other government officials who can talk, there is a lot that can happen on the margins. Smart reporters and analysts at the Summit and abroad are going to be looking for signs of bilateral discussions among countries that aren't always in the same room. That's where real work is most likely to get done.