Tom Loudon

Hopes raised at the Summit of the Americas for new approach to US relations with Latin America proved to be short-lived when, on the day after the Summit, the US administration announced that there will be no renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and that the US will begin to move forward quickly on all three pending FTAs: Panama, Colombia and South Korea.

    The timing of the announcements made it obvious that these policy decisions had been made previously, but were not announced, in order to avoid confrontations during the Summit. The announcement also seemed to confirm that US policy will not embrace the urgent changes that current multiple global crises and new hemispheric realities demand.

    It seems that President Obama has forgotten the widespread rejection of the current trade model he encountered on the campaign trail. A large number of those in Congress campaigned on pledges for a new model on trade. Senator Brown from Ohio has issued a call for a new "blue-ribbon" commission to formulate a new framework for trade. A hefty segment of the organized base that brought Obama into power are the same activists who will oppose him as he reverses his position on trade.

    During a BBC interview, Dan Restrepo, the president’s adviser on Latin American affairs, stated that he doubted that either he or Obama would read the book chronicling the tragic history of US relations with Latin America given to him by President Chavez. It is regrettable that US policymakers are unlikely to read Galeano’s chronicle. As truth commissions throughout the region have reminded us, it is crucial to learn from the past so that we don’t repeat it.

    Obama’s mantra that "we need to move on from the past" needs to be balanced with a full acknowledgment of the tragic policies of the past and a commitment to different actions in the future, not only regarding our behavior in Latin America, but all over the world. We applaud the president’s release of previously classified information, which is a clear indictment of those who tortured and provided legal cover. This creates an interesting scenario as European governments have signaled intent to bring charges against people at all levels of involvement if it appears that no prosecution is forthcoming in the United States. This increases the pressure on President Obama and the Justice Department to act.

    Bolivia, through skillful diplomacy on Sunday, obtained a public denouncement from President Obama of the recent assassination plot uncovered against President Morales. While acknowledged as an important gesture, the Bolivian government subsequently presented additional conditions required for re-establishing diplomatic relations with the United States. Bolivia has identified five themes for discussion: economic cooperation, drug interdiction, trade, "political change" and mutual respect.

    Here in the US, we need to push for a policy of transparency and accountability for funds disbursed through the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID. The books on these organizations need to be opened wide, with recipients and subcontractors clearly identified.

    The People’s Forum called on social movements in the US to insist on a reorganizing of hemispheric relations in the function of a new economic model based on equity, complementarity, mutual benefit, cooperation and just trade. A solution to the current crisis will also require a new way of living, which the indigenous peoples of the continent define as "Living Well."


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