By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE
Hosting the Summit of the Americas at this time is a most appropriate venture for Trinidad and Tobago, the country’s Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, told the leaders of the 34 countries gathered in the southern Caribbean country this weekend.
“We are at a most unique point on our developmental path,” Manning said, expressing pride in the fact that his country has experienced 15 consecutive years of economic growth.
“We have one of the most highly industrialized economies in the Greater Caribbean. While the bulk of our revenues come from our world-renowned energy sector, we also have a highly developed manufacturing and services sector, especially financial services.”
Leaders of the countries of the Americas have been meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad this weekend for the fifth Summit of the Americas. It is the first time that the Summit has been held in the English-speaking Caribbean. The first Summit was held in Miami, Florida in 1994, followed by Santiago, Chile, 1998; Quebec City, Canada, 2001 and Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2005.
“Like all our partners in the Americas, I have great expectations that we will be afforded new opportunities for enhanced co-operation and engagement in securing a stable political, social, economic and security environment for all the peoples of the Americas,” Manning said.
“The process of collaboration and integration is already well on the way, as the Summit’s theme – Securing our Citizens’ Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability – has been developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including the Organization of American States, the Industrial Development Bank, the Andean Development Corporation, civil society, the regional private sector and many others.”
“I assure you that, as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, I look forward to working with other Heads from the Americas region in securing ongoing and long-term benefits for our peoples.”
Leading up to the Summit, there were concerns that the Latin American countries, led by Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chávez, a fierce critic of U.S. policies in the region, would make Cuba’s absence from the Summit an issue that could derail the weekend’s agenda. U.S. President Barack Obama’s early moves to allay their concerns with regards to Cuba and his approach to Chávez before the talks began – when he walked over to the South American leader and shook his hand – helped in no small way to bring them around.
Obama announced early last week that he would ease restrictions on travel and remittances by Americans to Cuba. And, in his speech to the Heads of Governments, signaled that the U.S. was ready to move in the direction towards normalizing relations with the communist country which has suffered under a U.S. trade embargo for the past 47 years.
Brazil’s President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was very warm in his praise and affection for Obama at the recent G-20 Summit in London, England, expressed the concerns of his fellow Latin American leaders.
“Relations with Cuba will be an important sign of the willingness of the United States to relate to the region. There is no place in our continent for policies of isolation.”
Chávez went even further, suggesting that Cuba could be the host of the next Summit of the Americas.
Chávez also signaled his willingness and intention to re-establish diplomatic relations with the United States which were severed last year when he expelled the U.S. Ambassador to Caracas in a row with former president, George W. Bush.
“It is possible we will begin evaluating the designation of an ambassador in the United States,” Chávez said in a statement Saturday. “We want to move in that direction.”
A senior Obama administration official told CNN late Saturday that Chávez had approached Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to discuss the exchange of ambassadors.
“This is a positive development that will help advance U.S. interests, and the State Department will now work to further this shared goal,” the official said.
The U.S. is the largest purchaser of oil from Venezuela, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Obama also announced the creation of a $100 million micro-finance fund to assist small lenders in the region to continue to make loans, despite the global recession.
The 34 Summit of the Americas member nations are: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela. Cuba, which would have been the 35th member, was suspended in 1962.