MEXICO CITY – The Summit of the Americas, which takes place roughly every three years, could be viewed as the sort of Latin American boondoggle that convenes heads of state for a few days, either south or north of the Rio Grande, to make endless speeches that lead nowhere. But every now and then, the Summit – an American initiative launched by US President Bill Clinton in 1994 – actually helps to place key issues on the hemispheric table.
One such issue was the so-called Free-Trade Area of the Americas, which was proposed by former US President George H.W. Bush in 1990, and then collapsed at the Mar del Plata summit in Argentina in 2005. Incensed by the presence of Bush père’s son, President George W. Bush, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez rallied thousands of anti-American demonstrators to protest against the agreement.
The Summit of the Americas thus serves as a bellwether of United States-Latin American relations, even if it fails to accomplish much of significance.
This year’s summit, which will take place in Cartagena, Colombia, in mid-April, has already generated controversy. Two traditional hot-button issues will dominate the discussions: Cuba and drugs.