President Obama Unfazed & Handled Angry Anti-USA at 5th Summit
In the previous series of articles that discussed Secretary Clinton laying the diplomatic groundwork, in anticipation of the Fifth Summit of the Americas, by visiting some nations as part of a comprehensive goal to showcase the Obama chapter of the US foreign policy toward the Americas.
President Obama was keen to articulate the new US foreign policy toward the Americas, which included the President's recent lifting the travel and monetary transfer ban to Cuba.
On Apr. 17, President Barack Obama arrived in Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas, a key meeting of western hemispheric leaders.
Prior to the Summit President Obama greeted and shook hands with Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, one of America's fiercest critics, prior to the start of the Summit. It was a remarkable scene, given Mr. Chavez, who last month called President Obama an “ignoramus” when it comes to Latin America. The image was duly captured by Mr. Chavez's contingent of photographers and others.
By the opening of the Summit, however, the atmosphere had swiftly changed into a "festival" of vociferous and belligerent anti-Americanism.
President Obama was the third speaker, scheduled to address the opening ceremony of the Fifth Summit of the Americas on Friday night, at the Port of Spain, in Trinidad and Tobago. The evening marked an exceedingly rare moment for the new US President to sit through various levels of blistering anti-Americanism, as numerous leaders blamed and pointed accusingly at the United States, hence President Obama.
Although most of the speeches varied its degree of anti-US sentiments, the most virulent anti-Americanism came from the two speakers, who preceded President Obama's speech were Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega's and Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's railings against the United States, as each aired their respective grievances dated back to the 1960s.
This is Obama's first experience of a frosty international reception, but he appeared characteristically unfazed. And the iciness certainly wasn't pervasive -- not counting those on the dais, Obama seemed pretty popular in the auditorium.
All of the speeches on Friday night seemed directed, to varying degrees, towards the U.S. president, most referencing historical disputes. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner called the Cuba embargo "anachronistic". "For many years, there have been traumatic relations, I want you to know, Obama, that is in no way a reproach against you. It’s simply an exercise to look back at what happened," she said.
Ortega appeared to have no such qualms. Although he read a letter from Cuban President Raul Castro that absolved the President of blame for the Bay of Pigs (POTUS, born August 4, 1961, was in utero at the time of the invasion), he railed on the United States for supporting a capitalist system that brings about "poverty, misery" and asymmetrical development, and he called for a global alternative to capitalism. Ortega knowingly spoke for well over his allocated time as he railed non-stop at the US President.
To President Obama's credit, who remained unflappable as he rose above the tirades before and after his speech.
"All of us must now renew the common stake that we have in one another. I know that promises of partnership have gone unfulfilled in the past, and that trust has to be earned over time. While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values. So I'm here to launch a new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout my administration.
To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements. I'm grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old. Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. And we've heard all these arguments before, these debates that would have us make a false choice between rigid, state-run economies or unbridled and unregulated capitalism; between blame for right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents; between sticking to inflexible policies with regard to Cuba or denying the full human rights that are owed to the Cuban people.
I didn't come here to debate the past -- I came here to deal with the future. I believe, as some of our previous speakers have stated, that we must learn from history, but we can't be trapped by it."
The President continued before closing with his remarks on issues that have long dominated relationships between the Americas:
"There's been several remarks directed at the issue of the relationship between the United States and Cuba, so let me address this.
The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know there's a longer journey that must be traveled to overcome decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day. I've already changed a Cuba policy that I believe has failed to advance liberty or opportunity for the Cuban people. We will now allow Cuban Americans to visit the islands whenever they choose and provide resources to their families -- the same way that so many people in my country send money back to their families in your countries to pay for everyday needs.
Over the past two years, I've indicated, and I repeat today, that I'm prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues -- from drugs, migration, and economic issues, to human rights, free speech, and democratic reform. Now, let me be clear, I'm not interested in talking just for the sake of talking. But I do believe that we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction.
I think my presence here indicates, the United States has changed over time. It has not always been easy, but it has changed. And so I think it's important to remind my fellow leaders that it's not just the United States that has to change. All of us have responsibilities to look towards the future.
I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries, but that also means that we can't blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere. That's part of the bargain. That's part of the change that has to take place. That's the old way, and we need a new way.
The United States will be willing to acknowledge past errors where those errors have been made. We will be partners in helping to alleviate poverty. But the American people have to get some positive reinforcement if they are to be engaged in the efforts to lift other countries out of the poverty that they're experiencing."
The comments are reminiscent of his campaign rhetoric, invoking change and the need for a new way, but his tone was not his trademark hopefulness -- this was a serious and determined Obama. Indeed he sounded at his sharpest and most decisive when he told his counterparts that the American public would need some "positive reinforcement" in return for their assistance.
A senior administration official later told reporters that Obama's additions to the speech had not been crafted ahead of time. "We did not discuss it, but I also don't believe it was off the cuff. I think it was a very thoughtful reaction to some of the comments earlier in the night, which I think we all thought were remarkable," the official said.
Whether President Obama has succeeded in demonstrating a new [reset] chapter of U.S. foreign policy toward the Americas remains to be seen, but at least the U.S. delegation appeared to having some fun during Friday evening's angry railings against the United States. President Obama also mentioned that his remarks were completed well within his allotted time.
The Summit of the Americas—or at least the U.S. delegation—appeared to be having some fun with a 50-minute speech Friday evening by Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, much of an anti-American screed.
Asked what he thought of the speech, President Barack Obama said: “It was 50 minutes. That’s what I thought.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked the same.
Reporter: “Madame Secretary, what did you think of Daniel Ortega’s speech?”
Clinton: “You know that cultural performance was amazing…” She spoke a bit more about the cultural show that followed the speeches.
On Saturday, Apr. 18, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez interrupted a meeting to give President Obama a Spanish-language copy of Uruguayan historian Eduardo Galeano’s book “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent", which chronicled U.S. and European economic and political interference in the region.
During Sunday press conference, President Obama remarked about the incident that was once again documented by Mr. Chavez's band of photographers.
Obama joked about the move at a news conference Sunday, saying while he had meetings with all the leaders involved, "I think it's just that President Chavez is better at positioning the cameras."
Mr. Chavez also announced on Apr. 18, to the press on the sideline that he was considering renewing Venezuela's relationship with the United States. The U.S. and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since September 2008, when Mr. Chávez kicked out the U.S. ambassador out of solidarity with Bolivia's President Evo Morales, a chief ally.
"It is possible we will begin evaluating the designation of an ambassador in the United States," Chavez said in a statement Saturday after the meeting of leaders and representatives from 34 countries at the the fifth Summit of the Americas. "We want to move in that direction."
A senior official in the Obama administration said, "We don't know yet if Chavez is serious. ... We're not rushing into this.
The Obama administration learned of Chavez's announcement through the media, the senior official said.
"[Chavez] has made some public overtures but we haven't seen anything concrete that he's ready to change the relationship," the official said. "It is an expression of a desire but there needs to be more."
Related Summit Articles by Pythiian1:
- Wrap-Up: Secretary Clinton's Digital Town Hall in Santo Domingo
- Pre-5th Summit of the Americas: Clinton's Town Hall- Stream Live
A partial list of other NP Summit Articles by:
- Amy Judd: Hugo Chavez will restore his ambassador in Washington
- Blue Crush: Obama Pledges "New Beginning"with Cuba
Most Recommended Comment
New York, New York, United States