OAS Summit Shows US Decline
US, Latin America Split On Cuba, Drugs, Falklands

Barack Obama was on the defensive at the OAS summit at Cartagena, Columbia.

Amiel Ungar ,

Obama at summit
Obama at summit

The Organization of American States summit in Cartagena, Columbia will not go down as a glorious chapter in the annals of American relations with Latin America.

It bears comparison - by contrast - with the 2009 summit. Then, Barack Obama, the newly inaugurated president of the United States, still enjoyed rock star status. Even Hugo Chavez, the main challenger to American influence in Latin America, reacted to the new president by offering him a copy of his book.

Now, Obama was in friendly territory in Columbia, where the United States had invested copious resources in helping the Columbian government set off the threat of the FARC narco-terrorists.

Additionally, Hugo Chavez, who normally stars at these meetings to fulminate against the US and propagate his Bolivarian revolution, was absent. The fact that Chavez gave the summit a miss to fly to Cuba for intensive cancer treatment either highlights the seriousness of his medical condition or reflects an insight that even without his presence, Barack Obama would be on the defensive.

It was not a good start for American prestige when prior to the summit, 12 US Secret Service agents were sent packing for behavior that would not be tolerated on a professional sports team, let alone from an elite unit.

The host, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, set the stage by calling in effect for the legalization of some drugs. The drug trade has caused terrible violence in Latin America, while enriching the drug cartels to the point that they can subvert security forces and government agencies.

Santos also voiced the Latin American consensus that Cuba should be readmitted to the organization, a position opposed only by the United States and Canada. With the growing influence of the center-left in Latin America, many of the countries' leaders have a sneaking admiration for Fidel Castro.

Finally, Santos hinted that, fine words, aside the United States was still treating Latin America as a sideshow and was more involved in faraway places such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The growth of China as a trading partner has also diminished American prestige and influence in the region.

Finally, the special relationship between the United States and Great Britain prevents the United States from supporting Argentina's claims to the Falklands Islands, a position backed by the Latin American states.

Barack Obama sidestepped Cuba by praising the democratic successes of Columbia and Brazil, intimating that one did no favors for Latin America by countenancing dictatorial basket cases such as Cuba.

On the narcotics issue, Obama drew the line at legalization.