Scandal, yes, but Cartagena had summit, too
By Dale McFeatters
The prostitution scandal involving U.S. Secret Service agents in Colombia had at least some small benefit: It helped eclipse the fact that the Summit of the Americas was largely a failure. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., who led a congressional delegation, said those shameful activities "unfortunately have become a big part of the buzz around the summit."
Begging the congressman's pardon, but back in the U.S. they were the only buzz around the summit and perhaps a good thing, too, for American diplomacy.
The U.S. faced angry demands that Cuba be included in the summit. Leftist-governed Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia boycotted this summit over Cuba's absence and threatened to do so again at the next summit, set for 2015 in Panama. Venezuela also was absent, but its president, Hugo Chavez, is seriously ill.
The U.S. position is that Cuba can attend when it becomes a democracy, which doesn't seem very likely in the next three years.
President Barack Obama placated Cuban-Americans in Florida by refusing to sign a statement calling for Cuba to be invited to the next summit, but he angered another key constituency, organized labor, by certifying that Colombia, which had a horrendous record of unsolved murders of union organizers, had met its human rights obligations. That cleared the way for a long-stalled free trade pact to take effect May 15.
The U.S. also came under attack for its "war on drugs" that participants said contributed to instability and violence fueled by the huge and lucrative U.S. market for illegal drugs.
Several nations called for decriminalization. President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala argued for legalization, regulation and taxation, which the U.S. opposes. Obama offered the noncommittal and anodyne response that it's "wholly appropriate to discuss the issue." In other words, no.
The U.S. also wanted no part of a statement endorsing Argentina's claim to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.
A subtext of the summit was that rising economic powers like Brazil, plus China's increasing economic role in Latin and South America, means the U.S. is no longer an unchallenged actor in hemispheric affairs.
In the end, the summit of 30 leaders could not even reach consensus on a final statement, typically an endorsement of bland and noncontroversial general principles. The summit adjourned without one.
Obama did receive good local press for being the first U.S. president to spend a significant amount of time in Colombia ― three days. Somehow back home, that small bit of good news was totally overshadowed by the Secret Service agents.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com).