Only Clinton Can Energize the Summit of the Americas White House Should Address Issues of Timing, the Climate Created by Haiti, and US Silence on Regional Free Trade
Peter Hakim. Peter Hakim is president of the Inter-American Dialogue ., The Christian Science Monitor
THE Clinton administration's decision last year to convene the Summit of the Americas - the first meeting of Western Hemisphere presidents and prime ministers in more than a generation - was a bold and important initiative. Coming immediately after Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it was a clear signal of the significance the administration assigned to Latin America and the Caribbean and of its intention to extend free trade beyond Mexico to the rest of the region. The summit would be an opportunity to celebrate the recent advances toward cooperative hemispheric relations and, more important, to set the foundations for even more productive ties.
Yet, with little more than four months to go before the leaders are scheduled to meet, concerns are increasing, in both the United States and Latin America, that the summit may not fulfill its promise. Three problems need to be dealt with for the summit to succeed:
First, Latin America's two largest countries, Brazil and Mexico, are distressed by the early-December timing of the meeting. Both will have just held presidential elections. Mexico's new president will be inaugurated only one week before the summit. Brazil's president-elect will not have taken office by that time. This problem was recognized when the date was set, and it now needs to be addressed. The two countries account for some 60 percent of Latin America's population and they must be adequately represented for a successful summit. What the US can do is to assure both nations that, following their elections, the two presidents-elect and their advisers would be intensively consulted on the organization and agenda of the summit. Also, President Clinton should announce plans to invite the new presidents of Brazil and Mexico to meet with him early in 1995.
Second, the "atmosphere" for the summit, which was so positive earlier this year, has become progressively clouded by events surrounding Haiti. The threat of unilateral US military action, which would probably strain relations with Latin American and Caribbean nations sufficiently to require postponement of the summit, is not the only thing at issue. The immediate problem is that the crisis in Haiti - as it increasingly dominates US policy in Latin America and the Caribbean - is diverting the administration's attention from other regional issues. Latin American leaders want to talk to Washington about the summit, but they are being consulted more about Haiti.
For the next months, the White House has to give sustained priority to the summit. …