The city of Cartagena, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, will be hosting the Sixth Summit of the Americas from April 14-15, 2012.  Thirty-four heads of government representing all of the member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) will be flying into Colombia to attend the forum. The Theme of the conference will be: “Connecting the Americas: Partners of Prosperity.” 

This event follows on a meeting of what may someday be its rival multilateral economic regional alliance, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Containing the 32 members of Latin American and the Caribbean, but without the U.S. and Canada, CELAC just staged its summit in Caracas on December 3rd, 2011, which was hosted by one of its principal architects, Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. Latin America and the Caribbean continue to reflect high levels of poverty and mal-distribution along with notable achievements in poverty abatement, literacy and more balanced distribution of wealth including endemic challenges towards the development of regional infrastructure and the evening out of dramatic contrasting levels of wealth possessed by the country's contrasting economic sectors. 

 If the U.S. was to have maintained its ties with the Cartagena summit, it would have been able to portray to the developing world that the fates of all countries of the hemisphere are perpetually intertwined and reemphasize that the south countries statement longstanding lecture that it has heard that the South cannot experience the benefits of democracy and free market development without having meaningful financial ties with the United States and Canada.

Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos issued a statement regarding the upcoming summit, declaring it an integral part of “the decade of the Americas.” President Santos' goal is to promote the advancement of economic and social prosperity for all of the hemisphere while incorporating the efforts of his counterparts “towards social and economic prosperity.” The Summit could very well be the defining moment of the Santos presidency and will project Bogotá as a master regional leader in support of Inter-American unity as well as economic growth in the world.

The upcoming Summit of the Americas will attempt to address a number of long-standing obstacles to development and the persistly high rates of poverty in the hemisphere.  Also on the agenda on the 35 member nations body is the improvement in regional cooperation, while reflecting the raising emphasis on development in all corners of the globe. One of the four sub-topics to be addressed at the summit is a commitment to regionalization as well as to address many traces underlying the issues of poverty and inequality.

Apart from the constantly pressing issues of the Americas in the areas of economic progress and sustainable development, another very important political issue looms in the hallways of Colombian Foreign ministry and in the OAS headquarters in Washington; that is in regards to having the Colombian and U.S. Governments extend an invitation to the government of Cuba to participate in the upcoming VI Summit, therefore this would serve as a jump start of a new beginning of relations with the largest Caribbean nation that in some ways has been left alone and not fully integrated into the largest Alliance of the hemisphere.  The President of Ecuador has repeatedly declared in a number of occasions that he will boycott this regional event if Cuba will not be invited to attend the Cartagena Summit.   

All of ALBA alliance member countries support the inclusion of Cuba into the OAS and invite the Cuban Government to attend this regionally important Summit. On the other hand according to the Colombian Foreign Minister, María Holguín Cuéllar stated that Cuba’s participation only depends on the part of Cuban Government since the fifty year suspension in OAS membership against the Cuban regime has been lifted in 2009.  As of recently, Cubans have not expressed an interest in reopening the possible dialogue with the OAS.     Minister Holguin continued by stating that the political negotiations will continue and “this issue will be addressed based on an understanding from all countries and [the foreign ministry is] going to work diplomatically.”   Hopes remain high that a division between the 35 member countries would not be taking place as a result of Cuba’s role and membership in the alliances upcoming Summit.

Citizen security will also be emphasized with a specific focus on the need to more convincingly address greater concern over the lack of public order and insecurity as a result of transnational crime and prevailing delinquency; these challenges affect not only individuals but also threaten democratic institutions and the very  legitimacy of open societies. Thirdly, the conference’s attendees are scheduled to analyze the effectiveness of the reconstruction teams which are tasked to seeking to alleviate the damages caused by recurrent natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes and floods. 

The last sub-topic discussed will address the limited access to information technology, public health services, and educational standards in the rural communities of the member countries. There is a tremendous need to close the gap between school districts that enjoy such services with those that are chronically less fortunate and do not have access to vital public health amenities and services. 

Colombia presents an ideal location to host in an inter-American colloquium on the  challenges the region faces.  It shows how an increasing number of authentically democratic governments run the region by the rule of law and how a good neighborhood policy can be accomplished one stop at a time. If national Colombian leaders such as President Juan Manuel Santos continue to show such a resilience level of commitment to stable institutions and plan toxic policies, this helps to explain how  there should  be the predictable improvement of regional cooperation, that is now appropriately being installed throughout addressing the hemisphere’s many constructive challenges in the economic, political and social fields.

 Peter Tase is an analyst who writes on agro-business and Latin American affairs from Washington DC.

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