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The road to the Sixth Summit of the Americas
Lesley M. Burns
The 2012 hemispheric meeting is expected to address citizens’ top concern: their security.
Citizen security will be the focus of the June 2011 Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly to take place in San Salvador, and is expected to be one of the themes of the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia that will bring together heads of state and government from across the hemisphere in April 2012. This should ensure the process is relevant to the citizens of the Americas as security is consistently noted as one of their top concerns in public opinion polling in the region.
The April 25-26 OAS Civil Society Hemispheric Forum convened to obtain feedback on the General Assembly’s proposed plan of action showed that organized civil society is prepared to offer its expertise, collaborating with both governments and multilateral organizations to address the multifaceted causes of insecurity in the Western Hemisphere. With their extensive and varied experience, civil society organizations can provide valuable insight into how policies can be effectively implemented and can present options for consideration by democratic governments. Input provided in a dialogue session on the Summit was well received by the Colombian representatives present, including Ambassador Jaime Girón, Colombian Co-ordinator of the Sixth Summit of the Americas and President of the Summit Implementation and Review Group (SIRG).
The proposed themes for the Summit, which were announced at an April 11, 2011 SIRG meeting, are broad and touch on many key hemispheric issues. They include reducing the level of poverty and inequality; fighting insecurity, petty and organized crime, and attacks on democratic institutions; improving access to technology and telecommunications, especially in rural areas; and finally, increasing preparedness in the face of natural disasters.
The Government of Colombia is committed to ensuring that the Summit declarations are focused and implementable and that the event highlights co-operation in the hemisphere, which is reassuring and should stave off fears that it tries to be all things to all groups. This was a downfall of the Trinidad and Tobago Summit in 2009 and provided organizers with a watered-down declaration that few governments wanted to support, leaving host Prime Minister Patrick Manning standing alone to sign the declaration —a first for a forum that had previously been based on consensus.
The Colombian organizers are currently on track to avoid this embarrassment for their president, Juan Manuel Santos. They have expressed their dedication to reinvigorating the Summit process and making sure that the main theme of the meeting is highly relevant. Certainly, navigating through the plethora of issues of economic prosperity, reduction of inequality, democracy, technological advancement, citizen security and natural disasters may prove difficult. But the Colombians have already demonstrated the commitment necessary to ensure a productive, effective and legitimate Summit process that leaders can commit to.
Attendance at the Summit is never a sure thing. True, U.S. President Barack Obama wrapped up a Latin American tour in March 2011 stating that Colombia, its strongest ally in the region and aspiring free trade partner, was not on the agenda because he planned to attend the 2012 Summit. Canada has made a point of strengthening relations with the South American nation by signing a free trade agreement, for example, and can contribute to the development of the Summit agenda.
The Summit of the Americas has generated a number of mandates that have not been adequately addressed by member states. To move from the proliferation of futile mandates to action, the Summit must focus not only on an issue of relevance, but must also turn greater effort toward multilateral collaboration. The Government of Colombia has been steadfastly committed to this.
Lesley Burns is a political analyst who manages the Inter-American Affairs program at FOCAL. She holds a doctorate in political science from the University of British Colombia.