Andres Oppenheimer

Andres Oppenheimer: Summit final document aims at U.S.

A worker gives the finishing touches as he cleans a wall announcing the upcoming Summit of the Americas outside of the Atlapa Convention Center in Panama City. The venue will host the seventh Summit of the Americas this April 10-11, attended by Western Hemisphere leaders.
A worker gives the finishing touches as he cleans a wall announcing the upcoming Summit of the Americas outside of the Atlapa Convention Center in Panama City. The venue will host the seventh Summit of the Americas this April 10-11, attended by Western Hemisphere leaders. AP

We’ve known for a while that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was planning to stage an anti-U.S. show at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Panama, but a copy of the draft final declaration of the meeting that I obtained this week shows that he will seek much more: a formal, region-wide condemnation of the United States.

Granted, he’s not likely to get his way, but the question is whether he will get language in the summit’s final statement that will be explicit enough to allow him to return home claiming to have diplomatically defeated President Barack Obama at the mega-summit of more than 30 leaders of the Americas.

The current draft of the summit’s final declaration, “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas,” was signed March 31 after four rounds of negotiations by representatives of all participating governments. They agreed on most of the content, except for three issues proposed by Venezuela and Nicaragua.

A three-paragraph section proposed by Venezuela in the preamble of the document would “reject the imposition of unilateral coercive measures” that interfere in countries’ internal affairs, “such as the March 9, 2015, Executive Decree against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela imposed by the United States of America.”

It refers to Obama’s recent decree ordering the denial of U.S. entry visas and the freezing of U.S. assets of seven Venezuelan government figures accused of massive corruption and human rights abuses.

Maduro has characterized the measure as “an aggression against Venezuela,” and is collecting millions of signatures asking for its repeal. He has said that he will present the signatures to Obama at the summit. U.S. officials say the sanctions are not “against Venezuela,” but are targeted to seven human rights abusers and corrupt officials.

But unless Cuban ruler Gen. Raúl Castro succeeds in convincing Maduro to drop his proposed anti-U.S. paragraphs in order not to steal the limelight from the expected Obama-Castro handshake marking the start of a U.S.-Cuba diplomatic normalization, Venezuela may succeed in getting a tacit condemnation of “unilateral coercive measures,” without naming the United States. In Maduro’s book, that may suffice to allow him to claim victory.

In addition to the sanctions issue, there are two other clauses, introduced by Venezuela and Nicaragua, that will be hard for the United States to accept, and that could cause the summit to end without a final declaration.

One of them is a joint Venezuelan-Nicaraguan proposal to incorporate the “Summits of the People” — a Venezuelan-sponsored meeting of radical leftist groups from across the region — to formally participate in future Summits of the Americas. The other is a Nicaraguan proposal to invite a Puerto Rican independence movement representative to participate in future Summits of the Americas’ heads of state meetings.

The remainder of the draft final declaration is a series of statements of good intention aimed at improving standards in education, including creation of an Inter-American Educational Agenda to promote common education standards, health, energy cooperation, migration, security and democratic governance.

My opinion: If Venezuela manages to squeeze into the summit’s final declaration its paragraphs criticizing the United States for denying visas to seven Venezuelan government figures accused of human rights abuses and corruption, the document should also single out other notable practitioners of the use of “unilateral coercive measures,” such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba.

Ecuador recently denied entry visas to a delegation of German legislators who were scheduled to visit environmentalist groups at the Amazon’s Yasuní reserve, and Venezuela and Cuba systematically deny entry visas to officials from human rights organizations, politicians and journalists.

Otherwise, there shouldn’t be a final declaration, and there probably won’t be. That has happened before — most recently at the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, which was notable for the U.S. Secret Service agents’ escapades with local prostitutes — and wouldn’t be a tragedy.

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