PORT OF SPAIN, Apr 18 (IPS) - President Barack Obama had promised that his administration would be different. His, he said, would be a listening, caring one, even though like previous United States leaders, he came to the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago bearing gifts - no doubt hoping for support for his new initiatives.On Friday night that new policy was tested. Obama and the 32 other hemispheric leaders sat for almost one hour getting a history in U.S.-Latin American relations from none other than Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former revolutionary, even though the host, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, urged that the forum not be used to allow "any one issue to dominate our deliberations."
For Manning, the summit, which the Caribbean is hosting for the first time ever, should be used to provide the "new approach that heralds in the western hemisphere, the dawn of a newer and better day."
Obama himself had indicated a new form of relationship in which there would be "no senior or junior partner," and that he did not come here to debate the past.
"I came here to deal with the future," he said to loud applause at the ceremonial opening, adding that while it was important to learn from history "we can’t be trapped by it.
"As neighbours we have a responsibility to each other and to our citizens and by working together we can take important steps forward to advance prosperity and security and liberty and that’s the 21st century agenda that we come together to enact."
But Nicaragua’s Sandinista leader, while acknowledging that the U.S. president was promoting a new agenda, was seeking to ensure that Obama did not fall back into what he called the old habit of his predecessors – intervening in the internal affairs of Latin America, which caused, in the case of Nicaragua, many deaths as a result of the 1980s civil war involving the U.S.-armed "contra" fighters.
Obama sat and listened as Ortega punctuated his address with references to the changing Americas, in which "all countries big and small would have the same rights." He was also convinced that Latin America as well as the English-speaking Caribbean would soon be a force to reckon with, as a result of the integration initiatives being promoted by Venezuela and Cuba.
Cuba is the only hemispheric country not represented at the three-day summit, but Havana would be pleased that Venezuela and its allies within the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), which also includes Nicaragua, have vowed not to sign the "Declaration of Port of Spain", in solidarity with Cuba.
In fact, the new U.S. leader heard calls from his Argentine counterpart, Cristina Fernández, as well as his Caribbean hosts that he should not waste the opportunity for improving relations with the hemisphere’s only communist country.
Ortega said Cuba’s exclusion was due solely to the fact "that its crime has been one of independence and fighting for the sovereignty of its people." And to show his solidarity with Havana, he refused to call the forum "the Summit of the Americas".
"I don’t feel comfortable attending it. I simply refuse to call it Summit of the Americas. The summit is still subjected to colonising policies," Ortega said, convinced that "the day will come when Cuba will be incorporated into the affairs of this hemisphere."
For the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the summit provided yet another avenue to reiterate its support for Havana.
"We have made it clear at every summit that the formal inclusion of Cuba into the mainstream of hemispheric affairs remains a priority for us. We are convinced now that the new U.S. administration fully understands the need for new approaches in a new era which will lead to changes including the lifting of the embargo," said CARICOM chairman Dean Barrow, the prime minister of Belize.
"We in CARICOM stand ready to assist in the promotion of the dialogue between our two neighbours in the complex process of building a relationship and reversing 50 years of non-engagement," he added.
And even as Obama was announcing a number of new multi-million dollar initiatives to help countries, including those in the Caribbean, to deal with the ongoing global economic crisis, climate change and the illegal drug trade, Washington was being reminded that the decision of the G20 industrialised and emerging powers to provide billions of dollars to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to assist both developed and developing countries overcome the financial crisis must not be at the expense of small vulnerable states.
In addition, Obama announced that Congress had approved a 448 million dollar aid package to help countries severely affected by the global financial crisis.
"This is not charity. Let me be clear, together we can play a broader foundation of prosperity that builds new markets and powers new growth in the hemisphere because our economies are intertwined," he said.
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has also warned that the worsening economic crisis is dampening expectations of a quick return to normalcy, and is also predicting an increase in unemployment and lower investment rates in the Americas.
In a report providing an overview of the policy measures adopted by governments of the Americas up to Mar. 31, ECLAC said "there can be little doubt that the world is facing its worst crisis since the 1930s."
It said that the long build-up in uncertainty is preventing the credit markets from returning to normality, despite the efforts of monetary authorities to inject liquidity.
"Against this background, the recession is slowly worsening as a result of huge losses of both financial and non-financial wealth, particularly in developed countries but in emerging economies as well.
"The extreme negative picture is dampening expectations, and this, in turn is giving rise to a slump in labour markets and to lower investment and consumption levels," ECLAC said in the report titled "The Reactions of Governments of the Americas to the International Crisis".
But even as they welcomed the new initiatives by the G20 countries to revive the world economies, the western hemisphere leaders were urging fuller involvement in the process.
"It is not ethical that it is left to the G20 countries to determine the future of our people. We should leave it up to the G192 countries, that would include everyone at the United Nations," Ortega said.
CARICOM chairman Barrow and Manning also reiterated the regional grouping’s support for Havana.
"For us in the Caribbean the fallout from the global situation has presented severe challenges, and its consequences are being felt in the financial sector...and our social sector," warned Barrow, adding that while the Caribbean has been proactive in dealing with effects of the global financial crisis "the old sore remains true that it is an ill wind that blows no good.
"Thus we in the Caribbean look forward to at least one positive development from the international crisis - the opportunity for a reform of the global architecture," he said, noting however that "even more critical is that emerging and developing economies, including the poorest, must have greater voice and representation" on the reformation of the international financial institutions.
The Caribbean has also voiced its concerns about the decision of the international community to crack down on the tax havens, with Barrow saying there was need for a better understanding of the off-shore jurisdictions in small developing countries that were forced upon them since the onset of globalisation.
"The financial crisis that has now enveloped us all occurred from...reasons that had nothing to do with Caribbean jurisdictions. Surely then the way forward now is to insist on and expand the modalities for effective exchange of tax information.
"It is not to precipitate a pylon effect in our small countries by destroying a critical component of the very service area into which we were encouraged to diversify," he said.
He told the forum that the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) has been the major source of funding for projects in the region, and that since 1995, the bank’s yearly lending volume has been increasing by an average 75 per cent.