Bolivia’s President Evo Morales told a press conference at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago that he had asked US President Barack Obama to publicly repudiate an assassination plot against him. Although Morales stopped short of accusing the US of being behind the plot, he said Obama’s speech promising a new policy for the Americas rings hollow without a denunciation: “Obama said three things: There are neither senior or junior partners. He said relations should be of mutual respect, and he spoke of change. In Bolivia…one doesn’t feel any change. The policy of conspiracy continues.”
Obama responded that he was unfamiliar with the incident but assured Morales “his administration was not involved” and “made it clear he does not endorse or condone the use of violence against democratically elected governments,” said a senior US official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed. (AP, April 19)
Obama also endured a 50-minute lambasting from Daniel Ortega, in which the Nicaraguan president reiterated over a century of US imperialist outrages in Central America and the Caribbean, from the filibuster interventions of the 1850s, the US Marine occupations of the 1920s and ’30s, through the 1961 Bay of Pigs expedition and 1980s contra war. Fox News, calling Ortega’s speech a “diatribe,” provides the following unbelievably bad translation:
Nicaragua central America, we haven’t been shaken since the past century by what have been the expansionist policies, war policies, that even led us in the 1850s, 1855, 1856 to bring Central American people together. We united, with Costa Ricans, with people from Honduras, the people from Guatemala, El Salvador. We all got together, united so we could defeat the expansionist policy of the United States. And after that, after interventions that extended since 1912, all the way up to 1932 and that left, as a result the imposition of that tyranny of the Samoas. Armed, funded, defended by the American leaders.
“The Samoas” are an archipelago in the Pacific, or else girl-scout cookies coated in roasted coconut. The dynasty of US-backed Nicaraguan dictators was the Somozas. Ortega also protested the exclusion of Cuba from the summit. Again from Fox’s unedited rough translation:
This summit and I simply refuse to call it summit of the Americas. Yes, we are gathered here, we have a large majority of presidents, heads of state of Latin America and the Caribbean… They’re absent from this meeting. One is Cuba, whose crime has been that of fighting for independence, fighting for sovereignty of the peoples. I don’t feel comfortable attending this summit. I cannot feel comfortable by being here. I feel ashamed of the fact that I’m participating at this summit with the absence of Cuba.
Fox reports Obama’s reaction:
Obama sat mostly unmoved during the speech but at times jotted notes… Later, at a photo opportunity with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama held his tongue when asked what he thought about Ortega’s speech. “It was 50 minutes long. That’s what I thought.”
In his own 17-minute address to the summit, Obama departed from his prepared remarks to mildly rebuke Ortega: “To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements. I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old. Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. We’ve all heard these arguments before.”
Even after mangling Ortega’s speech, Fox can’t resist calling out Obama on a small error: the Bay of Pigs invasion took place in April 1961, four months before Obama was born. (Fox News, April 18)
Surprisingly, Venzuelan President Hugo Chávez took a more conciliatory tone, smiling broadly at Obama, repeatedly pumping his hand, and presenting him with a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s anti-imperialist classic Open Veins Of Latin America (which we hope Obama has already read).
Obama walked a fine line in his speech, acknowledging grievances while framing them in terms acceptable to US discourse: “While the United States has done much on behalf of peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged or sought to dictate our terms.” During the contra war, Nicaraguans only wished the US was “disengaged”!
Calling the current juncture a “critical moment” for the Americas, Obama raised the prospect of a diplomatic opening with Cuba, and said: “I didn’t come here to debate the past—I came here to deal with the future. By working together, we can take important steps forward to advance prosperity, security, and liberty.”
Obama also pledged support for Inter-American Development Bank loans for countries hardest hit by the economic crisis, revealed a new “Microfinance Growth Fund” to help restart lending for small businesses, and announced a new $30 million initiative “to strengthen cooperation on security in the Caribbean.” He added: “Illegal guns must not flow freely into criminal hands, and illegal drugs must not destroy lives and distort our economy.” He said the US needed to reduce demand for drugs within its borders, which fuels the “flow of guns and bulk cash south.” (DPA, April 18)