Colombia: Summit of the Americas Sparks Activists to Unite for Summit of the People (People's Summit)

On April 14-15, 2012, the heads of State from North, Central and South America came together in Cartagena, Colombia for the 6th “Summit of the Americas”.  Primarily, a meeting of heads of government with idea of “fostering cooperation and dialog”, this year’s summit offered little opportunities for consensus.  No declarations were announced due to the division concerning Argentina’s claims to the Falklands and Cuba’s exclusion from the Summit by the U.S. and Canada.    Notably, the President of Ecuador Rafael Correa declined to participate in the Summit due to Cuba’s exclusion. Also absent from the Summit, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega with no explanation provided. 

The 1st Summit of the Americas in December 1994 was convened by President Clinton to promote his Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) project, a massive NAFTA-like free trade zone giving unprecedented rights to multinational corporations while weakening labor rights and environmental protections.  The FTAA was rejected, in large part due to the recent election Lula de Silva in Brazil who opposed it.  Subsequent summits, which have also by-passed the multi-lateral forum provided by the Organization of American States (OAS), are widely perceived as a venue for the U.S. to push its economic and political agenda in Latin America.  

While the 6th Summit of the Americas failed to reach any multilateral agreement, President Obama used the occasion to announce that the latest U.S. FTA - the US Colombia Free Trade Agreement - would be implemented on May 15, earlier than most trade analysts suspected.   Many human rights, labor rights and labor unions opposed this move as Colombia has yet to make sufficient improvements to the labor crisis in the country.  US Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia denounced the Obama Administration’s recent announcement during the Summit that the US-Colombia FTA will be implemented in May.  Rep.  Johnson, a member of the Committee that monitors the labor rights situation in Colombia, asserts that Colombia has not met the conditions of the Labor Action Plan ensuring labor rights of Colombia workers.  To view the statement, click here.

Social movements in Latin America organized a parallel alternative “Summit of the Peoples” (Cumbre de los Pueblos), also in Cartagena.  Human rights leaders, women’s rights organizations, community organizers, student groups, trade unionists, and faith based organizations from Colombia and beyond gathered in Colombia to offer an alternative vision for the Americas than that framed at the Summit of the Americas.  The People’s Summit addressed such issues as demilitarizing the hemisphere, the combating the destructive effects of the free trade agreements, resisting massive transnational mining projects that destroy the environment and displace peoples, the need for economic models that place humans and the environment at the center development plans (as opposed to maximized profits for multinational corporations), and the inclusion of Cuba in multinational hemispheric system.

At the invitation of the Ecumenical Network of Colombia, Gary Cozette travelled to Colombia to participate in the People’s Summit as an international delegate for the Ecumenical Sector of the 5th Annual People’s Summit.  The Summit’s Ecumenical Statement (to which CRLN is a signatory), Declaration on Mining, Trade Union Statement, and Women’s Declaration (in Spanish only) can be found here. The final overall “Declaration of the Summit of the Peoples” can be found in Spanish and English.

Looking back, a CRLN delegation travelled to Miami in December 1994 after the SOA Vigil at Ft. Benning to join in a massive street protest against the FTAA at the first “Summit of the Americas”, where non-violent protesters – including some from CRLN – were tear gassed.  Since then, CRLN has worked hard to educate its constituency together with members of Congress from Illinois regarding the adverse human and environmental impacts of Free Trade Agreements, while encouraging them to adopt instead fair-trade benchmarks such as those set forth in the Trade Act.

Looking forward, it is likely that the 6th Summit of the Americas will be the last due to the continued exclusion of Cuba and the U.S. rejection of agendas proffered by Latin America leaders, such as the decriminalization of drugs.