The summit of the Americas that concluded early in April had a number of components, some of them more visible than others.

Of course, the media’s main focus was on the meeting between President Barack Obama and the Cuban dictator, Raul Castro.

The spirit of the meeting generated optimism. Raul Castro exempted Obama from all the “sins” committed by the United States against Cuba and for the first time praised an American president and his humble origins.

This historic meeting was also the centerpiece of the speeches delivered by many of the 35 Latin American presidents present at the conference. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called both presidents courageous and defined the embargo against Cuba as harmful to the Cuban people and to inter-American relations. Rousseff disregarded the fact that the miserable situation Cuba now finds itself in, is the result of its’ communist system and that Cuba’s subversive activities since the 1960’s has been a source of inter American division rather than unity.

Obama confirmed Rousseff’s (and Castro’s) view when in a speech delivered before the social forum, he pointed out “”The days when the U.S. agenda in this hemisphere often assumed that the U.S. could interfere with impunity, are over….If the United States starts a new chapter in its relations with Cuba, we expect that such a move would lead to an environment where the lives of Cubans could be improved”.

Of course, the U.S. embargo did not prevent Cuba from establishing commercial relations with Europeans and other countries. Yet, apparently conciliation seems to require that the U.S. declare “mea culpa”. The Castro regime needs to be vindicated and not made responsible for Cuba’s disastrous situation. The slogan that “Imperial policies” determine the fate of peripheral countries in a zero sum game is always a convenient explanation. Raul Castro, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua presented this view in their speeches and more subtly the Argentinean president Cristina Kirchner, as well. The idea is that there is no future without linking it to the past, as a couple of pro-ALBA intellectuals, Hector Diaz Polanco and Esteban Morales defined it. U.S.-Latin American relations cannot get out of this historical cage. So, according to this conception, the United States should stay passive and accept the regional verdict rather than try to influence it because the U.S. has a very bad history in this region, which is very difficult to amend.

Along these lines, most Latin American presidents urged president Obama to lift the sanctions against the seven thugs that violated human rights in Venezuela, including our traditional ally, Colombia. This shows the kind of pressure the ALBA countries as well as the left-wing regimes of the Southern Cone can exercise. Thankfully, the U.S. did not surrender to this demand, at least for now, although President Obama distanced himself from the language of his executive order that claimed that Venezuela is a security threat.

Yet, interestingly enough, the Summit, itself, did not adopt a final declaration. Part of the lack of consensus was related to the sanctions against Venezuela.

The points of agreement included issues related to prosperity, inequities, education, energy and health. However, there was no agreement on issues related to democratic governance.

However, it was in the forum of civil society where the Summit was more successful and it was precisely on democratic governance that most groups representing civil society across national boundaries, reached consensus. A final declaration was adopted that calls the Organization of American States (OAS) to implement its mandate to safeguard democracy and respect for human rights. It also calls to create effective mechanisms to implement such a mandate. Likewise, the resolution calls Latin American countries to guarantee and respect those NGO’s and individuals that advocate for human rights. No less important, the resolution calls to guarantee the independence of the judiciary in all the countries of the region and the elimination of corruption and impunity. By the same token, the resolution urges a stop to criminalizing social protest, police abuse, racial profiling and political imprisonment.

Interestingly enough, this kind of resolution was not adopted by the presidents mainly because of the pressure from Cuba, Venezuela, and their allies.

In the civil society forum pro-Castro elements, many of them without proper credentials to participate tried to sabotage the meeting along with their allies from Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. This included physical violence, threats and insults, including racial remarks specifically directed to Dr. Celia Moreno, an Afro-Panamanian woman who served as co-chair of the civil society forum.

The leaders of Latin America were focused on celebrating the inclusion of Cuba and chose to downplay the elements of violation of democracy and human rights and protect Cuba and Venezuela. By contrast, civil society groups from different countries in the region reaffirmed that principle and the importance of strengthening and implementing the OAS democratic charter.

Likewise, 33 ex-presidents from Latin America issued a declaration denouncing the political and social crisis in Venezuela and demanded the release of political prisoners and respect for human rights and the rule of law.

The Summit was a clash of two polarized views; the view of the governments and the view of civil society. The presidents of the Latin American countries are seeking Latin American unity and integration based on a general view of socialism regardless of democratic governance. Although not every country goes along with this position, the left governments are leading the choir and the other countries are following suit fearful of being isolated. The leaders of the civil society groups are stressing rights and democracy above everything else. This raises the question whether the OAS that has turned away from enforcing the Democratic Charter in recent years in such countries as Venezuela, will now take its mandate to do so seriously.

Latin American leaders must be constantly reminded of their responsibilities to ensure the freedoms their citizens deserve. Therefore, the role of civil society groups in keeping the pressure is crucial to maintain the integrity of the OAS and its democratic charter.

President Obama was focused on his relation with Cuba and the beginning of a process of normalization.

If U.S. policy focuses only on relations with governments, it may pay a price in the long run. The U.S. government needs to strengthen relations with civil society groups. The openness to Cuba has raised the concern of those civil society groups that are afraid that their human rights plea will be abandoned. Normalizing relations with Cuba or even Venezuela should not be the ultimate end. It must be accompanied with a strategy.

The final goal should be securing democratic governance and securing stability in a region now filled with tyrants, drug traffickers, anarchy, and terrorism.

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