International Papers

Cold War in the Americas

Trashing the Monterrey summit.

Does no one have anything nice to say about the recently concluded Special Summit of the Americas? Toronto’s Globe and Mail called the mood in Monterrey “decidedly cranky,” while El País of Spain said the meeting proved that Latin America and the United States are “becoming more distant from one another than ever.” Mexico’s Jornada described the assembly as “two days of security operations, protocol-packed meetings, disagreements, and confrontations, followed by an official statement that is simply an enumeration of good intentions.” It concluded, “The Monterrey summit demonstrates the frivolity and uselessness of this kind of meeting.” Even the location came under fire: The Financial Times called Monterrey “one of the hemisphere’s least enticing destinations.”

Writing in Mexico’s El Universal, Leo Zuckerman disparaged the very concept of large multinational gatherings and diagnosed a new ailment: summititis. Although the “spectacle of power is important,” the pomp and ceremony is ultimately empty. The op-ed declared, “Of course one might think, correctly, that the most useful parts of summits are the bilateral meetings—wouldn’t it be better to have more of those.”

Zuckerman made summit diplomacy sound like high school: “Some governments try to ingratiate themselves with the United States (as was the case with President Fox of Mexico); others are keen to differentiate themselves (like Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, who goes all out to imitate his hero, the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro).” The Globe and Mail saw more of the latter trend: “[M]any of the leaders who attended the two-day, 34-nation meeting … seemed anxious to emphasize just how different their vision of fighting poverty and entrenching democratic rule is from that of the United States and its president, George W. Bush.”

An op-ed in Venezuela’s El Universal said brief summits involving a lot of countries with varying political agendas are inevitably of dubious usefulness, but Monterrey demonstrated something more dangerous: “the growing ideological polarization in inter-American relations.” Although there have always been oppositional political views within the hemisphere, “since the terrorist attacks in the United States, they have reached a point where they may be irreconcilable. … We have a new regional Cold War where there is no middle ground.”

The Canadian press was generally positive about the first meeting between Prime Minister Paul Martin, who took power in December, and President George W. Bush. After a breakfast meeting over sausage and eggs, Martin said, “I thought the vibes were very good on both sides.” Comparing Martin’s performance with that of his predecessors, the Toronto Star credited the PM with “a credible start at repairing ties strained by Jean Chrétien’s insensitivity, without adopting Brian Mulroney’s fawning approach.” As a commentator in the Toronto Sun observed, “Both leaders face an election this year, so why be ripping at each other?” Then again, it added, “Martin may feel a need to keep sniping at Bush and the U.S. as a sop to the anti-American feelings among some Canadians.”

One of these things is not like the others: Clarín of Buenos Aires reported that when Argentine President Néstor Kirchner mentioned to his U.S. counterpart that all but one of the Argentine officials attending a bilateral meeting had been jailed during the military dictatorship, Bush responded, “I was a prisoner too, but for bad reasons.” According to Clarín, this was a reference to an arrest for drunken driving.