The Summit of the Americas has ended. If it weren’t for a bunch of horny secret service agents, would anyone have been aware of the fact it even started? The fact that the majority of news outlets have focused on the tawdry affairs of a few misbehaving agents and not on the outcome of the summit highlights the growing indifference of America to its hemispheric neighbors.
The U.S. still purchases approximately 40% of Latin America’s exports, provides nearly 40% of its foreign investment, and remains the first or second commercial partner for nearly every country in the region. However, America’s influence is waning in a region that is becoming less dependent on U.S. trade and developing closer ties with countries the U.S often perceives as threats, like China and Iran. Issues surrounding immigration, monetary policy, Cuba, and the drug war continue to isolate the United States in its own hemisphere and risk weakening the country’s broader international influence on important foreign policy matters. Potential powerful allies, like Brazil — who is actively seeking a spot on the UN Security Council — are increasingly becoming potential adversaries.
Yet, most of the media coverage on the summit has focused on who bought a prostitute.
For all intents and purposes, the summit was a fail, even outside the shadow of the secret service scandal. Most of the heads of state spent the majority of the time squabbling over whether or not Cuba should be extended an invitation to attend the next summit in 2015. The United States, as expected, remained staunchly in the “no” camp. But, in a rare display of unity, 30 heads of state refused to sign a final joint declaration in protest of this stance, signaling a growing willingness from the region to challenge the United States on issues considered taboo for many years. For example, Colombia’s president raised the idea that Latin American countries might soon set their own expectations for the United States to take greater responsibility in curbing its demand for narcotics.
While it is true that election-year politics probably tied the hands of the Obama administration from making any significant progress in U.S.-Latin American diplomatic ties, the summit should serve as a wake-up call to whoever secures the election in 2013. The U.S. must recognize that its traditional method of doing business in Latin America is as antiquated and ineffective as its embargo on Cuba and the region deserves a little bit more respect and attention going forward.