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Strengthening Relationships in the Western Hemisphere: Building on the Summit of Americas

The International Relations summit focused on the numerous challenges facing the Western Hemisphere and importance of building strong relationships. Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15) served as the Chair for the summit and Rita Jaramillo, Senior Liaison of National Education Association moderated the discussion. 

Congressman Hinojosa started off by mentioning NAFTA's adverse and positive effects. He also mentioned CAFTA and how it is just being initiated. Hinojosa also mentioned how relationships built during the Clinton administrations were strained during Bush's presidencies and consequently needed to be rebuilt. Finally, he set the tone for the panelists by stating that Summit of the Americas was crucial for building closer relationships with Latin America.

The panel consisted of Cynthia McClintock from George Washington University, Ambassador Charles Shapiro of the U.S. Department of State and Jane Thery from the Organization of American States. Some of the major challenges facing Latin America include Venezuela's strong anti-Americanism, the war on drugs, and the increasing poverty levels. A common issue discussed throughout the summit was President Bush's poor reputation among Latin American countries and the need to establish a new image for the U.S. President Hugo Chavez has been the leading opposition for the U.S. and the his anti-Americanism has spread to other countries within the Western Hemisphere.

Ms. McClintock noted the need to change U.S. approach to both the War on Drugs and Cuba. U.S. sanctions against Cuba have been repudiated in Latin America and they have not brought about change to the country. A common consensus was reached among the panel on the need to change the discourse when relating to Cuba. Although improvements in travel restrictions and telecommunications have been successful, a different approach is needed to deal with the country more effectively.

She mentioned that this year's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad was an opportunity for Obama to set a new tone of respect in an effort to neutralize Anti-Americanism in the region. She also pointed out that democracy in Latin America is eroding.  She ended on a positive note by saying that relations were improving but that much progress needed to be made.

Ambassador Charles Shapiro of the Department of State was the next panelist. The ambassador chose to focus on important events in the near future. He pointed out the significance of the next G20 summit that will include Mexico and Brazil for the first time. He also noted that Brazil has made it through the recession unscathed. He also stressed that China's influence in the region was growing quickly. He mentioned that Chile's economic development could serve as a model for other Latin American nations. Shapiro then stressed that there was much work needed to ameliorate poverty in particular in the region.

He noted that there needed to be more links between the micro and macro economies existent in underdeveloped nations, and that social exclusion of minorities and rural communities needed to be addressed. Finally, he pointed the problems being faced in Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela, Haiti, and Cuba and the implications for the U.S.  Strengthening public institutions and ending social exclusion of ethnic minorities and women could improve the economic situation in many countries of Latin America. He used Chile as the economic development model that should be applied to other countries in Latin America.

Jane Thery referred to the importance of the Summits of the Americas in "building relationships of trust between individuals."  She stressed the need for the Summits to be permanent and noted that these were spaces where common agendas were discussed and consensus among leaders was reinforced. These summits allow leaders to meet one another, creating a strong foundation for diplomacy. She emphasized the role of OAS as an organization working with countries and not for them. The summits allow country leaders to work towards common goals in the Western Hemisphere and establish strong relationships.

Thery also pointed out that Obama's comments were well received, and she noted that there was more of a consensus in the Western Hemisphere than in other regions.