After Bolivia beat the Argentine soccer team led by legendary Diego Maradona by 6 to 1, Maradona told reporters, “Every Bolivia goal was a stab in my heart.” Bolivia was expected to lose the April 1 match, as Argentina is ranked as the sixth-best soccer team in the world, and Maradona enjoys godlike status among soccer fans. This story of David and Goliath in the Andes is just one of various events shaking up the hemisphere.
At this weekend’s Summit of the Americas, Barack Obama meets with Latin American presidents, who may end up giving some economic advice to their troubled neighbor to the north.
The Summit of the Americas takes place this weekend in Trinidad and Tobago. Most of the hemisphere’s presidents are in attendance. It also marks the first meeting between Barack Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Before the larger meeting began, a Summit for the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) took place in Venezuela. Those attending this gathering include President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo and others. Chávez announced that this ALBA meeting would take place with the objective of formulating common positions to bring to Trinidad and Tobago, including plans regarding the formation of a regional currency, called the Sucre. These leaders are also likely to lead the push for an end to the blockade against Cuba.
Chávez said that if the United States wants to come to the summit “with the same excluding discourse of the empire–on the blockade–then the result will be that nothing has changed. Everything will stay the same…. Cuba is a point of honor for the peoples of Latin America. We cannot accept that the United States should continue trampling over the nations of our America.”
In a recent column, Fidel Castro noted that Obama planned to lift travel and remittance restrictions to Cuba, but that that wouldn’t be enough–the blockade still needs to be lifted. “Not a word was said about the harshest of measures: the blockade,” Castro wrote. “This is the way a truly genocidal measure is piously called, one whose damage cannot be calculated only on the basis of its economic effects, for it constantly takes human lives and brings painful suffering to our people. Numerous diagnostic equipment and crucial medicines–made in Europe, Japan or any other country–are not available to our patients if they carry US components or software.”
The blockade against Cuba is likely be a topic of debate at this weekend’s summit, fueled in part by tension between Obama and Chávez. Explaining the failure of the Bush administration in the region, Obama once said, that it is “no wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo Chávez have stepped into this vacuum. His predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy offers the same false promise as the tried and failed ideologies of the past.”
Yet a closer look at the region shows that the rise of leaders like Chávez is a result of more than just neglect on the part of the empire–it has to do with the disastrous impact of neoliberalism in the region, and a desire among Latin Americans to seek out alternatives. Considering the current economic crisis in the United States, Obama could learn from the policies of leaders like Chávez, who is incredibly popular in Venezuela, works in solidarity with many of the region’s leaders and has developed sucessful economic policies in his country. At the summit, Obama should put into action something he said when meeting with the G20: “We exercise our leadership best when we are listening.”