No press consensus on Americas summit

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina – Depending on the news outlet, the outcome of last week’s Summit of the Americas was “real progress,” a bit of “cautious skepticism,” or another “fiasco” for the Bush administration.

For the U.S. delegation, the objective was modest: Restart negotiations for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a hemispheric trade deal that hit an impasse at a Miami ministerial meeting two years ago. But the official conference slogan was actually "Creating Jobs to Fight Poverty and Strengthen Democratic Governance."

During the event, the headlines were largely dominated by street action, including protests that turned violent just as Argentina Pres. Nestor Kirchner welcomed the summiteers. Several press briefings and a banquet were cancelled during the sessions, and five major players – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela – argued that a fair FTAA is not possible under current conditions, essentially forcing the postponement of further discussion until after the next round of World Trade Organization talks, schedule for December in Hong Kong.

According to the Washington Post, however, the real issue was whether Latin American leaders would endorse Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez’s vision of a “unified, region-wide socialist revolution that rejects U.S.-style capitalism outright.” Its conclusion was that “there is more to Latin America than Chavez," defined as “cautious skepticism – not Chavez’s tone of enraged dismissal.”

The Miami Herald admitted that Bush faced “harsh criticism,” yet claimed he ended up “bruised but not beaten,” and that “no clear winners and losers emerged."

Argentina‘s Kirchner tried to have it both ways. At the summit, he proclaimed that "U.S. policy not only generated misery and poverty but also a great social tragedy that added to institutional instability in the region, provoking the fall of democratically elected governments." Afterward, Foreign Affairs Minister Rafael Bielsa described the proceedings as “successful and fruitful,” and argued that revival of the FTAA was not really part of the agenda anyway.

"It turned out well," U.S. assistant of state for Latin American affairs Tom Shannon told the Herald. "Chavez came to Mar del Plata to bury FTAA. Instead he resurrected it."

Britain‘s press reached different conclusion. "Bush faces Latin fury as popularity sinks at home," said a headline in the Independent, while the Financial Times noted, "Bush is single target of multiple complaints." The BBC was blunt: "No trade deal at Americas summit."

The Spanish news agency EFE went even farther, basically pronouncing the so-called “Spirit of Miami” a failure after "11 years and successive fruitless meetings.” It also noted that when the FTAA was originally proposed “the political stage of the hemisphere looked very different from what it does today."

Among the differences is that leaders who are skeptical about the benefits of corporate globalization have since been elected in the same five countries that derailed the negotiations.

In Nicaragua, the conservative daily La Prensa and the left-wing El Nuevo Diario almost found something to agree on. In a story titled, "Fiasco in the Summit of the Americas due to FTAA,” La Prensa said that the event “left a bitter flavor,” while El Nuevo Diario saw the summit as a defeat for Bush, “who left Argentina bootless.”