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What a Summit!

Tuesday, April 21 2009

PRIME Minister Patrick Manning has succeeded, perhaps beyond his wildest dreams, in his goals of giving regional leaders a safe and amiable forum to talk, and in showcasing Trinidad and Tobago on the world stage.

The warm smiles of the leaders of the Fifth Summit of the Americas at Sunday’s Closing Ceremony said it all. Although the three-day conference was held mainly out of public view, all indications suggest there was a special “buzz” surrounding the event. As much was confirmed by leaders themselves.

While there was disagreement as to whether or not Cuba should reform itself before being reintegrated into the hemisphere, all countries informally agreed on the goal that it should eventually and somehow rejoin the region. Mr Manning has surpassed initial expectations — both local and foreign — in what the Summit could achieve.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Sunday admitted he had come not expecting much but had seen an “incredible thing” at the Summit. Harper effused: “We saw the replacement of confrontation with dialogue, a dialogue that was very genuine, and a chemistry among leaders and some principal protagonists which was good.” Harper praised the conduct of the event’s potential protagonists, and praised Manning’s chairmanship. Harper said: “The Caribbean countries were a tremendous voice of reason and openness at those times when the dialogue did get a little bit heated...I particularly want to say to you Mr Manning how truly impressed I think we all have been with the steady hand and wisdom in your chairmanship of what could have been a difficult conference.”

Mexican President Felipe Calderon hailed Manning’s chairmanship and said he had never attended a summit which had such cordiality, frankness and openness.

Panamanian President Martin Torrijos Espino hailed Manning’s exemplary chairmanship, and the Summit’s “spirit of cordiality and openness”.

So, from the mouths of three regional leaders came the affirmation that Trinidad and Tobago had indeed made its mark in the affairs of the hemisphere, especially in being the place that largely saw the healing of tensions over Cuba. Of course there were issues surrounding the hosting of the Summit, such as what the cost was and whether it will be recouped in benefits down the road for Trinidad and Tobago. Was the population sufficiently engaged, and were protestors allowed adequate space to make their voices heard? Had the Government spruced up Trinidad for the visitors but ignored pleas from local people to do the same? The debate will rage on about these questions.

Manning said he expects the Summit to attract investment to Trinidad and Tobago but added that even if this does not occur, the Summit is this country’s contribution to peace and harmony in the hemisphere.

Although some leaders declined to sign the Declaration of Port-of-Spain, reportedly due to their fears that it would unduly pressure Cuba towards democratic reform, the document was adopted by a consensus of the majority. Further, President Calderon said the spirit of cordiality at the Summit far exceeded any disagreement about the wording of the Declaration. However, strictly regarding the question of whether Manning achieved what he set out to do, it is the widespread view that he wildly succeeded in hosting a highly successful conference. The Summit not only places Trinidad and Tobago on the map, but also in the history books. It was a historic occasion in hosting the visit of the first afro american US President Barack Obama, and in being the forum that is setting the stage for the reintegration of Cuba into the regional fold.

It was also significant for the special plea made by Manning for Haiti to be helped out of its impoverishment as he openly admitted that no-one in the region could feel proud of Haiti’s plight.

The Fifth Summit was a vast improvement of previous Summits especially the Fourth Summit in 2005 at Mar del Plata in Argentina which saw heated contention among leaders and violent protests outside.

So all concerned with the Summit — the friendly hotel staff, the Caricom security forces, the Carnival performers, and the general public who gave their forbearance for an event that was not open to them — are to be congratulated.



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