Summit plagued by disorganisation
By Andre Bagoo Monday, April 20 2009
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BYE BYE: This was the closest to an official photograph that the leaders gathered for the Fifth Summit of Americas were able to muster after the photo...
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama opted out of posing for an official photograph for the Fifth Summit of the Americas when it was taken yesterday as several heads of State skipped the symbolic act amidst chaos at the Prime Minister’s Diplomatic Centre in La Fantasie, St Ann’s.
From as early as 7 am pool photographers were made to assemble at the front of the red-carpeted steps on which leader after leader trodded as they entered into the cream and brown building in which Prime Minister Patrick Manning hosted a summit retreat.
Obama arrived in dramatic fashion to the final day of summit proceedings in his now famous “Beast”. A decoy car pulled up from the western side of the Diplomatic Centre driveway before the actual car carrying the US president arrived, bearing members of the secret service as well as his “First Buddy”, Reggie Love. The president waved and smiled briefly for the cameras. He would not do so again when the time actually came for the official photo. His absence was in stark contrast to the official G-20 summit photo taken earlier this month in which he stood in the second row.
At about noon yesterday, additional non-pool members of the media were brought to the diplomatic centre to join photographers already there. In addition, hundreds of protocol and foreign affairs officers from countries across the Americas also spilled onto the compound. There was not enough room for photographers at the station where they had been placed to the south of the centre’s front staircase.
Summit officials declined to let the photographers queue to take the official photo. In addition, security officials for the US president, Manning and other heads, crowded the area where the photo was to be taken. When the summit leaders emerged from their retreat at about noon, there was some confusion as to where they should stand, and who would participate in the shoot.
“¡Aye, que calor!” the Argentinian President Christina Kirchner said amidst the bustle. Bolivian Prime Minister Evo Morales left hurriedly, followed closely by Haiti Prime Minister Rene Preval. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez did not emerge from the building for the photo. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials told Newsday that some leaders left because they had to catch planes. “There was no problem, people had to leave to catch flights,” she said.
Obama had to leave partly because he was due to address the American press at a press conference, which had been originally carded for 11am. As leaders spilled onto the diplomatic centre’s staircase, the US president came out into the crowded scene, headed straight for Manning and shook the prime minister’s hands as he stood one step higher than him. He then left, the “Beast” driving out quietly as members of the press continued to wait for the exit of other leaders as summit delegates and members of the press clogged the entrance of the building. Mere hours after the debacle the Associated Press reported that the final photo “never came together”.
“It was the final piece of a summit plagued by disorganisation. The host country failed to provide transcripts of speeches, cancelled news conferences, and imposed a temporary media ban Saturday,” the report read. Another quoted an anonymous foreign affairs official saying, “For some reason (the leaders) came out bit by bit, piece by piece. One by one. But the photo never happened.”
Some leaders, including Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, did not attend the retreat.
Yesterday, the first leader to arrive was Uruguay’s President Vázquez Rosas who emerged from a black official vehicle at 8.56 am, smiling and waving for the cameras. He was followed by Venezuela President Hugo Chavez. Chavez has been so consistently mobbed by the media, a sign of the intense interest that he attracts regionally. So much so that Obama yesterday said, “Chavez is very good at positioning cameras,” at a press conference.
Chavez waved for the photographers as he exited his official car, walked up the red-carpet steps and then made his trademark vertical salute, under the watchful eyes of members of the Venezuelan Armed Forces who wore their distinctive red berets. When he left, Chavez was once more mobbed by the media as the general control of traffic disintegrated.
When Prime Minister Patrick Manning arrived yesterday morning, he waved at photographers before saying, “Happy New Year!” Puzzled members of the international press expressed uncertainty as to what exactly Manning meant by the comment.