With the end of the Cold War and its bi-polar ordering of world affairs, summit diplomacy appears to have taken centre stage. Increasingly, Heads of State are bypassing their professional diplomats and intermediaries and getting together personally to deal with pressing issues. Some of these summits have become institutionalised – like G-20 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) but if history is any guide, ultimately these will fade (like, say G-7) as new issues demand a different set of principals.
Recently, President Ramotar attended the Sixth “Summit of the Americas” sponsored by the OAS in Colombia. But we have not heard much about what was achieved – save the US Secret Service sampling more of the local fare than was deemed appropriate. The first Summit of the Americas was convened in Miami in 1994 by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton. In subsequent summits, U.S. attempts to create a hemispheric free-trade zone collapsed. South America’s rising left further eroded U.S. influence.
The last Summit could not even issue a final communiqué, putatively because of US President Obama going against the overwhelming majority of the attendees and vetoing the attendance of Cuba. But the waning importance of the Summit goes to more fundamental issues. U.S. commercial and political influence in the region has been in decline as China gains on the U.S. as a top trading partner, and many analysts say these regional summits tend to be unwieldy and only make sense if they are a departure for serious follow-up on substantive issues. This was probably the last Summit of the Americas and Guyana would be well advised to spend more time and resources on the Latin America-Caribbean presidential grouping, UNASUR.
The waning role of the US in the Summit of the Americas is also a consequence of its unwillingness to concede the reality that the region, with burgeoning economies like Brazil and Argentina, has acquired an importance of its own. To appreciate the changing of the guard, one may compare the inconsequential decisions of the Summit (where the US refused to budge even on the issue of drug policy) with the also recently concluded BRICS Summit held in India.
There Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa agreed to establish a Development Bank that would service not only infrastructural and other developmental projects in their countries, but also in other developmental countries. This is a welcome development for Guyana – since it has been restricted in seeking preferential loans, mainly from the World Bank. The BRICS countries also agreed to begin trading with their own currencies.
But the experience of these international Summits holds some lessons for a recent innovation in our domestic politics – Summits involving the leaders of the three parliamentary parties in parliament, following the unique results of the last elections. These summits were kicked off after President Ramotar acknowledged the changing modalities of national decision-making, precipitated by the opposition control of the legislature. In that sense, the leaders were akin to the leaders of the international Summits representing different constituents, but addressing issues that affected them in common.
And this latter point is even more critical in a Summit of domestic leaders: the issues have to do with a single country and the leaders, unlike Obama, cannot just ignore the concerns of other leaders and return home to pursue their own agenda. They are all in the same ‘home’. After positive initial meetings, the local Summit appears to be on the rocks – and this is more than regrettable: it can prove to be catastrophic. If the negotiations between the two power centres – Executive and Legislative – are left only to the chamber of the parliament, it is obvious that public posturing will dominate.
The debates in parliament were premised on one party holding a majority so that decisions could be made swiftly after the various opinions were aired. In the present situation, we will have to accept the reality that much more nuanced discussions will have to take place so that the national interests can be preserved. We must eschew playing to the gallery. Such is the nature of Summitry.