.
F

or the first time since the inaugural Summit of the Americas in 1994, the United States is hosting the Summit of the Americas. While originally scheduled for 2021, the IX Summit has been postponed until 2022 and will bring together the executives of all of the countries of the Americas to discuss the challenges that face the region and collective responses to address them. 

However, while this is the United States' second time hosting the summit, the situation facing the Americas looks extraordinarily different than it did in 1994, and ensuring that the summit can be used to address the needs facing the hemisphere in the third decade of the 21st century will require addressing problems that were not envisioned at the first summit as well as returning to many of the summit’s core principles that are yet to be fully addressed. 

When the first Summit of the Americas took place in Miami, in December 1994, the global outlook, and particularly that of the Americas, looked very different than it does today. The United States had “won” the Cold War and the region had been swept up in the third wave of democratization. It seemed as though the “end of history” had been reached and a consensus on market approaches to addressing the challenges facing the region was widely held. 

This vision was reflected in the agenda and outcomes of the summit which included calls to advance free trade, collective action on climate change, take collective action to reduce poverty and inequality, promote human rights, and combat terrorism and illicit drug trades. Furthermore, the new democracies of the region sought to safe-guard their democratic transitions and collectively worked through the Organization of American States and the summits process to pass the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001. Leaving the conference there was a great deal of hope, the so-called “Spirit of Miami,” that collective action from across the region could address these issues and finally improve relations across the region. 

Many of these hopes and the consensus on a number of issues has dissolved. Pushback against free trade principles resulted in the death of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas that had been hyped at the First Summit of the Americas. The dissolved consensus on economics has been exacerbated by the erosion of democracy in many countries in the region. At the first Summit of the Americas, nearly every country in the Americas, with the notable exception of Cuba (who was not invited to the first summit), was considered to be a democracy. Yet despite Inter-American Democratic Charter, challenges to democratic governance have persisted across much of the region. In fact, in 2021 Freedom House reports 11 countries that are only partially free while three are not free in the region. While the OAS and regional bodies have taken steps to address some of the most egregious examples of democratic crises, there are concerns that these crises have not been addressed equally and in addressing democratic challenges that are short of full blown crises. These changes have resulted in increasingly polarized dynamics in Inter-American affairs and made collective action in the Hemisphere all the more difficult. 

Despite these differences, the Summits of the Americas have continued, finding ground for collective action and agreement on key issues. Importantly, the OAS and the countries of the Americas have continued to pass conventions on a number of key issues related to human rights and collaboration in several functional areas. Additionally, at the most recent Summit of the Americas in 2018, the governments of the region signed on to the Lima Commitment, creating reporting mechanisms and efforts to combat corruption in the region. 

In addition to these longer-term trends, the IX Summit of the Americas comes as the region reels from the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Although the Americas account for approximately 13.2% of the global population, as of this writing, the World Health Organization reports that the Americas account for approximately 39.8% of COVID cases and, with approximately 1.9 million deaths, 48.2% of the global death toll from COVID-19. Furthermore, according to the IMF, the Latin America and Caribbean region was the hardest hit region economically across the globe in 2020, with the regional GDP contracting by approximately 7% (compared to 3.3% globally) and only anticipating a rebound of 4.6% percent in 2021. Furthermore, although the United States, Canada, Chile, and Uruguay have had relatively successful vaccination campaigns, many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean lag behind.

All of these challenges facing the region and collective governance shape both the agenda for the IX Summit of the Americas as well as the likelihood of success in collectively resolving the challenges facing the region. While the United States has not yet announced the exact data nor theme of the summit, several key issues are being discussed by the OAS’s Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG) and will likely be important elements on the agenda. These largely fall into 4 key categories; 

  1. Governance, Anti-Corruption and Human Rights;
  2. Pandemic Response and Resilience;
  3. Climate Change and Sustainable Development; and
  4. Economic Growth and Social Inclusion.

These issue areas highlight both the new challenges facing the region as well as the continuance of challenges that are yet to be resolved since the first summit. As with the first summit, this agenda would suggest that there is a regional interest in collectively addressing issues related to economic growth, social empowerment, human rights, climate change, and governance issues. However, there are likely to be differences in how these issues are addressed and the importance given to these different topics and the policy recommendations that governments take to address them. For instance, while the issue of climate change was on the agenda in 1994, trade and democratic governance dominated the discussion. Additionally, while there is consensus on the need to support democratic governance, anti-corruption, and sustainable development in the Americas, exactly what each of these topics entails no longer has the same level of agreement as was seen in 1994. 

In addition to the SIRG hosting discussions on these topics, background documents have been prepared for SIRG discussions by some U.S. organizations. To date, two primary documents were requested and prepared for the Summit Implementation Review Group; one looking at the role of the Private Sector in Inclusive Growth and the other focused on strengthening democracy in the region. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Council of the Americas discussion paper on the Private sector and inclusive growth focused on the important role that the private sector will need to play in addressing the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, they expressed a great deal of concern over the lack of digital infrastructure and the equality of access to technological resources in countries across the region. This discussion paper also focused on the importance of developing collective mechanisms to address future public health emergencies. While this may seem clear in light of the on-going pandemic, it is worth noting that this is a return to old values of Pan-Americanism. In fact, early efforts to promote cooperation in the Americas resulted in the development of the Pan American Sanitary Bureau, the forefather of the contemporary Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO).

While the topic of democracy was not directly mentioned in the SIRG’s meeting agenda for the summit, the IX Summit of the Americas comes on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the issue was hotly debated in the session on governance, anti-corruption and human rights. Additionally, just a month after the SIRG co-hosted a related event on the 20th anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. With the number of democratic challenges that are facing the region, the IX Summit may serve as an opportunity to revisit the Inter-American Defense of Democracy Regime and work collectively to strengthen the mechanisms available to actors in the region to combat democratic crises. Although the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI) prepared a discussion paper on addressing democratic challenges in the region, the ongoing challenges in the region have further politicized the issue and may make strengthening these mechanisms difficult despite the clear need to do so. 

The challenges that face the hemisphere are large and transnational in nature. Despite the polarized state of Inter-American politics, the IX Summit of the Americas can serve as an opportunity to look for common ground on how to address these challenges. With the hemisphere bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact and facing numerous governance challenges, a collective response will be needed to ensure that each country is able to fully recover. As leaders from across the hemisphere gather at the summit, they have the opportunity to charter a course towards a more collaborative region. What remains to be seen is whether or not they will be able to find common ground and address the most pressing challenges facing the Americas. 

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is special series editor and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

The Summit of the Americas Matters More Than Ever

Photo by Ian Hutchinson via Unsplash.

July 9, 2021

The world has changed significantly since the first Summit of the Americas in 1994 and many aspirations around the summit have gone unrealized. The nature of new challenges facing the hemisphere, however, mean the summit is as critical as ever.

F

or the first time since the inaugural Summit of the Americas in 1994, the United States is hosting the Summit of the Americas. While originally scheduled for 2021, the IX Summit has been postponed until 2022 and will bring together the executives of all of the countries of the Americas to discuss the challenges that face the region and collective responses to address them. 

However, while this is the United States' second time hosting the summit, the situation facing the Americas looks extraordinarily different than it did in 1994, and ensuring that the summit can be used to address the needs facing the hemisphere in the third decade of the 21st century will require addressing problems that were not envisioned at the first summit as well as returning to many of the summit’s core principles that are yet to be fully addressed. 

When the first Summit of the Americas took place in Miami, in December 1994, the global outlook, and particularly that of the Americas, looked very different than it does today. The United States had “won” the Cold War and the region had been swept up in the third wave of democratization. It seemed as though the “end of history” had been reached and a consensus on market approaches to addressing the challenges facing the region was widely held. 

This vision was reflected in the agenda and outcomes of the summit which included calls to advance free trade, collective action on climate change, take collective action to reduce poverty and inequality, promote human rights, and combat terrorism and illicit drug trades. Furthermore, the new democracies of the region sought to safe-guard their democratic transitions and collectively worked through the Organization of American States and the summits process to pass the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001. Leaving the conference there was a great deal of hope, the so-called “Spirit of Miami,” that collective action from across the region could address these issues and finally improve relations across the region. 

Many of these hopes and the consensus on a number of issues has dissolved. Pushback against free trade principles resulted in the death of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas that had been hyped at the First Summit of the Americas. The dissolved consensus on economics has been exacerbated by the erosion of democracy in many countries in the region. At the first Summit of the Americas, nearly every country in the Americas, with the notable exception of Cuba (who was not invited to the first summit), was considered to be a democracy. Yet despite Inter-American Democratic Charter, challenges to democratic governance have persisted across much of the region. In fact, in 2021 Freedom House reports 11 countries that are only partially free while three are not free in the region. While the OAS and regional bodies have taken steps to address some of the most egregious examples of democratic crises, there are concerns that these crises have not been addressed equally and in addressing democratic challenges that are short of full blown crises. These changes have resulted in increasingly polarized dynamics in Inter-American affairs and made collective action in the Hemisphere all the more difficult. 

Despite these differences, the Summits of the Americas have continued, finding ground for collective action and agreement on key issues. Importantly, the OAS and the countries of the Americas have continued to pass conventions on a number of key issues related to human rights and collaboration in several functional areas. Additionally, at the most recent Summit of the Americas in 2018, the governments of the region signed on to the Lima Commitment, creating reporting mechanisms and efforts to combat corruption in the region. 

In addition to these longer-term trends, the IX Summit of the Americas comes as the region reels from the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Although the Americas account for approximately 13.2% of the global population, as of this writing, the World Health Organization reports that the Americas account for approximately 39.8% of COVID cases and, with approximately 1.9 million deaths, 48.2% of the global death toll from COVID-19. Furthermore, according to the IMF, the Latin America and Caribbean region was the hardest hit region economically across the globe in 2020, with the regional GDP contracting by approximately 7% (compared to 3.3% globally) and only anticipating a rebound of 4.6% percent in 2021. Furthermore, although the United States, Canada, Chile, and Uruguay have had relatively successful vaccination campaigns, many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean lag behind.

All of these challenges facing the region and collective governance shape both the agenda for the IX Summit of the Americas as well as the likelihood of success in collectively resolving the challenges facing the region. While the United States has not yet announced the exact data nor theme of the summit, several key issues are being discussed by the OAS’s Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG) and will likely be important elements on the agenda. These largely fall into 4 key categories; 

  1. Governance, Anti-Corruption and Human Rights;
  2. Pandemic Response and Resilience;
  3. Climate Change and Sustainable Development; and
  4. Economic Growth and Social Inclusion.

These issue areas highlight both the new challenges facing the region as well as the continuance of challenges that are yet to be resolved since the first summit. As with the first summit, this agenda would suggest that there is a regional interest in collectively addressing issues related to economic growth, social empowerment, human rights, climate change, and governance issues. However, there are likely to be differences in how these issues are addressed and the importance given to these different topics and the policy recommendations that governments take to address them. For instance, while the issue of climate change was on the agenda in 1994, trade and democratic governance dominated the discussion. Additionally, while there is consensus on the need to support democratic governance, anti-corruption, and sustainable development in the Americas, exactly what each of these topics entails no longer has the same level of agreement as was seen in 1994. 

In addition to the SIRG hosting discussions on these topics, background documents have been prepared for SIRG discussions by some U.S. organizations. To date, two primary documents were requested and prepared for the Summit Implementation Review Group; one looking at the role of the Private Sector in Inclusive Growth and the other focused on strengthening democracy in the region. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Council of the Americas discussion paper on the Private sector and inclusive growth focused on the important role that the private sector will need to play in addressing the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, they expressed a great deal of concern over the lack of digital infrastructure and the equality of access to technological resources in countries across the region. This discussion paper also focused on the importance of developing collective mechanisms to address future public health emergencies. While this may seem clear in light of the on-going pandemic, it is worth noting that this is a return to old values of Pan-Americanism. In fact, early efforts to promote cooperation in the Americas resulted in the development of the Pan American Sanitary Bureau, the forefather of the contemporary Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO).

While the topic of democracy was not directly mentioned in the SIRG’s meeting agenda for the summit, the IX Summit of the Americas comes on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the issue was hotly debated in the session on governance, anti-corruption and human rights. Additionally, just a month after the SIRG co-hosted a related event on the 20th anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. With the number of democratic challenges that are facing the region, the IX Summit may serve as an opportunity to revisit the Inter-American Defense of Democracy Regime and work collectively to strengthen the mechanisms available to actors in the region to combat democratic crises. Although the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI) prepared a discussion paper on addressing democratic challenges in the region, the ongoing challenges in the region have further politicized the issue and may make strengthening these mechanisms difficult despite the clear need to do so. 

The challenges that face the hemisphere are large and transnational in nature. Despite the polarized state of Inter-American politics, the IX Summit of the Americas can serve as an opportunity to look for common ground on how to address these challenges. With the hemisphere bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact and facing numerous governance challenges, a collective response will be needed to ensure that each country is able to fully recover. As leaders from across the hemisphere gather at the summit, they have the opportunity to charter a course towards a more collaborative region. What remains to be seen is whether or not they will be able to find common ground and address the most pressing challenges facing the Americas. 

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is special series editor and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.