Americas summit draft declaration is hard to take seriously

The 11-page ‘Declaration of Commitment of Port of Spain,’ whose final details are being negotiated this week in Trinidad and Tobago − the summit’s host country − is an assortment of goodwill statements and diplomatic blabber. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that all participating countries have spent two years of time-consuming negotiations to draft this document.

As I’m writing these lines, ambassadors from the 34-member Organization of American States meeting in Port of Spain, have already approved 73 paragraphs of the soon-to-be-signed declaration, while another 23 are still being negotiated.

Consider some of the draft declaration’s paragraphs:

• Article 1: “Guided by a renewed spirit of regional cooperation, integration and solidarity, we … have gathered in Port of Spain at the 5th Summit of the Americas, with a firm commitment to improve the well-being of our people by advancing collective solutions to the most pressing challenges facing our hemisphere.”

(My thoughts: Great! But what else would they be meeting for? To try to worsen the well-being of their people?)

• Article 2: “In accordance with the principles and values of the OAS … we are determined to continue our fight against poverty, hunger, social exclusion, discrimination and inequality which afflict the lives and erode the hopes of so many in our hemisphere.”

(My thoughts: What a relief! Thank goodness, they have not decided to change course and discontinue their battle against poverty and hunger!)

• Article 39: “All social and economic development depends on the conservation and protection of the environment. We, therefore, reaffirm our strong commitment to sustainable development as set out in the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio in 1992, Johannesburg in 2002, the Declaration of Santa Cruz de la Sierra of 1996, the Declaration of Santa Cruz Plus 10 of 2006, and the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.”

(My thoughts: If you stand by the declarations you have signed in the past, why waste time and money “reaffirming” what’s already signed?)

• Article 49: “We will deny any resources to terrorists and criminals and will combine our efforts to identify, track, seize or freeze assets associated with terrorism and organized crime, in accordance with national legislation and consistent with international law.”

(My thoughts: Nice to hear that you are against the bad guys. But the second part of this article cancels out the first one.)

Keep growing
You get the drift. Like a Christmas tree, these declarations keep growing with every new meeting. The four previous summits’ “final declarations” and “plans of actions” have produced a total of 1,023 articles, not counting the ones to be approved at the upcoming meeting.

Diplomats spend years − at taxpayers’ expense − meeting in fancy hotels around the region to debate each particular article. Often, the discussion centres on whether a paragraph should start with “we strongly support,” “we endorse,” or “we take note of.”

When I recently asked OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza whether this practice isn’t ridiculous, he cited several previous summits’ achievements in anti-poverty and human rights areas. But he conceded that these final declarations “are too long,” and needlessly repetitive.

“They often reflect the sum of things that the various countries’ foreign ministries want to put in there,” Insulza told me. “Obviously, presidents shouldn’t get into so much detail: if we’ve already said what we have said about poverty and inequality, we shouldn’t be stating it again. But I’m afraid that, once again, the foreign ministries will want to do it.”

My opinion: The first thing Obama and Latin American leaders should do at the upcoming summit should be to replace most paragraphs of their final declaration with one sentence: “We reaffirm our commitment to all previous agreements signed by us and our predecessors at previous summits.”

Then, they should focus on the most important issues − say, the current global crisis − and reach a handful of concrete new agreements. Their final declaration would be no more than four or five paragraphs long, and we would all save time, money and trees.

© The Miami Herald, 2009. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Media Services.

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