At Meeting in Brazil, Washington Is Scorned
Latin American leaders took another step away from the decades-old orbit of the United States at a meeting here that brought together nearly all of Latin America and the Caribbean, but excluded the United States and Europe. And in the process of convening the leaders of 31 countries, Brazil once again flashed its credentials as the undisputed leader of Latin America. But the host country’s highly popular president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, an ally of the United States, did not prevent the leaders from celebrating the inclusion of Raúl Castro, Cuba’s president, and from using the occasion to attack the United States and Europe for their roles in causing the global economic crisis that is roiling this region as well. “Cuba is returning to where it always should have been,” Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president, told reporters. “We are complete.”
The United States became a punching bag at the three-day conference, which ends Wednesday, in this tourist haven in Brazil’s Bahia State. Mr. Castro was hardly alone in assailing the United States and what he called its “neo-liberalist” model for the credit crisis, which is affecting many other economies. “In the middle of an unprecedented global crisis, our countries are discovering that they aren’t part of the problem,” Mr. da Silva said. “They can and should be fundamental players in the solution.” The timing of the meeting, just four months before the next Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, was significant, analysts said. That meeting, first convened in Miami in 1994 at the urging of President Clinton, will include the United States and Canada but will exclude Cuba. Mr. da Silva did his part to upstage the Summit of the Americas, even sending planes from Brazil’s air force to ensure the presence here of presidents from poorer countries in Central America and the Caribbean. President Alan García of Peru and President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia were the only heads of state who did not attend. Vice President Francisco Santos of Colombia said that Mr. Uribe, a staunch American ally, stayed home to cope with the aftermath of deadly floods.
The meeting drew together diverse coalitions of the region’s countries, including the recently formed Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, a grouping that has held meetings in recent months that also excluded the United States. “There is no question that this is about exclusion, about excluding the United States,” said Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy research group in Washington. “Brazil is demonstrating its enormous convening power.” With the rise of China as a principal export destination and the visit last month by President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia to court Latin American leaders, there are more frequent reminders that the United States is becoming an ever more distant player in the affairs of the region, said Riordan Roett, the director of the Latin American Studies program at Johns Hopkins University. “The United States is no longer, and will not be ever again, the major interlocutor for the countries in the region,” he said. One by one, the presidents saluted the inclusion of Cuba in the meeting, an expression that indicated a frustration with the efforts by the United States to exclude Cuba from similar hemispheric deliberations, said Michael Shifter, the vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue.
Many of the leaders, including Mr. da Silva, called for lifting the United States embargo of Cuba. “This is a further step in the process of ensuring that Cuba occupies its rightful place of dignity in the region and throughout the world,” said Bruce Golding, the prime minister of Jamaica. But even as the Latin American leaders spoke of their collective power and growing unity, regional strains have been evident. In Bolivia, Oscar Ortíz, the president of the Senate and a prominent critic of President Evo Morales, called on Unasur, the new regional body, to investigate further recent killings in northern Bolivia, which a Unasur commission described unequivocally as a massacre. The region’s leaders continue to struggle to pick a leader for Unasur. Tabaré Vásquez, Uruguay’s president, said in October that he would oppose the nomination of former President Néstor Kirchner of Argentina, a stance that reflects the tense relations between the countries in the past year.
Tension has also been increasing between Ecuador and Brazil, with President Rafael Correa of Ecuador expelling executives from Odebrecht, a major Brazilian construction company, and disputing a loan by Brazil’s powerful national development bank, which finances public works projects throughout Latin America. But these disputes may have more to do with Brazil’s rising regional profile as its multinational corporations compete more aggressively for business beyond Brazil’s borders. In Mr. da Silva, Brazil has a leader who has been adept at relieving tension through diplomacy, even as Washington’s diplomacy has become largely inoperative in much of the region. “Lula is a leader who practices the politics of the bear hug, by thinking all problems can be solved by a warm embrace,” said Larry Birns, director of the Council of Hemispheric Affairs, a research group based in Washington.