Here are seven observations from the Summit of the Americas, specifically the O.A.S. Civil Society Forum:
1. The Summit was unable, once again, to issue a document with resolutions signed by all the Americas. This was a historic summit, with all of the Americas attending in Panama, including Cuba. Venezuelan President Maduro attempted to blame the U.S. for the decision to ban seven Venezuelan officers and declare Venezuela a threat for national security, but Maduro had no support for even a majority vote, and no statement was issued. Major differences between the 35 member nations make finding consensus on important issues very unlikely.
2. The most important political event was the shaking of hands between Cuban President Raul Castro and President Barack Obama, and the private meeting they had. President Obama insists the Cold War is over, but there is still a long way to go to normalize relations between the countries. Today, diplomatic relations between U.S. and Cuba are in place, and there is the groundwork for economic relations.
3. President Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela) was received with rallies against him in Panama City. He, President Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and President Evo Morales (Bolivia) had an agenda of demonizing the United States based on strained relations over the last century. President Obama tried to explain that the U.S. is looking toward future relations, but Correa, Morales and Maduro responded with insults and threats.
4. Panama made a big effort to host not only a great summit, but also great forums for Business, Academia, Youth and Civil Society. Civil Society had almost a thousand attendees.
5. B’nai B’rith attended the Social Forum and shared analysis on the speeches from President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, and the farewell speech of departing OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, who leaves office on May 25.
6. B’nai B’rith had fruitful meetings with Insulza; Emilio Alvarez Icaza, executive secretary of the Interamerican Comission of Human Rights, which is doing a great job, despite being harassed by Presidents Correa and Morales.
7. B’nai B’rith participated in the Working Group on Governance and Democracy.The group was comprised of more than 100 delegates, representing 40 NGOs, asked me and a Panamanian member to discuss the statement with Panamanian foreign ministry officers. I expressed my gratitude for the appointment to the Group and to the leaders of the NGOs. The group, without Cuban delegates, wrote a document stressing the importance of the Democratic Charter to all members. The document was presented before the governmental officers in the plenary and is on the record with the summit’s final documentation.