Although quite positive overall — if not ‘guardedly hopeful’ or ‘cautiously optimistic,’ to use a couple of the most hackneyed expressions pervading our parlance since last November — European coverage of the Summit of the Americas was curiously sundry. Fittingly enough, perhaps, some of the most reserved approval came from Le Monde. In “Pour la presse, le sommet des Amériques marque ‘l’émergence de la doctrine Obama’,” no sooner does one learn that the gathering concluded with “the promise of a new era in the relations between the United States and their neighbors to the south” than one also reads, in the second sentence, that the event was marked in part by a “controversial handshake and smile,” building on John Ensign’s (R, Nevada) claim that it was “irresponsible” for Obama to be seen laughing and kidding around with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. A couple days later, however, the same John Ensign could be seen on Hardball doublespeaking his way through a litany of claims regarding Bush-era torture tactics, which he basically summed up as ‘not all that bad.’
So for him to call a handshake irresponsible is, well, questionable. Yet Le Monde had already letterboxed it. So anyway.
A few other national papers handled the historical meeting with a generally higher tone of applause.
Writing for Italy’s Corriere della Sera, Paolo Valentino underscored the symbolic significance of Chávez’s gift to Obama, a copy of The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, by Eduardo Galeano: “When historians look into the symbolic moments of this change of season… more than to the words of Raúl Castro on his willingness to discuss ‘everything’ with Washington, they will perhaps look to the gesture of a book.” Valentino goes on to explain why the “iconografia” of this exchange will remain so important, why this loaded moment — one that permitted “an incendiary populist, the same one that had called George W. Bush ‘the devil,’ to cross the hall of the Summit of the Americas to give a gift, albeit with a provocative flavor, to the new American president” — was ultimately so “decisive.”
Praise from Spain’s El País, meanwhile, in Antonio Caño’s “Obama siembra la semilla de la reconciliación con Cuba y Venezuela,” relates more directly to the various leaders’ carefully chosen words and impressive conduct in delicate moments. At the same time, so many promises of change and reconciliation – assurances made by Obama as well as by his fellow leaders – will need to show and prove: “As happened with his recent tour of Europe, Obama’s presence in this meeting seemed to provide more of a seed that nonetheless may or may not give fruit. A great part of this depends on how the nations of Latin America receive this new US politics.” A fair enough assessment, to be sure. But Caño warns that such fruit, should it be sweet, will need to appear sometime soon: “This will be rapidly wiped from memory if recognizable progress does not happen quickly.”
Again, anyway, fair enough.
What might seem a bit less than fair, however, would be to sum up the entire summit as something like a soccer match.
Nevertheless, such was the metaphor of choice in the Frankfurter Allgemeine. Despite the significant praise he heaps upon its participants and the promise he sees in their interactions, Matthias Rub, in “Obama und die alten Männer,” compares the summit’s tension and flashiness to that of Fussball, and he even comes up with a final score for Obama’s ‘winning team.’ Zum Beispeil: “The North Americans, in the first game on neutral ground and under their new, dynamic captain, Barack Obama, won two to zero against the youths from the south under their already somewhat exhausted leader, Hugo Chávez.” Rub goes on to remark that Obama’s “fresh team” not only handled the “flat ball” well, but ultimately met “success” in the end thanks to their “zone defense” and “short passes.” And all that to preface the following observation: “Politics in Latin America and in the Caribbean is mostly spectacle, comparable to the preferred sport there,” than it is any sort of functional method for devising “better solutions to problems.” Perhaps Rub is right to point out such a rub, but it gets annoying, particularly when one learns that Obama’s first ‘goal’ came when he reacted calmly to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s long, impassioned speech with a wink and a witty remark, and that his second net – or rather, his game-winning score – came when he said, thinking that the book Chávez had given him was written by Chávez himself, “I was going to give him one of mine.”
Yet if the Summit of the Americas was, by and large, a successful gathering, and if at least some of its success would have to be attributed to the various representatives’ stated willingness to work together on ‘equal grounds,’ does it not seem strange to chalk up the entire match as a wash? Did the ‘losing’ team – consisting of not just one nation, but rather of dozens of nations whose collective land happens to account for a significant portion of the earth – really never score at all? Whatever the final count should be, I do not believe that any one of those 34 leaders slid away on his stomach. But I do ‘guardedly hope’ that after the next Summit of the Americas, to be held in the US in 2013, they all will.
Hand in hand, perhaps. Smoking Cuban cigars.
Unless rehashing the Bay of Pigs might have mysteriously given flight to swine flu.
Doubtful, sure. Crazy, even. Yet not long ago, just as doubtful would have been some those handshakes and smiles, those seeds and goals.
So swine flu aside – of history-stirred origin or not – the era of new relations in the Americas seems rife with good omens.