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Politics in Café Havana | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Two events caught the interest of the American and international media with the US President Barack Obama’s visit to Colombia, to attend the Summit of the Americas that consisted of around 30 leaders of Latin American countries. The first event is marginal, despite the media’s preoccupation with it, namely the alleged transgressions of a Secret Service protection team that Washington was forced to replace and then investigate. The second event is the most important; namely the pictures of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with her aides at Café Havana in the Colombian capital, where she spent the night dancing.

Ironically, Clinton chose Café Havana, named after the Cuban capital, and danced to the sounds of Cuban music, while the topic of Cuba itself raised controversy between the US President and the Latin American leaders at the summit, which ended without a concluding statement. The Latin American leaders were united in their desire to invite Cuba to the next Summit of the Americas, while Washington, which boycotts Cuba to the extent of its famous ban on Cuban cigars, insisted that the Caribbean country – that almost sparked a major confrontation in the Cold War era between America and the former Soviet Union during the famous Bay of Pigs crisis – has not yet met the conditions of democratic openness that other Latin American countries, who may also have difficult relationships with the United States, have done.

The Latin American leaders, who have taken a united stand with their geographical sister Cuba, were unconvinced. Some attributed President Obama’s unwillingness to make concessions on the Cuba file – although Fidel Castro, the historic leader and Washington’s enemy is no longer in power, and likewise the Soviet Union no longer exists – to the fact that 2012 is an election year, and the Obama presidential campaign fears losing the votes of Cuban Americans, who refuse to restore relations under the current circumstances.

In general, politics is not a game of coincidence; Hillary Clinton and her team’s choice to spend the night in Café Havana and dance to Cuban music may have been a message, either to Cuba itself that there is a change coming, but not now, or a message to the Cuban American voters that there will be no change in the US position at least for now. This is something that only the future will show.

Aside from this, the Summit of the Americas had many lessons in how to manage interests and changes in international relations. The United States is searching for new markets to get out of the recession that has struck the northern hemisphere, including the economic giant of Europe, and it finds in Latin America a rising power with a rapidly expanding middle class. Statistics indicate that around 60 million of the continent’s population, which exceeds 500 million, emerged from the cycle of poverty between 2002 and 2008, while the GDP of these states has reached around US$ 5 trillion, with Brazil holding the largest share of US$ 2 trillion.

Thus the discussions that took place reflected this change in the balance of interests, with the sense that the Latin American countries have climbed the ladder of international economic forces. In the summit, when Obama said that economic prosperity in Latin America will mean greater opportunities for US companies such as Apple and Boeing, he was interrupted by the Brazilian President [Dilma Rousseff] who referred to Embraer, the Brazilian giant of the air industry, stating that this company also wants to open its markets and sell to others.

These countries, feeling confident with the advancement of their economies, improving levels of income and an expanding middle class, are now dictating interests and international relations. It is important that you have something to offer or to sell. If we imagine such a summit being held in the Arab region, could we find something to offer and compete for the global exchange of trade, other than raw materials?