The summit of the Americas takes place in Lima when the continent is preparing for new changes. Peru, Ecuador, Colombia have had recent political changes and Brazil and Mexico are preparing for elections that should bring about changes in the political and economic composition of Latin America.
The eighth summit in a regular series — will bring together most of the 35 hemispheric leaders. President Bill Clinton hosted the first summit, in Miami (1994), to boost a hemispheric free trade area stretching from Alaska to Terra del Fuego. Negotiations began, but the divides proved too big. There were subsequent summits in Santiago, Chile (1998) and Quebec City (2001) and then Mar del Plato, Argentina (2005), but with the discrediting of market fundamentalism — ‘the Washington consensus’ — the appetite for closer economic integration was gone.
Populist leaders led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Brazil’s Lula da Silva, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Argentina’s Hector Kirchner derided the FTAA, labelling it ‘Yankee neo-imperialism’. Instead, they embraced ‘Bolivarianism’, creating their own regional trade pact — Mercosur — and development bank: Banco del Sur.
But if the Washington consensus was bitter medicine — especially for Argentina and Ecuador — ‘Bolivarianism’ was toxic. Banco del Sur was never capitalised and populist policies resulted in corruption, impeachments and economic catastrophe.
Venezuela, once the richest country in Latin America, is in economic free-fall. According to the IMF, the Venezuelan GDP has shrunk by 50 percent in the last 5 years. This economic collapse has caused untold human suffering and massive migration of Venezuelans to neighbouring countries (especially Colombia) in search of food, medicine and a future.
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is ‘disinvited’ to Lima. He fails the ‘democracy clause’ established by then Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien and other leaders at their Quebec summit. Managing a post-Maduro Venezuela will be on the agenda. Canada is invested in this effort through the imposition of Magnitsky-style sanctions against Maduro associates and involvement in the Lima Group.
The looming Sino-American trade war will also be discussed. For most of the hemisphere, the U.S. and China are thir biggest trading partners. These protectionist spirals and growing geo-political tensions, spelled out in a recent speech by former U.S. Secretary Rex Tillerson, risk significant collateral damage for the region.