Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Diplomatic Left Turn

The 17th Ibero-American Summit concluded in Santiago, Chile on Saturday, with leaders from Portugal, Andorra, Spain and 19 other Latin American countries signing the Santiago Declaration, which pledges coordinated efforts to fight poverty and promote social cohesion.

Fifteen agreements were reached at the summit, including the Multilateral Social Security Convention, which will permit nearly 6 million migrant workers in Latin America,Portugal and Spain to transfer social security benefits between their countries. The leaders also called on the United States to end its four-decade economic blockage against Cuba.

The theme of this year’s meeting was “social cohesion”, to which President Evo Morales challenged fellow leaders to begin with “presidential cohesion” by joining together under a new economic model.

Speaking before the heads of state on Saturday, the Bolivian president called on governments to create a new economic model that rejects the neo-liberal system.

Morales recalled his country’s favorable economic situation since nationalizing its hydrocarbon sector. He identified new governmental programs made possible with Bolivia's new found wealth, including the "Juancito Pinto" for school-aged children, the “Dignity” pension for elderly Bolivians, as well as the Productive Development Bank (BDP) to grant low interest, micro-credit loans.

"Everything comes through nationalization, the modification of the Hydrocarbons Law. If that's [our] experience, we must abandon the neo-liberal model," reiterated Morales.

In line with Morales’ call for abandoning the neo-liberal model and the meeting’s theme of social cohesion, Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage indicated the impossibility of imagining social cohesion under U.S.-style capitalism, as all three condemned imperialism.

At the beginning of the summit, Chavez - whose speech exceeded the five-minute limit by 21 minutes - proposed a discussion of “transformation towards a just society, towards social justice,"; an idea he believed more useful than "social cohesion".

Yet, the summit’s diplomatic tone took a severe turn on Saturday when President Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar a "fascist". Aznar, a conservative and close ally of President George W. Bush, backed the US-led war in Iraq.

The outburst came during the speech of Spain’s current prime ministe, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who defended the former prime minister by stating that Aznar was “democratically elected by the Spanish people and was a legitimate representative of the Spanish people."

Despite his microphone being turned off, Chavez repeatedly tried to interrupt Zapatero, until Spain’s King Juan Carlos leaned forward, pointing his finger at Chavez and said, "Why don't you shut up?"

When Nicaragua’s President Ortega joined in, criticizing the Spanish embassy for interfering in Nicaraguan politics, King Carlos stood up and left the summit leaving Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, to intervene and restore order.

King Juan Carlos, a descendant of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, Louis XIV of France and Emperor Charles V, was named heir to the throne by dictator Francisco Franco, who skipped a generation to name the prince his personal successor.

Some 79 million people, or 14.7 percent of the population within Latin America, live in extreme poverty, according to the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Spain’s per capita income is $27,950.

The annual summit has been organized by the Ibero-American Community of Nations since 1991. The next summit will be held in El Salvador.

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