April 21, 2009






Monday, April 20, 2009
Stephen Harper Hails Obama For New Era In The Americas
Stephen Harper credited Barack Obama with opening a “new era of dialogue” in the Americas as a hemispheric summit that the Prime Minister had feared would collapse in confrontation ended with surprising chords of harmony.

Instead of the barrage of attacks that former U.S. president George W. Bush faced at the last Summit of the Americas four years ago in Argentina, Mr. Obama engineered a warming of relations with offers of a new “equal partnership” that seemed to turn famously anti-American firebrands like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez into pussycats asking to be his friends.

It was a weekend in which Mr. Obama proposed a “new beginning” with Cuba – still suspended from such summits.

He also promised to combat poverty and inequality in Latin America and pledged to not only emphasize international law-enforcement in fighting drug crime, but also to aim for reducing U.S. demand for drugs and trafficking of guns.

On Cuba, Mr. Obama said Raul Castro should release political prisoners, embrace democratic freedoms and cut fees on the money that Cuban-Americans send back to their families. Mr. Obama has lifted some restrictions on Cuba and Mr. Castro responded with a broad, conciliatory overture.

“The fact that you had Raul Castro say he’s willing to have his government discuss with ours – not just issues of lifting the embargo, but issues of human rights, political prisoners – that’s a sign of progress,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference yesterday.

Venezuela’s Mr. Chavez, who once called Mr. Bush “the devil,” said he wanted to exchange ambassadors with Washington again – both countries had expelled each other’s last year – and the summit was set abuzz by the repeated handshakes and smiles the limelight-loving leader exchanged with Mr. Obama.

Some of Mr. Chavez’s allies in the leftist Bolivarian Alternative international organization, like Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, said they were still waiting for concrete signs of change. However, Mr. Obama insisted he had held warm talks with many other Latin American leaders.

“I think it’s just that President Chavez is better at positioning the cameras,” he joked.

“The subject of many of these meetings and conversations has been launching a new era of partnership between our nations. Over the past few days, we’ve seen potential positive signs in the nature of our relationship between the United States, Cuba and Venezuela,” Mr. Obama said at a press conference yesterday.

“But as I’ve said before, the test for all of us is not simply words, but also deeds.”

Mr. Harper said he wasn’t sure before the summit began if he’d want to see another one take place, because they tended to get bogged down in ideological diatribes. Now, he said, there is a new opportunity for dialogue that can make progress on economic and social issues.

“I was very worried about the atmosphere of confrontation that exists in our region. But we saw a remarkable change during this summit. And that means that the era of confrontation was replaced by the era of dialogue,” Mr. Harper said at the close of this summit.

“In the difficult economic times in which we’re living, I think this is a tremendously promising development.”

Mr. Harper also met with several Caribbean and Latin American leaders – the latter mostly his closest allies, like the presidents of Chile, Colombia and Mexico – and continued to curry warm ties with Mr. Obama during two 15-minute private chats.

On Saturday, after a 15-minute talk in a hotel kitchen’s service corridor, they strolled past waiting cameras, and when Mr. Obama was asked if he would take Canada’s tips on Cuba, Mr. Obama said: “I take tips from Canada on a lot of things.”

Although the forum’s future had been in doubt, Brazilian President Ignacio Lula da Silva, the leader of the hemisphere’s second-largest country, said he believes there’s a reason to have another Summit of the Americas in three years time, with Cuba attending.

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