This weekend, the sixth Summit of the Americas, which meets triennially, will take place in Cartagena, Colombia, where 34 presidents and prime ministers from throughout South and North America (including Obama) will meet. The theme of this year’s gathering is “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity,” and leaders will discuss a variety of issues, from poverty to security issues, from the drug trade to access to emerging technologies. The meeting will culminate in an official statement from the 33 countries scheduled to attend (Cuba and Ecuador will be absent).
While these types of regional meetings are often flashy and draw a lot of attention, they also leave scholars, policy-makers, and others sometimes wondering what the real-world utility is, given the difficulty in hammering out a coherent plan/vision between dozens of individual leaders in just a weekend. However, as Charles Shapiro reminds us, the Summit is not without value; indeed, the real gain is not necessarily the official statement or the photo-op with all of the leaders that the media will focus on, but “the myriad of small—but important—’inside baseball’ issues that can potentially improve the lives of millions in the hemisphere.” Additionally, as Boz points out, the summit is just as important (if not moreso) for the individual (and unofficial) face-to-face meetings between leaders that take place on the side. Here, leaders have the ability to discuss (even briefly) matters of importance to them and their neighbors, be it border security, trade agreements and/or disputes, and future collaboration.
In that regard, while many analysts (perhaps including myself) will try to ascribe some significance to the meeting and determine what exactly was accomplished this coming Monday, it is just as probable that the meeting’s true worth will become apparent only in the coming months and years, as the details of those individual meetings and the realities of implementing the vision embodied in the Sixth Summit become clear.