In reality, Bush has little reason not to be happy with the outcome of the hemispheric meeting of the 34 heads of state and government. He has weathered his initiation in the complicated choreography of international summits, and from all accounts did so reasonably well.
Moreover, in a series of bilateral meetings on the periphery he reportedly had some success in winning over jittery South American leaders to Washington's latest anti-drug offensive – Plan Colombia.
Colombia's neighbors are already feeling the effects of the intensified military offensive against the Colombian drug lords as a mixture of genuine refugees and fugitives on the run cross into Equador, Brazil and Peru in increasing numbers.
Remaining in Quebec for the whole summit despite the street clashes between Canadian police and protest groups must be another source of satisfaction for Bush.
As the by-now familiar squads of anti-globalization protesters carried out repeated assaults on the wire mesh cocoon protecting the summit area, White House security staff kept the situation under constant scrutiny, ready to wisk Bush away at a moment's notice.
A Canadian official source said that at one point U.S. officials warned the Canadians that if the police did not take tougher measures to break up the demonstrations, Bush would have to consider leaving the summit. In the end, Quebec served as Bush's introduction to the facts of modern summit life. Like the complexities of the meeting itself, the demonstrations foreshadowed what he could expect at the G-8 summit of industrialized nations in Genoa, Italy, in July, and maybe even at the NATO summit before that in Sweden in June.
Bush's other success was the declaration adopted by the summit making democracy a "fundamental" condition for membership of the proposed single market stretching from the Arctic to the tip of South America. According go the new ground rules, not being a democracy would be - the document states - "an insurmountable obstacle" to joining the Free Trade Association of the Americas.
The statement was a useful distraction from the fact that - apart from the demo-bashing - not a lot happened in Quebec. True, the summit set 2005 as the deadline for the creation of the FTAA, but almost everybody already knew that. According to well informed observers, there were no substantive negotiations towards setting up the single market.
Earlier this year some Bush administration officials had talked briefly of accelerating the process and launching FTAA in 2002. But the White House, reportedly recognizing that it still needed to address some of the issues, in particular workers' rights and environmental protection, lined up with the other potential members in supporting 2005.
Major South American countries, such as Brazil, have still to balance the advantages of a major zonal market strongly influenced by the United States, with their own bi-lateral trade interests. One complication, for example, is that Brazil wants the FTAA to take into account MERCOSUR, the six-country free market Brazil has set up with Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
Meanwhile, by linking trade with democracy, Castro's Cuba was singled out for exclusion from the future free market. At home, Bush gained points with Sen. Jesse Helms and other conservative Republicans. Besides, the Bush Administration had maneuvered some of Castro's South American friends into going along with the exclusion.
At the summit, the statement on democracy needed to be open to wide interpretation. The president of Equador - a participant - had been chosen by the army following a recent coup that removed the elected president; there was no head of state from Peru because President Alberto Fujimori has gone home to his country of origin, Japan, following a highly questionable election engineered by his security chief; irregularities in recent Haiti elections drew strong criticism from independent observers.
Now let's see, wasn't there another document a couple of weeks ago in which words bore a shaky relationship to their meaning? Ah yes, the U.S. letter of non-apology to China over the spy plane.
Who says Bush doesn't have a way with words?
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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