The summit of nearly 30 Western Hemisphere leaders meeting in Colombia has ended without a joint declaration due to divisions over Cuba and Argentine claims to the Falkland Islands.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to the Summit of the Americas with the goal of bolstering ties with the booming region, but left Sunday on a discordant note because of his government's and the U.S.'s stance on Cuba's participation.
He was headed to Chile, where he hopes to get Chile's support for Canada's inclusion in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade zone spanning the Pacific region.
"There is no declaration because there is no consensus," said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as the summit's closing news conference.
Canada and the United States stood alone in balking at an agreement to allow Cuba to attend future summits. That disagreement, and a lack of consensus on backing Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands, scuppered a final declaration from the 31 participating countries.
Even summit host Santos declared it to be "unacceptable" that Cuba not attend the next meeting three years from now in Panama. Other major players such as Argentina and Brazil have echoed the sentiment.
Harper emphasized that Canada has reached out to Cuba, and does not agree with the U.S. embargo of the country. But he said Canada is sticking with the summit principles that state that members must be democracies — an idea that originated under Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien during the Quebec City summit of 2001.
"I think we've taken a principled position, and when we take principled positions we're prepared to argue that and discuss them but obviously we don't have our positions dictated either by one country or frankly by any group of countries," Harper said.
What happens next is unclear. Santos said there would be a discussion on Cuba's participation at the next summit.
This year's summit was also characterized by a new sense of unity and solidarity among Latin American countries, many of whom are seeing rapid economic growth and more geopolitical clout. Santos pointedly spoke at his closing news conference about the desire for all countries to be treated as equals — a nod to the weight the United States has thrown around the region in the past.
Mark Entwistle, a former Canadian ambassador to Cuba, said the issue is not always what it seems.
"It's really less about Cuba per se for the Latin Americans, and it's more about using Cuba as a messaging board, especially by the robust regional powers like Brazil and Mexico," said Entwistle, who still travels regularly to Cuba.
"It's using the Cuba coding or the Cuba item as a means of sending a message, particularly to the United States, that their views have to be taken seriously and that they're major regional players."
Hemispheric leaders did agree, however, to formally discuss the wider issue of the war on drugs and how to deal with the crippling violence in Mexico and Central America, where homicide rates are the highest in the world.
For the first time, Harper said that something is wrong with the current approach and that a discussion is warranted.
"What I think everybody believes — and I'll be frank myself — is that the current approach is not working. But it is not clear what we should do."
Harper's main goal at the summit has been to promote Canada as a destination for trade and investment, and to support Canadian businesses as they seek new opportunities in the region. The Conservative government is trying to revitalize its five-year-old Americas Strategy, a policy of focused engagement in the region.
But Harper's presence at this year's summit was modest. He had only a handful of bilateral meetings, and did not meet with the leaders of some of the biggest countries such as Brazil and Argentina.
Raul Burbano of Toronto-based Common Frontiers, an organization that works on social and economic issues in the Americas, said that while Harper was extolling the virtues of Canadian mining companies and the prosperity they can bring, many Latin American civil society groups had a completely different message.
"They don't want transnational corporations and large-scale mining that can lead to displacement, militarization, contamination.… They want to decide whether there's transnational money in their communities," Burbano said.