This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.
Forget for a moment that the Summit of the Americas produced no final document for all the assembled leaders of 34 countries to sign. Forget also the antics of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and the 50-minute, anti-American tirade of Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega – surely the most embarrassing event of the summit. Consider instead the genuine progress that was achieved in healing the breach between the United States and its neighbors in Latin American and the Caribbean.
By former standards, the summit might be judged a failure. The usual measure of success for such gatherings is that they produce agreements in which all parties promise to work toward mutual goals – like a Free Trade Area of the Americas. But since 1994, when the first summit was held in Miami, hundreds of agreements have been signed, but few goals have been met. The FTAA itself remains an elusive dream.
As for President Chavez and his populist clones, posturing gets you only so far. President Barack Obama rightly refused to be goaded by Mr. Chavez's cynical ploy in presenting him with a book that is largely an anti-American screed or by Mr. Ortega's long-winded petulance. As important, he took the wind out of the sails of some U.S. critics by extending an olive branch in the form of words and actions aimed at opening a new chapter with Cuba.
The result was a lessening of the tensions that had been growing between the United States and its neighbors over these last few years, and that alone represents progress and a successful gathering. Mr. Obama's willingness to take the first step in relation to Cuba was necessary to start a new conversation in the region. This puts the ball squarely in Cuba's court insofar as showing that it, too, is open to change.
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