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The Deficit of Leadership at the North American Leaders Summit

Posted by americasprogram on August 14, 2009

Harper, Calderon and Obama at the North American Leaders Summit. Source: EFE

Harper, Calderon and Obama at the North American Leaders Summit. Source: EFE

Laura Carlsen

Times of crisis require bold leadership and innovative solutions. They are a sign of the need to break out of failed paradigms and unite people to create new ones.

Exactly the opposite happened when the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States met at the North American Leaders Summit in Guadalajara on August 9-10. Instead of leadership, Presidents Calderon and Obama and Prime Minister Harper showed a penchant for generalities, conflict avoidance and the formulaic proposals of a discredited past.

Faced with profound economic, environmental, health and security crises, our heads of state proved once again that North America doesn’t exist as a united bloc by punting on the shared issues. U.S. and Canadian leaders used the forum to reaffirm their priority on national policies, while beleaguered Mexico received little more than declarations of support for Calderon’s faltering drug war.  The lack of regional proposals and agreements raised doubts about the purpose of NAFTA’s Security and Prosperity Agreement (SPP)—the leaders didn’t even mention the executive pact that launched these summits.

Summit meetings like this are often a symbolic show of unity while the real work goes on at lower levels, below the public radar. They don’t tend to produce many “deliverables.” However, this is no excuse for the shallowness and contradictions of the Guadalajara Summit. Given the critical situation in the region, this one should have taken the bull by its horns. The populations of all three countries need deliverables from their governments—and fast.

Civil society organizations in all three nations have long protested that the NAFTA-SPP proceedings don’t represent their interests. These protests tend to flare and fade depending on the Summit calendar.

By looking at four major issues, how the leaders responded and how they could have responded, we can get a better idea of what went wrong and what a more sustained civil society agenda for regional integration could include. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted in Drug War, Merida Initiative, Mexico, NAFTA, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »