- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

High-toned summit

A veteran Latin American diplomat is worried that this week’s Summit of the Americas will produce little more than high-toned talk about fighting poverty and promoting democracy.

Odeen Ishmael, Guyana’s former ambassador to the United States, noted that the summit on Friday and Saturday in Argentina will likely reflect the failed promises of the three previous meetings of the leaders of the Western Hemisphere.

“Many grand proposals have never seen the light of day,” he said in a preview of the meeting.

Mr. Ishmael, now ambassador to Venezuela, said more talk and no action will only make poverty worse in the Caribbean and Latin America and will fail to address the threats to democratic government in many of those countries.

He recalled that summits in Miami in 1994, Santiago, Chile, in 1998 and in Quebec City in 2001 “produced impressive political declarations and ambitious action, and this fourth summit will certainly do likewise.”

“However the previous action plans listing our numerous projects to spur development and fight poverty in the Americas have fallen short due to various factors, including lack of funding, shortage of political commitment, political instability in some countries, trade protectionism and changing priorities in the political, economic and social spheres,” he said.

Mr. Ishmael lamented the failure of past summits, noting that a vaunted Quebec summit proposal to create specialized centers to train teachers was never fulfilled.

“These centers were expected to reverse the outflow of trained teachers from the Caribbean and Central America, but what happened since 2001 is that these regions have lost a great number of their trained teachers who have been recruited to work in the United States,” he said.

“And this problem will continue despite the hallowed declaration to combat poverty and expand education to the teeming poverty-stricken masses in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Mr. Ishmael held out hope for an agenda item at the Argentina summit aimed at recognizing racial discrimination against blacks and Indian populations.

“For Latin Americans, talking openly about discrimination against their citizens of African descent in high political circles was always taboo,” he said.

He predicted no progress at the summit on free-trade negotiations with the United States, although President Bush is expected to discuss trade issues in a private meeting with Presidents Alfredo Palacio of Ecuador, Alejandro Toledo of Peru and Alvaro Uribe of Colombia.

Mr. Ishmael, who served in Washington from 1993 to 2003, was the most senior Latin American ambassador when he was transferred to Venezuela.

Korean goals

The new ambassador from South Korea, in his first address to his embassy staff, tried to raise the spirits of Korean diplomats, after the embarrassing political scandal that drove the previous ambassador to resign.

“Let’s work together for strengthening the [Korean-U.S.] alliance and improving Korean-American relations,” Ambassador Lee Tae-sik told his staff after arriving in Washington about three weeks ago.

“Many … alliance issues have been resolved or will be settled through bilateral cooperation, despite the fact that the alliance has seen some less than sunny days in the past years.”

Mr. Lee emphasized the need for public diplomacy to get South Korea’s message to the American people.

“I will try to have a constant conversation with Americans to persuade them to fully understand the Korean government’s policies,” he said.

Mr. Lee replaces Hong Seok-hyun, who resigned in July after only four months as ambassador. Mr. Hong, a former political operative, is accused of soliciting illegal campaign contributions in the 1997 presidential campaign.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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