Obama gets an earful at start of Trinidad summit
PORT OF SPAIN – President Barack Obama got an earful Friday from Latin American leaders at the Summit of the Americas who seemed happy with a change in tone by Washington but not quite
ready to ignore historic grievances.
In opening remarks, several leaders skewered the United States for a variety of transgressions:
– Its history of racial discrimination,
– U.S. support of Britain in the Falklands war with Argentina,
– U.S. backing of Nicaragua’s Contra rebels,
– Washington’s bid to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
But nobody was blaming Obama for any of this.
“This is in no way intended to be understood as a reproach to him,” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said, her remarks simultaneously translated.
“Far from this being intended to sound as a telling off, I’m just trying to recap on the things that have happened to us … and thereby try to build something new from now on,” she said.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega didn’t blame him either. He noted Cuban President Raul Castro had pointed out Obama could hardly be taken to task over the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
“He (Raul) said, ‘Daniel, President Obama was born on Aug. 4, 1961,” Ortega said. “He doesn’t have any responsibility for that historic event.”
“I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old,” Obama quipped later.
But he urged the leaders to move beyond old disagreements.
Detouring from his prepared text, Obama said: “I think it’s important to remind my fellow leaders that it’s not just the United States that has to change. All of us have responsibilities to look toward the future.”
He said Washington should not interfere with other countries, but added, “that also means that we can’t blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere.”
“The American people have to get some positive reinforcement if they are to be engaged in the efforts to lift other countries out of the poverty that they’re experiencing.”
An administration official said Obama statements were “a very thoughtful reaction to some of the comments earlier in the night, which I think we all thought were remarkable.”
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Photo credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria (Obama at Fifth Summit of the Americas); Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega walks behind Obama)