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The CELAC summit in Havana, Cuba on January 28, 2014. (Photo: Brazil's Presidency)
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Obama, CELAC, Central America

Obama’s state of the union, CELAC summit and Central American elections.


Two events will inscribe this past week in the records of history.

A State of the Union Address by President Obama unwinding his countries energies for deployment into a new development path. His glance into the future pivots around free trade agreements with Asia and Europe and immigration reform at home.  The first to boost  the economic muscle of the world while the second aims at rejuvenating the demographic composition of the US.

90 miles away from the US shores a regional  gathering was taking place . This distinctly had a strong déjà vu flavor and nothing to say about the future. Indeed it was a get together with the past and a farewell to a leader who like Peter Pan  successfully preserved it for evermore.  

In Havana, the Latin American and Caribbean leaders were bidding adieu to the leader who made it possible to several generations of political leaders to avoid their social responsibility to build a better future for their constituencies by refusing to engage in coalition building; to pursue economic equilibriums and to allow constituencies to participate in decision making just as the jungle boys took refuge in Neverland to avoid adulthood.

To be sure, except  for Chile; Mexico; Uruguay; Costa Rica and Peru  there was little material progress to show in this gathering of words.

But most leaders felt content with a development model that places decision making on the hands of the few to the detriment of the many; where statism has killed economic muscles and innovation is a crime.  

Contrast between the two gatherings could not be sharper. They served two different purposes. The State of the Union was meant to plot the leadership path for a democratic leader that knows that bridges are essential to the development road; dialogue to build consensus and consensus to deepening of freedoms.

The Havana meeting was a collective requiem for Neverland which will most probably sink into oblivion with the demise of Peter Pan.  And this will perhaps finally open the path to adulthood for the Jungle Boys.


Sir Isaac Berlin argued that the road to freedom failed to fulfill most predictions because it was not as straight as a narrow but rather a twisted twig. Two elections in Central America seem to prove him right.

In Costa Rica, the representative of the government party was seriously battered by voters who having enjoyed political and ever growing economic freedom now aspire to elect effective and non-corrupt leaders. Too many years in power have turned Liberacion Nacional -- the once-upon-a-time party of change -- into a bureaucratic machinery set to seize power and enjoy its benefits. The decayed Liberacion Nacional opened the door to the rise of Luis Guillermo Solis, an outsider who is running on an anti-corruption platform and poised to win the runoff elections in March. Lest Mr Solis is endowed with a strong character and holds the difficult position of engaging in bureaucratic restructuring while leading the country, his platform could well turn into a an aircraft carrier for opportunists who will see in the defeat of Liberacion Nacional a chance to engage in corrupt practices. This could well open the path to an age of discontent in Central America's strongest democracy.

In El Salvador, the incumbent FMLN displayed an incredible capacity to adapt to, and absorb, practices that were violently fought when in opposition. For those who had the privilege of participating in the Central American peace process it was common practice to lobby in favor of the opening of space in the media and civic associations for the FMLN leadership that was striving to disarm and compete for power through democratic means. Now in power the party of violent change has turned into the party of Jurassic arctic freeze. The control over media through generous public advertisement or lack of thereof when the government is criticized; the illegal use of airwaves when citizens are at the polls and the intimidatory might of the Mara deployed against opposition voters seems to herald a new battle for Salvadorian democracy, but this time staged by the emerging middle classes.

But all things considered, as Gideon Rachman would put it "change is leading the way in emerging markets.”

Beatrice Rangel is CEO of AMLA Consulting Group, a business development advisory firm in Miami. She wrote this column for Latinvex. 

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