Controlling the message:

Update from the IV Peoples’ Summit of the Americas

2009-04-20 00:00:00

In 1971, after a prolonged strike which nearly toppled the government of Trinidad, a law was passed giving the government authority to arrest people for unapproved street actions. After our permit to march on Saturday was revoked, our union hosts were in a dilemma about how to respond. 
The law does not prohibit the use of public sidewalks for groups of people as long as they keep moving. So we executed a carefully orchestrated action in the centrally located, Cipriani Circle. Union leaders gave us careful orders about how and when to move, because it was impossible to predict what the police would do. A large contingent of riot police was fully deployed battle ready when we arrived.  We moved into the circle, marching and singing. After a few minutes, television cameras arrived, which may have moderated the police response. A half an hour later, the police began to move, and we were given orders to head quickly back to our buses. A group of union members had a brief standoff with the police, but then retreated.  As international visitors, we may have served as a deterrent for police attacks and helped open a space for union voices and a different message from that of the official, totally controlled one.
Meanwhile, at the official Summit, President Obama demonstrated his congenial style as master of message. Campaigning on a message of change, Obama raised the hopes of many for the possibility of real structural change.  However with the exception of some key policy decisions, the continuity of program under his administration thus far has eroded many of those hopes.
The Summit of the Americas was, perhaps, the most challenging space Obama has encountered in his short time in power.  Unlike the recent summits in Europe, G-20 or NATO, where Obama was received as something of a superhero, in Trinidad Tobago, a growing tide of heads of state committed to real, structural change, challenged Obama in respectful yet significant ways.
In response to Obama’s attempts to whitewash the U.S. history of violence, death and domination of Latin America, and require other Presidents of the region “clean up their acts” in order to improve relations with the U.S., President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela presented Obama with a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s “The Open Veins of Latin America.”   In the aftermath of the exchange, Obama deflected criticisms that shaking hands with Chavez endangered U.S. security.  ( From Wikipedia: A result of this international exposure, the book's sales are reported to have risen sharply—it was the 54,295th most popular book on on one day, but had moved to #2 a day later.[5][6])
Evo Morales also took the opportunity of the Summit to press Obama on his message of change. Last year, when a massacre occurred in the Bolivian province of Pando, Bolivia requested the UNASUR countries to investigate and issue a pronouncement on its findings because U.S. domination of the OAS would have prevented an impartial evaluation of the massacre.  UNASUR condemned the massacre of defenseless indigenous farmers.  U.S. President Bush refused to endorse the condemnation of this organized and premeditated crime. 
In the days leading up to the Summit, a plot to assassinate Morales was uncovered and foiled in Bolivia. Appealing to Obama’s message of change, President Morales stated that he will only restore diplomatic relations with the U.S. if President Obama denounces this recent plot against his life. 
In response to this astute move on the part of Bolivia and to the surprise of many, the Obama team responded quickly with a denunciation of the plot by the U.S. Administration. We applaud this small but significant gesture and hope for deeper changes in the attitudes and behavior of the U.S. government in the hemisphere.
Despite these small but important shifts, Obama’s message to the Summit reveals that the permanent program of empire continues full speed ahead.  Obama repeatedly stated: “And by working together, we can take important steps forward to advance prosperity and security and liberty. That is the 21st century agenda that we come together to enact. That's the new direction that we can pursue.” This “new direction” is nothing more that the hemispheric wide expansion of NAFTA, called the Security and Prosperity Partnership. Under this program, the U.S. security and economic agendas for the hemisphere are merged and policy making has been placed in the hands of transnational corporations, not subject to congressional rule. 
At the same time the CIA, NED and other U.S. state entities continue efforts to destabilize and overthrow governments in the region that resist U.S. and transnational corporate domination.  Under the Obama administration, NED funding has increased.  Evo Morales persistently reiterated his demand for the U.S. to stop funding and promoting destabilization efforts underway.
The Obama team worked skillfully to diffuse tensions and prevent confrontations while projecting a message conveyed by Jeffrey Davidow  (Head of the Secretariat for the Summit) and Obama’s press team that flips the story for a media only too happy to oblige. For example, while the U.S. has attempted to kill Fidel Castro in countless ways on innumerable occasions, President Obama successfully projects the message that the Cubans need to change their behavior.  The mastery of message control would make Marshall McLuhan roll over in his grave.