Introduction to the
Summits of the Americas Process


Welcome to the Summits of the Americas Information Network.  We hope that the information that we had provided will facilitate your access to the numerous issues and actions that define the Summits of the Americas process.  As an introduction to this multilateral process, we are offering to you some words on how the Summits have evolved within the Inter-American system since the beginning of the 20th Century, giving light to what today can be considered one of the most advanced regional agendas in the world.   

The Evolution of the Summits of the Americas Process 

At the end of the 19th Century, during the First American International Conference, the governments decided to establish the Commercial Office of the American Republics, ancestor to the “Pan-American Union”, which would, in 1948, become the Organization of American States.  Since that First Conference until the beginning of the 21st century, successive changes and ruptures in the international system, ranging from two World Wars to a bipolar world, and more recently the phenomenon of globalization, have shaped the ideology and practice of multilateralism in the region. 

In their first stages, inter-American conferences gave rise to the evolution of Inter-American Law, through conference subscription and agreements on such diverse topics as trade, international waters, law of asylum, arbitration, adoption of treaties on the principles, practices and proceedings of private and public International Law, a mail convention and a consular convention.  In addition, a Code of Private International Law[1] was put into practice.  This first phase of multilateralism, characterized by the development of Inter-American International Law, lasted until the first years following World War II.   

In the second phase, the regional agenda was profoundly influenced by the ideological confrontation of the Cold War years, and the Inter-American system subordinated political principles and democratic values to regional security interests.  The final Summit of this period met in Punta del Este in 1967.  The declaration, subscribed to by the presidents, included the creation of a Latin American Common Market by 1980, in addition to multi-lateral cooperation projects for the development of infrastructure, agriculture, arms control and education, within the framework of the “Alliance for Progress”.[2]  Many of these goals were never met, diminishing the credibility of the effectiveness of the Summits as an instrument of change and progress in the region.   

Between 1967 and 1994 the political, economic and social climate of the Americas changed dramatically.  Emerging from a Cold War period characterized by confrontation and a lack of confidence, in which the Summits prior to 1994 were held, the region constructed a new agenda based on three fundamental points of consensus: democracy, free markets and the need to strengthen multilateralism in the region as a response to the phenomenon of globalization.  The existence of these common political and economic points of reference paved the way for a project of vast political cooperation and economic integration in the Hemisphere, from Canada to Argentina.   

The Miami, Santiago and Quebec City Summits of the Americas 

This First Summit which took place in Miami, originated as a proposal from the United States government and its negotiations were completed outside the framework of the OAS, since they considered, in that moment, that the Organization would require profound reform and the re-definition of its strategic objectives in light of the new conditions of the international system.   

One foundation of the hemispheric Summit process initiated in 1994 was the reorganization of inter-American relations, conforming its new agenda, content and mechanisms to the new political, economic and social conditions of the global and regional stages.  The design of a new multi-lateral architecture to construct a regional project based in multi-lateral actions and commitments to reform public policy in their own countries was the responsibility of the Heads of State and Government of the Hemisphere.  It was, therefore, decided that they would meet periodically and define the fundamental positions of an agenda for the Americas, based on the Plans of Action of Miami, Santa Cruz, Santiago and Quebec.   

The decision to institutionalize the Summits shaped the idea of a process where experiences are accumulated, a common language is forged and mandates and collective, multilateral and national actions are programmed, systematizing the new theoretical and practical references of hemispheric relations and giving answers to the problems that affect the people of the Americas.  The modernization and the strengthening of inter-American institutions and, particularly, the Organization of American States as the main political forum, was driven as a consequence of this process. As the Secretary General César Gaviria expressed, "The Summit process is becoming the compass, which gives direction to the inter-American system."

After Quebec City 

In the Third Summit of the Americas held in Quebec City, the OAS was officially designated as the Secretariat of the Summit of the Americas Process.  In this context, the OAS was given the responsibility of a much vaster regional agenda that includes, in addition to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs as the coordinators of this effort, all sectors of the governments of the Americas.  There are today many more demands and a wide network of activities and ministerial and sectoral meetings that cover the most diverse areas of our governments.  This is the most important added value that the Summit of the Americas Process has brought to the OAS and to our countries.  Presently, diverse topics and multiple actors form a fundamental part of the agenda of the inter-American system, which includes topics such as: democracy and human rights; education; justice; labor; local governments and decentralization; telecommunications; agriculture; gender equality; science and technology; culture; sustainable development; health; tourism; trade; the fight against terrorism, corruption and drugs; defense; energy; finance; and transport.  A large part of the follow up of these Summit initiatives is done through the responsible ministries of each issue in the country.  Such meetings originate in or have conformed to the Summit of the Americas process in the last few years.   

In addition, civil society, inter-American institutions and the World Bank, sub-regional banks and cooperation agencies have been incorporated into this process.  The Summit process has given impulse to a process of coordination amongst these institutions around the same agenda and is looking to involve other sectors of society more, such as the private sector, the academic sector and the media as part of the governmental, multilateral and civil society efforts in the Americas. 

In conclusion, today we find a change in perception that translates into the recognition that the principal purpose of this process should be the individual.  The protection of civil rights, freedom of expression, immigrants, natural disasters, children affected by war, anti-personnel mines, the threats of terrorism and drugs and epidemics are now all integral aspects of the dialogue.   

Today, the Summit process offers concrete results in the areas of drugs, where a Common Agenda has been established as well as a Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM); in the fight against corruption, where an Inter-American Convention has been subscribed to and an implementation mechanism has been established; and in democracy, with the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  These are some examples in the execution of a common agenda that continues to move forward in the middle of the profound crisis affecting the region.  It has been successful during democratic crises: we have certain democratic standards and the means for its collective defense.  Although we do not have perfect mechanisms, we can say that there has been considerable progress in comparison to the past. The Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations are underway and will culminate in 2005, while countries continue in their efforts to define the goal to establish a common and free trade regulations for the Americas.

The Summit process after September 11, 2001

However, as soon as the foreign policy and regional security discussion was opened to a crucial factor in the transformation of the world – globalization – and when the debate on the effects of globalization began to take shape, particularly in relation to the regions’ capacity to interact effectively when faced with this phenomenon, the terrorist acts in New York and Washington DC once again modified the regional and global stages.  In this changed environment, two new variables have taken hold in the region: the need to coordinate and instrument a collective fight against terrorism and transnational crime and, on the other hand, the need to confront the social issues that are at the root of the largest problems for the Hemisphere.   

On the first aspect, all steps have been taken to assure this cooperation and there continues to be work in the subscription to or ratification of international and inter-American judicial instruments that guarantee its effectiveness.[3] 

Regarding social issues, the largest problem in this agenda that we still face is that of financial resources needed to fulfill many of the mandates of the agenda that the Quebec City Plan of Action established.  Because of this, it is favorable that, in the UN International Conference on Financing for Development, held in Monterrey in March 2002, the leaders of the developed countries have shown their will to give new resources for developmental aid, supporting those countries that are progressing in the construction of institutions, transparency and responsible governance.   

The good news is that the region is prepared to assure that these new resources guarantee democratic governance and the efforts to construct institutions that ensure to citizens effective and transparent public services; the combat against corruption, terrorism, drugs and transnational crime; continued efforts in establishing the Free Trade Area of the Americas; a justice system that guarantees the rule of law, independence and access to justice; and better protection of scholarship, public health and safe water.   

So that this cooperation is effective, today the equation that many governments propose is to link new developmental aid resources to the fulfillment of quantifiable and verifiable goals from the mandates of the Quebec City Plan Action, and to the positive improvement of the standard of living of the people. 

The Special Summit of the Americas

The Special Summit of the Americas was held in Monterrey, Mexico on January 12 and 13, 2004. The leaders of the region met to discuss matters of shared interest and to make progress in a common agenda for the Hemisphere. Since Quebec Summit, one third of the presidents had changed and the region was discouraged due to high levels of poverty, low economic growth and there was a high demand to strengthen the democratic governance of the region. The Heads of State and Government concentrated their discussion in three objectives: economic growth with equity to reduce poverty, social development, and democratic governance.

Fourth Summit of the Americas

Since the Special Summit of the Americas, Argentina began with the preparations for the Fourth Summit of the Americas which will be held in Mar del Plata during the first two weeks of November 2005. Argentina has suggested as a theme “Creating Employment to Confront Poverty and Strengthen Democratic Governance”, which was been well received by countries as well as by the other actors such as civil society, the private sector, the institutional partners of the Summit Joint Working Group, the academia, and the media. 

The ministerial meetings are already working on this theme so that the implementation of the mandates of the next Summit could be adapted into the plan of action in each specific issue.

We are certain that the Summit process will continue to advance the agenda of the Americas.  Because of this, the Office for the Summit Process is responding to the mandates entrusted to it, is committed to this effort and will continue supporting the countries and different bodies in completing this agenda.

We hope that the information that you find in these pages will be useful in understanding and appreciating the large amount of work and success that the leaders of the Hemisphere have had in dealing with very difficult problems by means of a large cooperative efforts. These common values and compromises reflect the spirit of the Summits of the Americas.


[1] Bustamente Code, adopted at the Sixth International Conference of the American States, in 1928.

[2] President Kennedys’ initiative to promote development in the Americas and avoid instability and social explosions, such as those of Bolivia (1952) or Cuba (1959). 

[3] Inter-American Convention against Terrorism, held in the General Assembly of the OAS in Barbados, June 2002.