What should we expect from the speech to be delivered in Santiago? It is hoped that it will be more than the excellent rhetoric usually displayed.
Barely three months after assuming the presidency, Barack Obama came to Trinidad and Tobago in April 2009 to meet for the first time with peers at the Fifth Summit of the Americas. There was excitement and curiosity about what the brand-new U.S. president would say about the always difficult relationship between his country and the region. No one was disappointed: Obama filled the room, greeted Hugo Chavez with a handshake, joked with Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and delivered a moving speech, in which he asked that we "not stay mired in the trite old debates of the past,"* promised "to seek a new beginning with Cuba," said the countries of the hemisphere must see in Washington a "companion" and a "friend"* and requested that "a new chapter in dialogue"* be opened with the leaders present.
Everyone left happy. Now, after years of the "benign neglect" that the U.S. had given Latin America, a different leader was in the White House, with whom it was possible to resume friendly relations.
However, the truth is that, apart from a feeling of well-being similar to being clapped on the back by an old acquaintance who seems reliable, little has happened since then. Obama has made two trips to Mexico but never again returned to visit another country in Latin America, evidence that things were back to being like they always were.
Today, only memories remain of the summit in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the confirmation that, with Obama, speeches are always better than reality. Americans know that in last November’s elections, he turned away from them and completely toward the Republican opposition candidates. Muslims also understand that in 2009, they heard a heartfelt speech in Cairo, about a "new beginning" in relations between the U.S. and the Islamic world, which never resulted in anything concrete. And the Russians, who recognize that Obama promised to "reset" bilateral relations — with no significant advances having been made — also understand.
Despite all this, it is disturbing that the activity emphasized as being the most important of the Obama stay in Santiago next week is a speech in which he will map out the relationship between Latin America and the United States, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the launching of the Alliance for Progress by the John F. Kennedy administration.
Without doubt, it is an honor, a privilege and an important signal for Chile that the leader of the largest world power has chosen Santiago for speaking to the entire region. But, beyond that, the issue is rather whether we can believe Obama, who likely will acknowledge the heroes of our independence, some poets and other personalities to convince us that, as we assumed two years ago, he is capable of offering a "change we can believe in" (to employ the slogan he used in his presidential campaign).
Perhaps one should exercise the right to reply with another slogan from another campaign, that of Jorge Alessandri in 1958: In Latin America, we need "deeds, not words."*
*Translator’s Note: Efforts to verify these quotations were not successful.