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The Quiet Progress of Americas Summit II

This weekend, the Western Hemisphere's 34 democratically elected presidents and prime ministers will meet in Santiago, Chile, for the Second Summit of the Americas.

This meeting will be less ambitious, but potentially more important than the first summit, held in Miami in December 1994.

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As the first meeting of the hemisphere's leaders in nearly 30 years, the Miami summit was a special event. It confirmed that hemispheric relations had come to be characterized more by cooperation than by conflict. The US and the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean were good neighbors again. More than anything, the Miami summit was a grand celebration of convergence - of an emerging community of shared interests and values. Democratic politics and market economics had spread to virtually every country of the hemisphere. The fact of growing regional cooperation was underscored by the 150 action items to which the presidents agreed in their final declaration.

The Santiago summit is the second in less than four years. The celebration has already taken place. Now is the time to get down to business - to make cooperation work in the hemisphere. Success in Santiago should be measured by the progress made on four issues:

* In Miami, the governments agreed to establish a hemisphere-wide free-trade area by 2005. Negotiations toward that goal will be formally launched in Santiago. To be sure, enthusiasm for negotiations has been dampened by President Clinton's failure to secure fast-track negotiating authority from Congress, which - in effect - means the US still isn't fully committed to the process. But major advances can be made in the trade talks and they should begin. Mechanisms to support and sustain the negotiations are in place and functioning. US fast-track legislation will be essential to conclude an agreement, but it is not required now.

* The governments will determine when and where to hold the next summit. Ideally, they would also decide that the hemisphere's heads of state should meet periodically, with the summits turned into a permanent feature of inter-American relations and transformed into the primary forum of hemispheric cooperation. The Organization of American States, along with other inter-American institutions, would need to be adapted to serve this enhanced summit process.

* Agreement will be reached on new multilateral arrangements to evaluate the anti-narcotics performance of every country in the hemisphere - including the US. This arrangement will not immediately replace the unilateral US certification process that has produced so much antagonism in Latin America, but it should begin a shift in emphasis toward regional approaches.

* The assembled leaders will agree on an agenda of initiatives for such critical issues as education, poverty, and judicial reform that must be addressed mainly by the governments and citizens of each country. There is room for skepticism about the value of dealing with these at an international meeting. What can be hoped for, however, is the development of regional norms and standards against which to measure performance - and which may create some pressures on national governments to act. To make this work, the governments will have to get beyond rhetorical commitment and set in place means to monitor and report results.

The Santiago summit's main accomplishment will be to accelerate progress toward hemispheric free trade and economic integration, the necessary cornerstones for effective US-Latin American cooperation.

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Of course, the summit is also significant just because it is taking place. The hemisphere's nearly three dozen elected presidents and prime ministers have decided that it is important jointly to take stock of achievements in the three years since Miami and lay the groundwork for several new regional initiatives. There will be no great surprises or major breakthroughs, and some particularly difficult problems, like the question of Cuba and the deteriorating situation of Colombia, will not be on the agenda. But the summit will demonstrate again that the countries of the Americas face some shared challenges and they are learning to work together to address them.

* Peter Hakim is president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C.

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