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Summit of the Americas with Al Jazeera Arabic

Quite unexpectedly, Al Jazeera Arabic hired me as a field producer for their coverage of the Summit of the Americas.

Just as I had decided to firmly ignore the upcoming Circus of the Americas, officially known as the 7th Summit of the Americas, which was to be held in Panama, I received an email asking me if I could please sign up asap for a platform called Storyhunter so that I could then be hired as a field producer for Al Jazeera Arabic (AJA), which was to cover the event.

With 2000 journalists attending, mostly from abroad, the media had apparently run out of local fixers – which was later illustrated when I ran into colleague photographer Tito Herrera in the press center, who had been snatched away from under AJA’s nose by AFP.

Flights and hotels were all arranged quickly, but it took me almost a week of endless emails and phone calls to get my press credentials as the term to apply had already expired.

To be honest, this was the first time I had to work as a member of the media at such a huge top conference. Usually, the kind of reporting I do is better served by not paying too much attention to what “authorities” are saying and instead focus on the stories of those affected by them and their policies.

Anyway, all went well. Reporter Mohammed Alami and cameraman/editor Eyad Aburahma arrived, they turned out to be great people, we shot some B-roll, we watched and listened to the presidents and leaders doing their thing, distilled reports from these things, went to a protest march and an event with Evo Morales at the parallel Summit of the Peoples, and then the event was over. Many journalists stayed a couple of days more to do stories about the Panama Canal (so did we).

These summits are usually entirely predictable, and this one was no exception. The emerging love story between Obama and Castro was to be expected. An angry Venezuelan president Maduro – slapped with a stupid decree from the US and left out of the US-Cuban overtures – you could pretty much see that coming. Other Latin American nations condemning US meddling and giving history lectures loosely based on The Open Veins… – no surprises there either. And thank god we did not cover the Entrepreneurs Forum; I saw a bit of it and it was boredom of a magnitude that wouldn’t even fit through the new and bigger Canal locks.

The Panamanian media, meanwhile, had its own angle on the Cumbre: For days they reported incessantly about the security measures surrounding the event, then about Obama’s limo breaking down on Calle 50 with steering problems, then about what it all meant for Panama to have the Cumbre in Panama, and so on. My favorite was the Thursday evening before day one, when Telemetro showed for about 20 minutes a live shot of Raul Castro’s plane, with a reporter talking breathlessly for the full 20 minutes about that plane, that it was here, that it came from Cuba, that Castro was on board and would at one point come out of the plane, that, as said, was here, at an airport, where it had just landed, after flying here from Cuba, for the first time ever that it had done so to participate in a Cumbre, with strict security measures surrounding this plane here as well, at the airport where it had just landed from Cuba with Castro who could emerge any minute now because there was movement in the plane – and so on.

What else? The most accessible president was no doubt Evo Morales. He would stroll from the Sheraton hotel to the Atlapa convention center, gave an impromptu press conference in the press center, showed up at an event at the University of Panama. Most difficult was the Nicaraguan delegation. I tried to get one of them for an interview about their Canal, but not even their own press people could get through to the Ortega clan. A Nicaraguan journalist I met was about ready to cut her wrists as she had absolutely nothing to report about in terms of the endeavors of the Nicaraguan leaders. Ortega, looking old and a bit confused, talked at length to his fellow leaders though – about the independence of Puerto Rico. Un pueblo, unido…

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