PANAMA CITY —Summits are strange animals. They’re a unique combination of hopeful rhetoric, meaningless rhetoric, historic handshakes, pushy press (I’m looking at you, nameless Honduran cameraman), shitty WiFi, bad coffee, and bizarrely funny moments that journalists always vow to include in stories but are ultimately unable to because the anecdotes are just too random or tangential to seamlessly weave into a story without making an editor frown in mild disapproval.
Luckily, I am an editor. So, in a slight abuse of my publishing privileges, here is the nonstory I always wanted to write from a summit — a tribute to all the stuff that doesn’t fit into a real news story.
1. Media mayhem
Summits can bring out the worst behavior in people. Journalists shove and step on one another, and security guards act like dicks. Check out this particularly lively exchange when a herd of journalists turned into a lynch mob and tried to beat up a security guard who allegedly used a stun gun on a Colombian journalist who got too pushy in front of Bolivian President Evo Morales.
2. Will the real dummy please step forward?
A crush of international journalists waiting to snap a picture of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as he entered the summit was confused when he sent out a double instead. To the confused clicks of cameras, the Maduro dummy walked past the journalists in silence, surrounded by a full security detail. During Maduro's speech at the summit, he said he is a fan U.S. culture because he likes Eric Clapton — and any dummy knows he's British.
3. Eagle head staff and a Samsung Galaxy
Panamanian indigenous leader Candido Mezua gets sent directly to voicemail.
4. No signal available
Mark Zukerberg and Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela gave a joint conference at the Latin American CEO summit, a business leader meet-up prior to the Summit of the Americas, to announce a new initiative to give free Internet access to everyone in Panama. I tried to tweet about it, but the WiFi wasn't working.
5. Cumbre de las Gangas
There are lots of alternative summits that run parallel to the main event, but none of them was as intriguing as the Do-It Center's Cumbre de las Gangas, or Summit of Bargains. The building-supply retail store even had Obama and Castro impersonators, who promised to work together on a new chapter in home improvements.
6. Confusing soap instructions
Panama has the most confusing soap instructions I've ever seen. "Step 3: Moisturize with the properties of glycerine and the soothing benefits of aloe for a gentle, beautiful clean. Always free of parabens, phthalates and harsh ingredients." I have no idea what that means, and I'm not clear on the benefits of having phathalete-free soap. Also, this was Step 3, but there were no steps 1 or 2. Consequently, I didn't shower for five days.
7. Mmm I'm lovin' it
My favorite summit story has to be the accreditation snafu that happened to my buddy Mike McDonald, a reporter for Bloomberg News in Guatemala. Mike spent a few hours of restless confusion with the media center, which couldn't find his press credentials registered under his name. Finally, they discovered his pass in a different pile. He was accredited as Mike Bloomberg, from McDonald's. Subsequently, as the CEO of McDonald's, Mike was given a "special invitee" badge rather than a press pass, and had all-access privileges at the CEO Summit