During his final State of the Union Address delivered last night, President Bush announced that this April's North American Leaders' Summit will be held in New Orleans:
Tonight the armies of compassion continue the march to a new day in the Gulf Coast. America honors the strength and resilience of the people of this region. We reaffirm our pledge to help them build stronger and better than before. And tonight I'm pleased to announce that in April we will host this year's North American Summit of Canada, Mexico, and the United States in the great city of New Orleans.
Started in 2005 as part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, the inaugural summit was held at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, with subsequent annual meetings taking place in the Mexican resort city of Cancun and the Canadian capital of Ottawa. The leaders of the three nations also met for a second time last year in August in Quebec. The president offered no details on exactly when or where the New Orleans summit would take place.
The news has been greeted with enthusiasm by political leaders, earning a standing ovation from Congress and the praise of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that it was a sign "New Orleans is open for business." Louisiana Recovery Authority Chairman Norman Francis noted that the gathering will give Louisiana a chance "to highlight both our progress and our remaining needs to the nation and world."
The summit is also likely to test New Orleans' police force. Last August's gathering in Quebec drew hundreds of labor, trade and environmental activists, with police using tear gas and pepper spray against some protesters who were throwing rocks and branches. The Security and Prosperity Partnership has been criticized as undemocratic and for promoting a corporate-driven agenda --- much like the Bush administration's Katrina recovery efforts.
New Orleans' appearance in the president's speech comes after he faced criticism over last year's address, which made no mention of the Gulf region's continuing struggle to recover from the 2005 hurricanes. In another nod to the region, jazz trumpeter and New Orleans native Irvin Mayfield Jr. sat in Laura Bush's guest box during the speech. The Times-Picayune reports that the 30-year-old artist and educator also played a concert at the White House prior to the speech with a bejeweled instrument dubbed the "Elysian Trumpet" in honor of Irvin Mayfield Sr., whose body was found on New Orleans' Elysian Fields Avenue after Katrina's floodwaters receded.
(White House photo by David Bohrer)