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Could this be the last OAS summit?
US under intense pressure in hemisphere over Cuba policy
By Stephen Wilkinson
Leaders from across the western hemisphere ended the Organisation of American States summit in Cartegena, Colombia, on Sunday 15 April, without a final declaration of agreement because several Latin American governments opposed US President Barack Obama’s insistence on preventing Cuba from attending future meetings.
Unprecedented Latin American opposition to the US policy on Cuba left Obama isolated and illustrated Washington’s declining influence in a region that is now being aggressively courted by China.
Unlike the honeymoon he enjoyed at the 2009 Summit of the Americas, which took place shortly after he took office, Obama had a bruising time at the two-day meeting in Colombia of some 30 heads of state.
Due to the hostile US and Canadian line on Cuba, the leaders failed to produce a final declaration.
“There was no declaration because there was no consensus,” said Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. For the first time, conservative-led US allies like Mexico and Colombia supported the demand of left-wing governments that Cuba be invited to the next Summit of the Americas.
Cuba was ejected from of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1962 and has been kept out due to the US. However, Latin American leaders are increasingly militant in opposing both Cuba’s exclusion and the 50-year-old US embargo.
Santos, a major US ally in the region who has relied on Washington for financial and military help to fight guerrillas and drug traffickers, has become vocal about Cuba’s inclusion even though he also advocates for democratic reform by Havana.
They met in plenary session to decide whether this would be the last hemispheric summit because several Latin American leaders made it abundantly clear they would not attend in the future if Cuba were kept out.
On Saturday, the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the host of the Summit and Washington’s closest ally in Latin America, said it would be “unacceptable” to keep Cuba out of the next gathering.
“The isolation, the indifference has shown its ineffectiveness. In today’s world, there is no justification for this anachronism,” Santos said on the opening day. The Colombian’s leader’s statement was echoed by remarks by Bolivia’s Evo Morales, who argued that all Latin American states backed Cuba’s participation in the summits.
However, the United States, with the support of Canada was never likely to yield, at least immediately.
Obama is campaigning for re-election in November and simply cannot afford right now to give ammunition to his domestic right-wing opponents who reject any concessions to Cuba. That may change if Obama wins a second term in the White House.
Havana’s exclusion this year prompted Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa to boycott the event and the alliance of left-leaning Latin American countries known as ALBA announced that its members would not take part in any future summits of the Americas if Cuba was not included.
In a statement ALBA also demanded an immediate end to Washington’s 50-year-old “inhuman economic, trade and financial embargo against Cuba” and urged regional countries “to continue to maintain its united solidarity in favour of Cuba’s admission to the summit.”