With the CELAC Presidency
By Sara Barderas
HAVANA TIMES — Cuban President Raul Castro strolled smiling in Santiago de Chile as the Chilean capital became the scene for the island’s return to international politics, reported DPA news.
After spending the weekend shaking hands with fellow presidents, including the powerful German Chancellor Angela Merkel,
After the island was almost totally isolated for decades starting in the 1960s, Cuba now leads the main continental bloc that excludes the presence of the US.
“CELAC doesn’t seek to replace the Organization of American States,” said Chilean President Sebastian Piñera.
But the truth is that many see the new forum — born in December 2011 in the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez — as a counterpoint to the OAS, from which Cuba was excluded in 1962.
All OAS countries except the US and Canada belong to CELAC. The OAS suspension of Cuba was lifted in 2009, nevertheless the island has refused to participate.
Havana considers the body a “political platform” for the “economic annexation” of Latin America by the United States.
Nor is Cuba present at the Summit of the Americas, the OAS-sponsored meeting of heads of state and government. It has been excluded from that body ever since its creation in 1994.
Moreover, US President Barack Obama has made clear that Washington will strongly oppose the island’s presence until it makes the “democratic” changes that America’s executive branch deem necessary.
All of this has drawn protests from some of Cuba’s allies in recent years.
In the last Summit of the Americas, in Cartagena, Colombia in 2012, the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) assured that they would not participate in any more of these meetings if Cuba was not included.
Although Cuba had been almost completely isolated for half a century, Fidel and Raul Castro have been picking up regional allies over the last decade as several Latin American governments have shifted to the left: Venezuela’s Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega…
Piñera himself, this weekend’s host of the first CELAC-EU meeting — which was also the first meeting between Europeans and Latin Americans, and in which Castro participated — had already demonstrated his support for Havana’s participation at the Cartagena Summit (and Piñera isn’t exactly one of the regional leaders who shares Castro’s ideological creed).
Now, in Santiago de Chile and for the first time, Cuba has ceased being the absent protagonist and is now protagonist in attendance. At 81, Castro arouses more interest that many of the region’s leaders, especially given the absence of Chavez, who’s in Havana recovering from his latest cancer operation.
Castro’s presence in Santiago de Chile has left some images such as his handshake with German Chancellor Merkel, the leader of one of the EU governments most aggressively opposed to Cuba.
Though some media have preferred to highlight photos in which Merkel seemed to refuse to greet Castro shortly before the start of the summit, the truth is that the two addressed each other and exchanged a few words.
Likewise, these agencies play down the CELAC-EU group photo in which protocol placed him alongside the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, whose bloc recently initiated steps to achieve a negotiated cooperation agreement with Cuba.
These measures are in line with the principle of normalization of relations between the EU and the island, according to analysts, versus the “Common Position” that was imposed by the Spanish conservative Jose Maria Aznar and that has remained in force for 17 years.
“What the countries of the region are saying when they take positions for the inclusion of Cuba is that its participation in the community of nations is probably the best way to ensure that the inevitable transition in Cuba is much more peaceful,” stated Wilson Center expert Paulo Sotero, concluded DPA.