By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, April 10 – As expectations build for the upcoming Americas Summit (April 17-19) in Trinidad and Tobago, it appears that the only country not invited may have the greatest presence.
Jeffrey Davidow, the U.S. official in charge of preparations for Obama’s first meeting with Latin American and Caribbean leaders, says it would be unfortunate to get “distracted by the Cuban issue.”
The Obama administration wants the summit to concentrate on the economic crisis and energy, says Davidow. However, a number of increasingly outspoken leaders have their own agenda for improved relations with the US. For many, that starts with a change in Washington’s time-worn Cuba policy.
Bolivian President Evo Morales made it clear on Wednesday that the Cuba issue would undoubtedly be brought before the Summit. Morales said he would present a resolution to the leaders of the hemisphere urging Washington to end its half-century economic blockade against the island.
Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has also repeatedly stated that Cuba will be on the agenda whether the new US administration wants it to be or not.
Chavez believes that Cuba should no longer be excluded from any such meetings. In the early 1960s, at the insistence of the United States, most countries in the Americas broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba and the island was barred from participating in regional gatherings like the Organization of American States and the Rio Group.
That situation has drastically changed in recent years: today, virtually the entire hemisphere has diplomatic relations with Havana with the exception of only El Salvador and the United States. Soon, the United States will be completely alone in this regard, as El Salvador’s president-elect Mauricio Funes has promised to establish formal ties once in office this summer.
Cuba is once again a member of the Rio Group, as well as being a member of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) and a close partner with the Caribbean Common Market CARICOM.
On the world scene it currently chairs the 118-member Non Aligned Movement (NAM) and is one of the most active United Nations members in working to reach the UN Millennium Goals and helping other under-developed nations in their efforts.
A group of seven US representatives headed by Barbara Lee (D-CA) just returned from a five-day investigative trip to Havana. They returned with the message that “Its time to talk to Cuba.” President Raul Castro, who met with the group, said he was open to such a dialogue “with everything on the table”, if based on mutual respect.
After a meeting between some of the representatives and former president Fidel Castro, Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) told NPR that Castro “looked directly into our eyes” and asked, “How can we help President Obama?”
The US press continues to speculate on whether President Obama will lift travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans before the Summit. Bills in the US House of Representatives and Senate go further, proposing an end to the travel ban for the rest of US citizens as well.
The rest of the regions’ leaders go much further, demanding a total lifting of the blockade, a compendium of sanctions that has clearly stymied Cuba’s economic development but has not brought it to its knees as its proponents once hoped.