Conflict over Cuba spoils Americas’ Summit preparations

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A conflict brewing over the exclusion of Cuba has thrown a wrench into the preparations for the 6th Summit of the Americas, to be held April 9-15 in Cartagena, Colombia.

In an initiative coming from an unexpected actor, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa proposed at a summit of the 11-member ALBA bloc in Caracas last weekend to boycott the Americas’ Summit if Cuba is not allowed to participate. Venezuela’s Hugo Ch√°vez and other ALBA heads of state immediately supported Correa’s initiative.

“If Cuba goes, we go,” Ch√°vez said about Venezuela’s participation. “If it doesn’t go, we won’t go.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of State reiterated Cuba’s presence in Cartagena was unacceptable for the Obama Administration.

“Today’s Cuba has in no way reached the threshold of participation,” said William Ostick, according to Spanish news agency efe. “There must be significant improvements in political liberties and democracy in Cuba before it can join the summit.”

In 2009, the general assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), the institution that carries the Summit of the Americas, voted to lift the 47-year old suspension of¬†Cuba from the U.S.-led organization. However, the Obama Administration and ALBA member countries differ in the interpretation of the measure. While the Ecuadorean foreign minister at the time said the move was unconditional, U.S. officials insist Cuba’s participation depends on its ratification, among others, of the Inter-American Democratic Charter of 2001.¬†

At the time, Cuba did not react to the opening. However, this time, the Cuban government announced it was interested in participating in the Summit.

“Answering a question from the Colombian government, we have declared that in case of being invited, Cuba will attend from their positions of truthfulness and its traditional foreign policy principles, and would do it with respect,” Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said.

OAS and the Summit, however, have recently taken backstage to a Latin Americans-only initiative. The island has become a leading actor in the creation of CELAC, a hemispheric bloc that excludes the United States and Canada. Cuba is scheduled to host the 2013 CELAC summit.

As for the Summit of the Americas, Colombia had expected to welcome 34 heads of state, including President Barack Obama, in an event that signals the country’s re-emergence from decades of internal conflict and violence. Colombia also invited the hemisphere’s 300 wealthiest individuals to the summit.

Colombian Foreign Minister¬†Mar√≠a √Āngela Holgu√≠n said that Cuba’s participation did not depend on Colombia, but she visited Cuba Feb. 8 to explain Colombia’s perspective. Holgu√≠n also offered to bring up the ALBA request at a preparatory meeting of Summit member nations in Cartagena next week.

Ra√ļl Castro said he was pleased about the ALBA boycott threat.

“We have never asked for such a measure, but this won’t stop us from supporting it, because we consider it very just,” the Cuban president told his ALBA peers at the Caracas meeting. “I want to thank all of you.”

The ALBA foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Cuba in April, ahead of the Americas’ Summit.

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