Monday, April 16, 2012

Cuba split leaves summit without declaration

CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP) — A summit of nearly 30 Western Hemisphere leaders has ended without a joint declaration due to divisions over Cuba and Argentine claims to the Falkland Islands.

“There is no declaration because there is no consensus,” said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as the summit’s closing news conference.

Washington, backed by Canada, stood fast against widespread demands to include in the meeting’s final declaration language specifying that Cuba be included in future hemispheric summits.

They had also balked at backing Argentina’s claims to the British-held Falkland Islands.

“All the countries here in Latin American and the Caribbean want Cuba to be present. But the United States won’t accept,” President Evo Morales of Bolivia told reporters late Saturday. “It’s like a dictatorship.”

Morales and other leftist leaders have been insistent that this weekend’s meeting in this Caribbean colonial port, which wrapped up at midday yesterday, will be the last regional summit under Organisation of American States auspices unless Cuba is invited in the future.

But Santos said the leaders agreed to meet again in 2015 in Panama.

“Hopefully within three years we can have Cuba” at the summit, Santos said.

US President Barack Obama’s peers lectured him Saturday over his unflagging opposition to Cuban participation due to US objections to the communist-governed Caribbean island’s lack of democracy.

But a senior US administration official said in a briefing for White House reporters Saturday evening that the subject did not come up in any of Obama’s brief meetings on the summit’s sidelines with the leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina and Peru.

The foreign ministers of Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay had said their presidents won’t sign any declaration unless the US and Canada remove their veto of future Cuban participation.

The Cuba issue led Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to boycott the summit, and Nicaragua’s leftist President Daniel Ortega also sat out the meeting, though he offered no explanation. Venezuela’s cancerstricken president Hugo Chavez also was absent. He flew Saturday not from Venezuela to Cuba, where he has been undergoing radiation therapy.

Even moderates such as Santos of Colombia and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff said there should be no more America’s summits without the communist island.

The Obama administration has greatly eased family travel and remittances to Cuba, but has not dropped the half-century US embargo against the island.

US commercial and political influence in the region has been in decline as China gains on the US as a top trading partner, and many analysts say these regional summits tend to be unwieldy and only make sense if they are a departure for serious follow-up on substantive issues.

“The label ‘Americas’ doesn’t seem to mean that much anymore unless you’re a cartographer,” said analyst Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America.

A splintering of old alliances due to region and ideology has cost the OAS clout and, many analysts say, relevance.

The main alternative summits, such as the Latin America-Caribbean group and the IberoAmerican session, exclude both The United States and Canada.

The first Summit of the Americas was convened in Miami in 1994 by then-US President Bill Clinton. In subsequent summits, US attempts to create a hemispheric free-trade zone collapsed. South America’s rising left further eroded US influence.

At this weekend’s summit, Obama was criticised by some leaders for refusing to abandon a drug war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and undermined governments, although he didn’t shy from listening to arguments on the other side.

“I don’t mind a debate around issues like decriminalisation,” he said in a presummit interview with Univision television. “I personally don’t agree that that’s a solution to the problem.”

“But I think that given the pressures that a lot of governments face here — under-resourced, overwhelmed by violence — it’s completely understandable that they would look for new approaches,” Obama added.

Santos urged a reconsideration of the war on narcotics, citing the irony of Colombia’s successes: While it extradites hundreds of alleged drug traffickers for trial to the US, criminals turn to other countries where law enforcement is weaker. Central America and Mexico, in particular, are bleeding as traffickers shift to countries of lesser resistance.

“We know that our success has (negatively) affected other countries and we are pedaling and pedaling and pedaling like we’re on a stationary bike,” said Santos. “The moment has come to analyse if what we’re doing is best or if we can find a more effective and cheaper alternative for society.”

For some, the summit was overshadowed by an embarrassing scandal involving prostitutes and US Secret Service agents that widened when the US military said five service members staying at the same hotel might have also been involved in misconduct.

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