The US and Latin America Drift Apart Over Cuba
As before, Washington made sure that no invitation on the occasion was sent to Havana. US President Obama, Vice President J. Biden, and Secretary of State H. Clinton rolled out a standard grievances list - the suppression of free speech and public protests, the communist party's dictate, and the imprisonment of dissenters in Cuba - to justify shutting the country out of the summit, while a number of US congressmen threatened to boycott it in case Raul Castro shows up. Thus the US diplomacy made a thinly disguised attempt to intimidate the ALBA leaders who felt very strong about their Cuban peer joining them at the forum.
Last February, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez expressed resolute opposition to the policy of isolating Havana and, citing the SELAC summit which condemned the inhumane US blockade of Cuba, warned that the US position prompted outrage across Latin America. In fact, the US pressure led ALBA countries to consider shunning the forum in response. For example, Bolivian president Evo Morales said the US conduct was undemocratic, discriminatory, and even racist as Cuba drives progressive change in the region and just one country - the US - should not be allowed to impose its approaches on the whole Latin America.
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos faced an uphill task of preventing a diplomatic escalation, and at the highest point of the mission, on March 7 he paid a visit to Havana to apologize for so awkwardly conforming to the US demand. The move was widely seen as a sign of profound transformation in the international relations - in the past epoch, the countries politically trailing the U.S used to ignore Cuba and displayed no sense of embarrassment. Formally, Santos went to Havana, where Chavez is getting medical treatment at the moment, to pen a package of trade agreements with Venezuela, but it was an easy guess that the Venezuelan leader agreed to hold the signing ceremony in Cuba to facilitate an informal contact between Santos and Raul Castro. The meeting opened up an opportunity to break the stalemate: the Cuban leader made it clear that he understood Santos' concerns and a priori did not plan to attend the summit, but still remarked that the situation which the Colombian president described as lack of consensus was owed entirely to the US unilateralism.
In return, Santos promised to Raul Castro that accommodating Cuba in the future forums would be given a line on the agenda in Cartagena de Indias and thanked him for helping Colombia and the summit route around a serious problem. Cuban foreign minister Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez said in a reference to the «Latin American consensus» on debarring Cuba from the forums held by the countries of the US-dominated continent that Cuba's involvement in the upcoming summit «in a remote mode” would nevertheless be impossible to overlook. He also mentioned that April 14-15 are the dates when Cubans celebrate the anniversary of the collapse of the Playa Giron intervention organized by the CIA, the point being that Cuba neither was nor is a country to ever crack under pressure. There is confidence in Havana that not only the ALBA countries but also the UNASUR and SELAC members will throw their support behind it in Cartagena de Indias. In contrast, Washington can realistically expect to be backed exclusively by Canada, a disciplined minor partner of the US whose partaking in subversive operations against Cuba is an open secret.
Visiting the Cartagena de Indias forum, the US president will have to realize – by no means for the first time - that the majority of his Latin American colleagues are on Cuba's side. The positions of Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff will draw heightened attention, and it should be borne in mind in the context that the foreign ministers of the two countries Hector Timerman and Antonio Patriota voiced a shared the view at a March 14 media conference in San Paulo - the forum in Colombia must become the last one from which Cuba is absent, since the mismatch between the title of the gathering and its actual capacity is becoming impossible to explain away. There is ample evidence, on the other hand, that US diplomats are working closely with Washington’s regional allies - Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, and Chile - to draw them into Washington’s camp over Cuba and to coerce them into urging the country to hastily launch democratic and free-market reforms which Havana is instead implementing in line with its own carefully calculated schedule.
The US will be confronted at the summit with an array of pro-Cuban demands upheld by the ALBA, SELAC, and UNASUR countries and with calls to lift the blockade as required by U.N. resolutions. The theme will no doubt feature prominently at the social forum which will parallel the presidential part of the meeting. Activists from public, trade-union, student, and native-American groups from across Latin America will flock to Colombia to air their perspectives on global developments, the US-enforced globalization, the CIA conspiracies aimed at toppling the continent's populist regimes, and the deployment of US military bases in the region. Unsure that Morales would choose to visit the summit, Santos invited him to give a concluding talk at the social forum, and Morales accepted the invitation. The Bolivian leader stated during his recent tour of Austria that his country was in the process of building socialism and therefore could, like Cuba, face US efforts to isolate it. Morales maintained that the rise of Marxist regimes was a steady Latin American trend and said his country should opt out of the Organization of American States since Cuba's membership in it had been suspended as a punishment for socialism. Anti-imperialist countries are being falsely accused of terrorism, authoritarian rule, and drug trafficking, said Morales, adding that history is repeating itself.
Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa announced that he would skip the VI and all further summits if the US policy of isolating Cuba remains untamed. Correa criticized the Latin American forums for failing to bring into the spotlight the bulk of the continent's real problems such as the economic blockade of Cuba or the British occupation of the Falklands, charging that the exclusion of a Latin American country from Latin American summits makes no sense and that the outpourings of pro-democracy rhetoric in their framework appear completely unrelated to reality. Correa's strongly worded statement resonated as a warning issued in concert by the populist regimes against the policy of sidelining Cuba.
Unless extraordinary circumstances arise, Summits of the Americas take place every three years. The next one is due in 2015, and the current impression is that Washington is determined to go on keeping Cuba under pressure at any cost. The defiant Freedom Island, though, managed to survive half a century of US aggression, terrorism, and conspiracies. The Castro brothers who have long deserved a place in the Cuban history boast enviable health and energy and must be credited with the ability to plan long ahead and to increasingly outplay Cuba's geopolitical opponents, at times causing Washington to sink into downright hysteria. The future is always a mystery but both Castro brothers will always be remembered as the leaders who defeated the Empire, and Latin American politicians regardless of their views are switching to Havana's side in the US-Cuban conflict.