Cuba meets US at Summits of Americas

2015-04-10 13:21

The Seventh Summit of the Americas taking place in Panama on 10-11 April 2015 is made specially significant by the fact the US' Barack Obama and Cuba's Raul Castro will share the platform and meet face to face for only the second time after a chance encounter at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in December 2013.

The two leaders are going to share the platform of the Summit because Cuba will attend for the first time since the summits began in 1994, following the thawing of relations with the US, a major force behind the summits. It signals a new page in inter-American relations and multilateral diplomacy of the Americas.

This certainly vindicates the decision of both countries to unfreeze the relations that have been stalled since the 1950s following the Cuban revolution which brought into power a communist government that has stood up to US hegemony in the Americas. Of course, the Cuban government's nationalisation of businesses and assets of Cuban elite that went into exile in the US and whose descendants became integrated in the US society and political environment that today they are an influential lobby behind the US' hard stance and embargo against Cuba. Cuba joined the eastern bloc during the Cold War causing some in the US to transform the relations from one of adversity to enmity.

In the decades of frozen relations, Cuba has suffered greatly as the global hegemon sought to straggle the small island to submission. It has not been able to grow its economy and modernise infrastructure due to a vicious combination of sanctions, economic embargo and isolation at the hands of various US governments until Obama decided it was time to change the strategy that had failed to change things in Cuba in five decades.

The Summit has been used to develop inter-American consensus on major drivers of cooperation. For instance, the first Summit held in Miami, US in 1994 established the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism; the second in Santiago, Chile in 1998 set up a Drug Abuse Control Commission; in 2001, Quebec, Canada, the Summit adopted a Democratic Charter; the fourth Summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 2005 established a business Competitiveness Forum; and at the fifth summit in 2009, in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, and the Inter-American Social Protection Network were set up. These mechanisms represent a concrete agenda that the executive agency of decisions comprising several international organisations have to implement.

The Cuban questions has been a major elephant in the Summit rooms and normalisation of the Cuba-US relations through the release of political prisoners will contribute to de-escalating tensions in the region especially between the US and Latin America. These are tensions that led to the emergence of structures like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) asserting the independence of these regions from US hegemonic tendencies and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas that has taken on a aggressive stance against US imperial designs in South America and the Caribbean.

All will be watching what next steps will be taken by Obama and Castro to move further than re-establishing diplomatic relations to joint efforts aimed at revitalizing Cuba and the region at large. We will be watching the extent to which the US will change its posture towards a region it has always consider to be a sphere of influence, a collection of clientele states with a few rebellious exceptions. In the global south, many will be watching what happens that should give us all confidence that the US is willing to go all the way towards an end to the embargo.

The US stance on domestic affairs in Venezuela, typical of erstwhile imperialist tendencies, will not help heal divisions with South America and the Caribbean. It will not help re-assure the region that the US has changed its negative foreign policy objectives in the region. The US involvement in the destabilization of Haiti will also haunt the possibility for reapproachment.

We watch to see a different with fear that the more things change, the more they may remain the same.

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