Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Financial Crisis, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

AMERICAS: An OAS with Cuba – Or None at All, Says ALBA

Humberto Márquez

CARACAS, Apr 17 2009 (IPS) - Cuba, the only country excluded from the Fifth Summit of the Americas that opened in Port of Spain on Friday, received strong backing for its demand for unconditional talks with the United States from eight governments of the region who met in the northeastern Venezuelan city of Cumaná.

The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a bloc made up of Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela, together with invited representatives from Ecuador, Paraguay and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, agreed Thursday to champion Cuba's cause at the Trinidad and Tobago summit.

The nearly five-decade U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, its long-term isolation from the regional community of nations, and Washington's demands that it take steps towards openness and democracy, were criticised at the Cumaná meeting.

"The so-called Summit of the Americas is no such thing, because Cuba and Puerto Rico are absent," said Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

The host of the ALBA meeting, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, stated that he would veto the summit declaration because it is "indefensible gibberish," and said he hoped this fifth summit "will be the last of its kind."

Chávez also said a new organisation of Latin American and Caribbean nations should be created to replace the Organisation of American States (OAS), a desire shared by Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Raúl Castro of Cuba.

Summits of the 34 OAS member states, including every country in the Americas except Cuba, have been held since 1994 to foster a new agenda between the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. But their main project, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), collapsed at the fourth summit, held in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 2005.

The new U.S. President, Barack Obama, wrote in an op-ed in the Miami Herald on Thursday: "This Summit offers the opportunity of a new beginning. Advancing prosperity, security and liberty for the people of the Americas depends upon 21st century partnerships, freed from the posturing of the past.

"The Summit gives every democratically-elected leader in the Americas the opportunity to reaffirm our shared values," Obama wrote, "and just as the United States seeks that goal in reaching out to the Cuban people, we expect all of our friends in the hemisphere to join together in supporting liberty, equality, and human rights for all Cubans."

Chávez read out a news dispatch datelined Port-au-Prince, reporting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as saying that her country would be prepared to take "additional steps" – like lifting the embargo against Cuba – if Cuba were to "open up its society" to democracy and "release political prisoners."

Morales recounted his experience of observing the elections in Cuba, and astonished the audience by proclaiming himself a communist and defying the OAS to expel Bolivia on those grounds.

"Cuba was excluded from the OAS because it was regarded as incompatible for a Marxist-Leninist government to belong. Well then, I declare myself Marxist, Leninist, communist and socialist. Let's see if they will expel Bolivia," Morales quipped.

For his part, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo said Cuba not only deserved to be reinstated in the OAS system, but should also be compensated for the damage it has suffered.

Paraguay has some interest in organising the next Summit of the Americas, but with a critical approach and a different format, Lugo said.

Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said that no excuse or apology was needed for Cuba to be included in the OAS system. "Leaving Cuba out is certainly an injustice, not only for Cuba but for those of us who are members," he said.

Ralph Goncalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said the embargo against Cuba, the last vestige of the Cold War, should end, and added that he would work at Port of Spain for the United States to invite Cuba for talks "without any preconditions or prerequisites."

Goncalves also announced that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was joining ALBA as its seventh member. Ecuador and Haiti are observer countries at the bloc.

Foreign Minister Fander Falconi of Ecuador said that the Summit of the Americas draft declaration "is lukewarm, insipid, and takes into account neither the global crisis nor the region's rejection of the blockade against Cuba."

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said the problem was not the United States, but Latin America and the Caribbean for accepting imposed policies and letting policy-making spaces be taken over.

In rendering thanks for the support received, President Castro emphasised that "the entire planet is opposed to the blockade, with the exception of the United States, Israel, which is its main ally, and a handful of countries that have abstained" in 17 consecutive annual votes at the United Nations General Assembly.

He spoke about the involvement and complicity in political actions against Latin American countries that his government attributes to the OAS, and quoted Cuban liberation hero José Martí (1853-1895), saying "the North and South seas will join and a serpent will be born from an eagle's egg" before Cuba will return to the OAS.

With the United States, on the other hand, "we are willing to discuss everything, democracy, freedom of the press, human rights or political prisoners, but without casting the smallest shadow on our sovereignty and right to self-determination," Castro said.

At the meeting, the members of ALBA and Ecuador signed a framework agreement to create a regional currency for the group, with the acronym SUCRE, in honour of Antonio José de Sucre (1795-1830), the South American independence hero who was born in Cumaná.

The sucre should operate as an accounting unit from 2010, as "the embryo of a common physical currency in future, if we want to free ourselves from the dictatorship of the dollar," Chávez said.

Meanwhile, Morales proposed the creation of an ALBA Council for Human Rights, with representatives designated by each country, to examine "the global economic policies that violate human rights and international policies that violate the right to self-determination and sovereignty of our peoples."

It should also "investigate and denounce media terrorism against our peoples' governments of liberation," according to the Bolivian president.

The speeches at Cumaná were also heavily critical of the measures adopted by the Group of 20 industrialised and emerging countries on Apr. 2, "because they do not solve the inequality or help to overcome the underdevelopment to which we are condemned," according to Castro.

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