Summit of the Americas : ‘Expelled’ Cuba Steals the Show

The Fifth Summit of the Americas, held on April 17-19 at Trinidad and Tobago, was Obama’s first formal encounter with Latin America since he became US President. The Summit is convened by the Organisation of the Americas (OAS), comprising 34 Latin American and Caribbean nations of the region barring Cuba which was expelled in 1962. The Summit had turned into a platform for mass protest when it last met at Mar del Plata, Argentina in 2005. On that occasion, Bush’s proposal of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was defeated. It was widely perceived that the Fifth Summit would see Obama attempting to revive US hegemony over a region over which US military and financial interests had once enjoyed total domination. Instead, this time, the Summit saw a remarkable solidarity of Latin American countries – asserting their own history, rejecting the agenda set by the US and introducing their own.
Cuba – Rallying Point for Latin America
Cuba – excluded from the Summit itself and kept out of the Summit’s stated agenda – ended up becoming a major agenda. Prior to the Summit, Obama had responded to calls for ending the blockade on Cuba by relaxing travel and remittance restrictions to Cuba. At the Summit, most of the Latin American countries loudly demanded an end to the blockade. In a very powerful way, Cuba became the symbol of the self-respect and independence of the whole of Latin America. Venezuelan President Chavez expressed this by declaring that “Cuba is a point of honour for the peoples of Latin America. We cannot accept that the United States should continue trampling over the nations of our America.”
The Summit opened with Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner urging US President Obama to lift what she called the “anachronistic blockade against Cuba.” She said Cuba’s expulsion from the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1962 was “a paradox”, based as it was on the claim that the Cuba’s socialist system presumably violated the Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty (IRAT) – a treaty that obliged all member nations to assist any among them if facing an armed attack. She pointed out that when Argentina was attacked by Britain in the Falklands War in 1982, the same treaty was violated by the US which provided logistical support to Britain, not Argentina!
Nicaragua’s president Daniel Ortega pointed out the irony that the Summit coincided with the anniversary of the Cuban revolution (April 16-19), and said Cuba’s “only crime has been to fight for the peoples' sovereignty and independence; to give solidarity, unconditionally, to our peoples. That's why it is sanctioned, that's why it is punished; that's why it is excluded. That's why ...I am embarrassed to be attending this summit in the absence of Cuba.”
Even Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva demanded an end to the blockade on Cuba, and after the Summit, told Obama during a meeting that another Summit of the Americas without Cuba was unacceptable.
The Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) countries – Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela – met prior to the Summit and prepared a Document for the Summit rejecting the Summit’s own Declaration on the grounds that it “Unjustifiably excludes Cuba in a criminal manner, without mentioning the general consensus that exists in the region in favour of condemning the blockade.”
The US’ own position – that it was willing to change its posture but that Cuba must in turn respect democracy, ensure freedom of speech and press and release political prisoners – rang hollow and feeble. Even in the media, references to US double standards began finding a place. Cuba is not a democracy, says USA, because Castro is not elected. When Salvador Allende became Chile’s democratically elected Communist President in 1971, didn’t the then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declare that “we can’t allow a country to go communist just because its people are irresponsible”? Didn’t the US try back then to oust Allende’s Chile from the OAS, and didn’t it back the coup that ousted Allende and installed the dreaded dictator Pinochet? And hasn’t the US got a long history of sponsoring paramilitaries and dictators in the region – putting down every single democratic government and revolutionary struggle?
The US President to whom Obama is often compared – Franklin Delano Roosevelt – had said of Nicaragua’s dictator Somoza, “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” The same principle seems to be followed now towards, for instance, the repressive regime of Saudi Arabia – with which the US has a close relation, because though it does not allow its women to vote, it does help protect US oil interests.
As for the self-righteous remarks about Cuba’s political prisoners and human rights, they were a bit rich coming from the USA, which has recently released a CIA torture manual used against terror suspects. Guantanamo Bay was certainly the part of Cuba where human rights were worst violated!
Obama wants Cuba to release political prisoners: will the US release the ‘Cuban Five’ - imprisoned in the US since 1998 as alleged spies, whose only crime was to defend Cuban people’s rights to decide their own system and future? Obama, for all his talk of change, reiterated that the US goal was “freedom for the island nation.” The Cuban people consider themselves free – free from US domination and US-backed regimes like the Batista – but for the US, it seems, ‘freedom’ can only mean subordination to the US. It is clear that Cuba is being punished by the US for its ideological and political defiance; Bolivian President Evo Morales reflected this when he said, “Cuba was expelled for being Leninist, Marxist, communist. I want to say to the members of the OAS, here, I want to declare myself Marxist, Leninist, communist, socialist and now let them expel me!”
Above all, as Fidel reminded, the “cruel blockade” against the Cuban people that “costs lives and results in human suffering” is the greatest of violations of human rights. Cuba is being punished for stubbornly resisting the fate of so many other progressive, democratic and revolutionary forces and regimes in the region. In any case, prior to the Summit, President Raul Castro had expressed Cuba’s readiness to hold talks with the US about everything, explicitly including human rights, political prisoners and freedom of the press. There is no longer a shred of excuse left for the US blockade.
Lessons in History
Obama, responding to the speeches by Argentinian and Nicaraguan Presidents, said, “I didn't come here to debate the past – I came here to deal with the future. The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba”, and joked that he was glad that President Ortega did not hold him responsible for things that happened when he (Obama) was three years old.
But Ortega had not spoken only of the history of a past era – he reminded that as recently as 2002, “also in the month of April... a coup d’etat was dealt to murder an elected president in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez was seized; the order to murder him had been issued. When the puppet regime took over, the U.S. government through its spokesman recognized the putschers and offered them support. We are right to say that that is not history; such violent events against the institutions of a people, of a progressive, supportive and revolutionary nation took place hardly seven years ago.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke of the assassination attempt he faced just before the Summit, and said Obama should condemn it, otherwise, “I might think it was organized through the embassy.” Obama had promised ‘change,’ he said, but “One hundred days have gone by and we in Boliva have yet to feel any changes...The policy of conspiracy (by the US embassy against the government) continues.”
Some time back, Obama had called Chavez a “demagogue” who was “an obstacle to progress in the region.” Chavez responded with great restraint, saying, “My, what ignorance.” When he met Obama, he did so with a warm handshake, saying “I want to be your friend.” But at the same time, he went up to Obama and gave him a gift – a Spanish copy of the detailed and passionate history of Latin America by exiled Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. The title speaks for itself – Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of Pillage and Plunder. The book, appearing in Obama-Chavez photos all over the world, became a bestseller overnight. (As an aside, we can comment: what a contrast with the Indian Prime Minister, who went to Britain and waxed eloquent about the British Raj being an act of “good governance.”
Galeano, in an interview soon after Obama’s election victory, had said, “"The White House will be Barack Obama's house in the time coming, but this White House was built by black slaves. And I'd like, I hope, that he never, never forgets this.” Galeano calls himself “a writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America above all and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia.” His book couldn’t be a better antidote to Obama’s and US’ wilful amnesia about Latin America.
Capitalism in the Dock
Also remarkable at the Summit was that country after country indicted capitalism and US-imposed economic policies squarely for the economic crisis and climate change emergency.
Another ground for the ALBA’s rejection of the Summit Declaration, Cuba apart, was that “It offers no answers to the issue of the Global Economic Crisis.” The ALBA’s own proposal stated that “Capitalism is putting an end to humanity and the planet. What we are living through is a global economic crisis of a systemic and structural character and not just one more cyclical crisis... Capitalism has provoked an ecological crisis by subordinating the necessary conditions for life on this planet to the dominance of the market and profit.”

US Boycotts Racism Conference

The US, joined by Australia, Canada, Israel and Italy, has boycotted the Durban Review Conference against racism held on April 20-24. The reason: that the review document has not negate the portions of the document adopted in 2001, which affirm “the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State,” while saying that “the Holocaust must never be forgotten.” That declaration was adopted in 2001 in spite of fierce opposition from US, Israel and their allies, because of the firm stand taken by African and Arab states.
One again, the boycott has exposed the double standards of US and its allies on the question of racism and occupation. If the Summit of the Americas ended up highlighting Cuba, Palestine’s plight has been highlighted by the boycott at Durban. Obama talks of ‘freedom’ for Cuba – but is silent on the question of Palestine, continuing to back Israel in its racist aggression and occupation.

The ALBA declaration asserted the alternative road that the member countries had taken: a road turning sharply left from the US-proposed road of neoliberal policies and subordination to the imperialist big brother: “As a concrete expression of the new reality on the continent, Latin American and Caribbean countries have begun to construct their own institutions, whose roots lie in the common history that goes back to our independence revolution, and which constitutes a concrete instrument for deepening the processes of social, economic and cultural transformation that will consolidate our sovereignty...
We question the G20’s decision to triple the amount of resources going to the International Monetary Fund, when what is really necessary is the establishment of a new world economic order that includes the total transformation of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO [World Trade Organisation], who with their neoliberal condition have contributed to this global economic crisis.”
Not only the ALBA countries; many others too echoed similar sentiments. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa also said that the draft declaration “does not reflect the economic crisis we are experiencing, which is not a temporary crisis but a crisis of the capitalist system, and that the document suggests solutions by legitimizing those responsible for the crisis, for instance, the International Monetary Fund.” The Argentinean President too held the neo-liberal model, not the region’s people, to blame for the acute poverty and social exclusion in the region.
Eventually, the Summit Declaration could not be signed at all – except symbolically by the Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning, as host of the summit, while explaining that “the document does not reflect the current hemispheric scenario.”

- KK