Obama heads to summit touting 'broader partnership'
Summit of the Americas gathers the 34 democratically governed countries of the Western Hemisphere. But communist Cuba threatens to steal some of the spotlight.
With some economists warning of the potential for another "lost decade" in Latin America, President Obama arrives at a summit of hemispheric leaders Friday calling for reinforced partnerships to counter the backsliding.Skip to next paragraph
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The summit gathers the 34 democratically governed countries of the Western Hemisphere. Only communist Cuba is left out – an exclusion dating from the first such summit in 1994, but one that is not sitting well with a number of Latin leaders, including Venezuela's provocative Hugo Chávez. President Chávez is threatening to upend the summit by refusing to sign its declaration, which does not address the US embargo of Cuba.
Obama is hoping to keep the proceedings, which end Sunday, on less emotional topics. His message will be one of revitalized ties and redoubled efforts for shared interests, White House officials say. The president set the tone in an editorial, published in 12 newspapers across the region this week, in which he vowed to "renew and sustain a broader partnership between the US and the hemisphere on behalf of our common prosperity and our common security."
But Cuba threatens to steal some of the spotlight – not only because of the last-minute wrench Chávez has thrown into the works, but also because Havana has sent overtures to Washington in response to Obama's action Tuesday that eases some restrictions on the communist island.
This US action – which scuttles limits on Cuban-Americans' travel to the island and adjusts other measures, while leaving the US embargo of Cuba in place – fulfills an Obama campaign pledge. But the timing is also seen as a gesture to regional leaders indicating a new era of US relations.
Questioned in Mexico City Thursday about any further easing in relations with Cuba, Obama said it would depend on "signals" from Cuba's leader that he and others are prepared to respond with their own easing of human rights and other limits on Cuban citizens. In a surprise response that some analysts suggest was timed to turn up the heat for a summit-bound Obama, Cuban leader Raúl Castro announced from a meeting in Venezuela, "We are willing to discuss everything – human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners, everything."
Still, Obama is counting on a broad interest in the region's economic challenges to keep the summit on track, White House officials say.