Americas Summit: Will there be consensus on Cuba?

Cuba, as always, was not invited to the Summit of the Americas in Colombia this weekend. But its participation at future meetings could become a major issue.

A version of this post ran on the author's blog, cuba.foreignpolicyblogs.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

This weekend’s Summit of the Americas may not include representation from Cuba, but Cuba is by no means absent from the summit.

Leading up to the meeting, general policy toward the island appeared to be the most significant issue dividing the Hemisphere: Latin American nations saw Cuba’s continued exclusion from the summit as counterproductive, while the United States insisted that as long as Cuba continued to fail to meet the democratic requirements of the Organization of American States, its leaders could not be involved in any of the organization’s events (including the Summit of the Americas). With diplomatic aplomb, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos solved the issue by proposing to make Cuba’s future participation a topic for discussion at the Summit.

So Raúl Castro is not in Cartagena, but the nations of the Hemisphere are discussing whether he could be invited in the future. And the leaders of the countries of ALBA that were threatening not to show up to the summit actually agreed to attend following this resolution (all except Rafael Correa of Ecuador). The way is paved for the United States to maintain its opposition respectfully, while stepping aside to allow future policy to be determined by the apparent consensus of most all other countries in the Hemisphere.

Is that what will happen? Not yet, certainly. The meeting of foreign ministers that considered a proposal to invite Cuba to future summits ended after the United States and Canada delivered their veto.

But the conversation did not end there, and it appears to be coming to a head, as ALBA countries have drawn the line on excluding Cuba. Bolivia’s Foreign Minister, David Choquehuanca, has stated: “This is the last Summit of the Americas unless Cuba is allowed to take part.” The foreign ministers of Venezuela, Argentina, and Uruguay have all declined to sign the summit’s final declaration unless the United States and Canada remove their veto of future Cuban participation. And the most moderate, conservative Latin American nations are taking a stand as well. President Santos of Colombia and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil have both agreed that there should be no more Americas summits without Cuba included. President Santos opened the summit with a critique of Cuba’s absence, saying that the exclusion was an anachronism of the cold war. He is a well-respected leader, and a strong ally, of course, of the United States.

Will the United States and Canada test the resolve of all of these leaders and maintain their veto? Or will they take advantage of this opportunity to step aside and accede to the majority consensus in a Hemisphere demanding exactly this kind of signal from its northern partners?

As President Obama noted, media tend to sweep over the progress made at these kinds of summits in favor of focusing on the “flashier” controversies. He’s right: there are a wide range of issues upon which the nations of the Hemisphere are finding means to cooperate during these meetings, under the theme of “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity” — from expanding access to information and communication technology for development to bolstering middle class populations. It would certainly be a shame to overshadow all of that by remaining stubborn on the Cuba issue.

--- Melissa Lockhart Fortner is Senior Programs Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy and Cuba blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. You can read her blog here: http://cuba.foreignpolicyblogs.com/

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