US scandal and Cuba dominate Americas summit

No final statement expected from Colombia meeting after Latin American nations pressure US to allow Cuban participation.

 Latin American nations say there may not be another summit unless the US overcomes its objections to Cuba [AFP]

Latin America’s opposition to the decades-old US isolation of communist Cuba has put more pressure on President Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas and threatened to sink a final declaration.

Seeking on Sunday to woo a region whose trade could help create US jobs, Obama has instead had a bruising time at the two-day hemispheric gathering in Colombia attended by more than 30 heads of state.

Brazil and others bashed Obama over monetary expansionism and he has been on the defensive over calls to legalize drugs.

The disagreements came as 16 US security personnel were caught in an embarrassing prostitution scandal at the summit in historic Cartagena.

Eleven agents from the Secret Service were sent home and five military servicemen grounded after trying to take at least one prostitute back to their hotel the day before Obama arrived.

A local policeman told the Reuters news agency the affair came to a head when hotel staff tried to register a prostitute at the front desk, but agents refused and waved their ID cards.

“Someone who’s charged with looking after the security of the most important president in the world cannot commit the mistake of getting mixed up with a prostitute,” said Cartagena tourist guide Rodolfo Galvis, 60.

“This has damaged the image of the Secret Service, not Colombia.”

The incident is a major blow to the prestige of the service and turned into an unexpected talking point at the meeting.

Cuba issue

For the first time, conservative US-allied nations like Colombia are throwing their weight behind the traditional demand of leftist governments that Cuba be in the next meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Diplomats said the dispute could block the final declaration planned for Sunday at the closing of the meeting, and originally intended as a hemispheric show of unity.

“The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, looking the other way, have been ineffective,” Juan Manuel Santos, the summit host and Colombian president, said of the Cuba issue.

A major US ally in the region who has relied on Washington for financial and military help to fight guerrillas

and drug traffickers, Santos has become vocal over Cuba despite his strong ideological differences with Havana.

Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from Cartagena, said: “There will not be a final statement, at least one signed by all the nations.

“All the nations, except the US, have insisted there will not be another summit if Cuba is not included.

“This was not the harmonious meeting many had hoped for. There will be no final declaration at the end.”

Cuba was kicked out of the OAS a few years after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, and has been excluded from its summits due to opposition from the US and Canada.

“All the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean support Cuba and Argentina, yet two countries refuse to discuss it,” Eva Morales, Bolivia’s president said, referring to widespread support for Argentina’s claims to sovereignty over the British-ruled Falklands islands.

Morales said: “How is it possible that Cuba is not present in the Summit of the Americas? What sort of integration are we talking about if we are excluding Cuba?”

‘Time warp’ 
Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, boycotted the meeting over Cuba, and fellow-leftist Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua also stayed at home.

The leftist ALBA bloc of nations, including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and some Caribbean nations, said they will not attend future summits without Cuba’s presence.

“It’s not a favor anyone would be doing to Cuba. It’s a right they’ve had taken away from them,” Ortega said from Managua.

“At this meeting in Cartagena, I think it’s time for the US government, all President Obama’s advisers, to listen to all the Latin American nations.”

Although there were widespread hopes for a rapprochement with Cuba under Obama when he took office, Washington has done little beyond ease some travel restrictions, saying democratic changes must come on the island before any further steps can be taken.

Obama has not spoken of Cuba in Colombia, though he did complain that Cold War-era issues, some dating from before his birth, were hindering perspectives on regional integration.

“Sometimes I feel as if in some of these discussions, or at least the press reports, we’re caught in a time warp, going back to the 1950s and gunboat diplomacy and Yankees and the Cold War,and this and that and the other,” the 50-year-old Obama said. “That’s not the world we live in today.”

Regional economic powerhouse Brazil has led criticism of US and other rich nations’ expansionist monetary policy that is sending a flood of funds into developing nations, forcing up local currencies and hurting competitiveness.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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