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Americas summit should include Cuba, Latin leftists tell U.S.
Jeff Franks, Reuters
HAVANA (Reuters) - Officials from the left-leaning ALBA bloc of Latin American countries threw down the gauntlet to the United States on Wednesday by insisting Cuba participate in Aprilís Sixth Summit of the Americas in Colombia and asking the host country to invite the communist island.
ALBA, founded in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba, is a grouping of eight countries that has positioned itself as a counterpoint to U.S. influence in Latin America. ALBA also includes Ecuador, Nicaragua, Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, the Commonwealth of Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
In a meeting of ALBAís Political Council, the officials put off a decision on a threatened boycott of the summit if Cuba does not attend, saying they would see how the latest U.S.-Cuba dust-up plays out.
Cuba has said it would like to take part in the event, but Washington insists it cannot unless it institutes democratic reforms that permit it to rejoin the Organization of American States, which organized the summit along with host Colombia.
The communist island, tossed from the OAS in 1962 and invited back in 2009, has no intention of rejoining because the OAS "has served, for purposes of domination, occupation and aggression, as a platform for the United States to attack and plunder Latin America and the Caribbean," said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.
The United States and Cuba have been at each other's throats since the Caribbean island's 1959 revolution, with Washington demanding more democracy and broader human rights for Cuba and Cuba telling the superpower 90 miles away to mind its own business.
Cuba's ability to thumb its nose at the United States for half a century has won it sympathy and admiration in Latin America, which has long felt dominated by Washington.
The Cuba issue has become a headache for Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos because it threatens to scuttle the summit, or at least take the shine off an event the Andean country wants to use to burnish its image after years of internal conflict.
"I don't think Santos will let this happen. It's his party and he wants to be a regional leader," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "It's hard to do that if you have a divided summit, or a boycott."
WILL ATTEND IF INVITED
The leaders of 34 countries, including President Barack Obama, are expected to attend the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia on April 14-15.
Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, trying to balance the demands of the United States and Colombia's fellow Latin American nations, flew to Cuba last week to discuss the matter with Rodriguez and President Raul Castro, who told her Cuba planned to attend if invited.
In a closing declaration, ALBA's Political Council said Colombia "has undertaken a consultation process with all the countries of the region on Cuba's participation."
It said it would follow closely "the development and results" of the process.
ALBA does not include some of the region's larger countries, but has become a vociferous and at times effective forum, including in 2009 when its members played an important role in getting Cuba invited back into the OAS.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said at an ALBA summit earlier this month the group should consider not attending the Cartagena summit if Cuba is not invited.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has been the main promoter of some kind of joint ALBA action on Cuba's behalf, and on Wednesday his foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, spoke forcefully about the issue.
"The countries of ALBA ask respectfully but very firmly that our brother government of Colombia invite Cuba to the Summit of the Americas," he told reporters.
"We don't want to appear to be threatening to not attend," Patino said, but he pointed out that "eight countries of America are saying that (Cuba) must be invited."
The summit in Colombia is a political forum, not an OAS-owned event and therefore the issue of whether Cuba should attend does not apply, he said.
The Political Council, likely setting the stage for another showdown with the United States, also said in its declaration that ALBA would "unequivocally demand" at the summit that the 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba be lifted.
"At the end of the day this is very disruptive," said Shifter. "This would be a tremendous blow and whatever Washington had going on with Latin America would turn off completely," he added.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Rosa Tania Valdes; editing by Todd Eastham)