Failure on Cuba inclusion ends summit on sour note

AFP and AP

CARTAGENA, Colombia — A Pan-American summit has ended in discord in Cartagena as regional leaders failed to agree on Cuba’s inclusion in future summits. Some Central and South American leaders hoped to include language in the summit’s final declaration stipulating that Cuba be included in the next gathering. But with the U.S. staunchly opposed to that effort, leaders decided to end their meetings without a final communique.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who defended his stance on Havana at a post-summit press conference, also faced questions on Washington’s approach to the drug war and found himself on the defensive over an embarrassing Secret Service prostitution scandal. The vast majority of the region’s democratically elected leaders attending the talks in the coastal Colombian city of Cartagena said they wanted Cuba included in future meetings. But Obama, backed by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, objected and the summit ended without the release of a final statement, as happened at the previous summit in Trinidad in 2009. Cuba has yet to take part in a Summit of the Americas, a regular meeting sponsored by the U.S.-based Organization of American States (OAS). Explaining his opposition to Cuba’s participation, Obama told a press conference that he hoped for a democratic transition in the hemisphere’s only one-party Communist state but said it had not yet taken place. “The fact of the matter is Cuba, unlike the other countries participating, has not yet moved to democracy. Has not yet observed basic human rights,” Obama told a news conference.

The U.S. insists that Cuba should not be allowed to attend the regional meetings until it enacts democratic reforms. Obama suggested Sunday that scenario may not be all that far away.

“There may be an opportunity in the coming years as Cuba begins to look at where it needs to go in order to give its people the kind of prosperity and opportunity that it needs, that it starts loosening up some constraints within that country, and that’s something that we will welcome,” he said. Drug Issue Nor did summit participants agree on a call by Guatemala to consider decriminalizing drug use in view of the failure of the war on