The Summit of the Americas: Latin America resists!

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Raul Castro and Barack Obama

Between the 10 and 11 April, the much anticipated seventh Summit of the Americas saw US President Obama meet with Cuban President of the Council of State, Raul Castro in Panama City. This was the first such meeting since Cuba’s exclusion from the Organisation of American States (OAS) in 1962. Following the summit the US has conceded to remove Cuba from its heinous list of states sponsors of terrorism, a massive victory for Cuba and tribute to it’s principled stand of negotiation on sovereign terms. However, far from repairing US relations with Latin America, the Obama administration's attack on Venezuela has left it increasingly isolated.

The OAS was set up in 1948 with its headquarters in Washington. Cuba was expelled at the behest of the US in 1962 as it ‘officially identified itself as a Marxist-Leninist government’ which was, according to the OAS, ‘incompatible with the principles and objectives of the inter-American system’ The first summit of the Americas was held in 1994 following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. Operating as a platform for the US to pursue its economic interests, it put forward the Free Trade Area of the Americas,‘a neo-liberal treaty that would undermine national sovereignty and facilitate the pillaging and looting of resources by US and international capital’ (FRFI 237). Whilst Cuba has increasingly participated in regional forums since 2004, Panama took the unprecedented decision to invite Cuba to this year’s summit of the America’s which Cuba accepted. Obama finally committed to attend following the 17 December announcement to restore diplomatic relations.

At the summit, Obama spoke proudly of his ambitions for US-Cuban relations, identifying that he wants to see more US tourism to Cuba, more exchange between the two nations and greater US investment in Cuba. The change in US tactics do not represent a change its objective to destroy socialism. With $11million of state department funding for ‘democracy promotion’ in Cuba, the US strategy is now regime change through ‘engagement’. Obama concluded his speech by declaring the values of US capitalism eternal: ‘We will continue to speak out on the universal human values that we think are important. I’m sure that president Castro will continue to speak out on the issues he thinks are important.’

Following Obama’s speech, Raul Castro did exactly that, refusing to be constrained by the tight eight minute time slots; ‘Since I was excluded for the past six summits, I ask you to excuse me if I go a few minutes more… six times eight minutes.’ He then recounted the bloody history of US intervention in Cuba, from the 1898 Platt Amendment and occupation of Guantanamo, to the Bay of Pigs invasion, the 1961 imposition of the blockade, and Cuba’s membership on US State Sponsors of Terrorism list since 1982.

Two days after the summit, the White House announced the decision to remove Cuba from the list, stating that Cuba ‘has not provided any support for international terrorism’ over the last six months’. Josefina Vidal, Cuban head of negotiations with the US emphasised ‘The Cuban government recognized the fair decision made by the president of the United States to eliminateCubafrom a list that it never should have been included on, especially considering our country has been the victim of hundreds of acts of terrorism that have cost 3,478 lives and maimed 2,099 citizens.’This is yet another triumph for Cuba, whose membership on the list has undermined basic financial activities, including the bank transfers necessary for an embassy on US soil.

Despite Obama’s change of strategy with Cuba, the US was left increasingly isolated over its aggression towards Venezuela. As reported in FRFI 244, on 9 March, Obama declared Venezuela an ‘unusual and extraordinary threat’ to US national security, prompting regional condemnation against the decree.

In response all 33 nations of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a regional body consisting of every country in the Americas, bar the US and Canada, unanimously rejected Obama’s decree. This call was reiterated by delegates at the summit. Raul Castro criticised the US sanctions in his plenary speech: ‘Venezuela is not and could never be a threat to the national security of a superpower like the US… I must reaffirm all of our loyal and resolute support for the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, for the legitimate government and civil-military union headed by President Nicolas Maduro.’ He demanded that Obama ‘repeal the Executive Order’ and ‘lift unilateral sanctions’. His call was reiterated by Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Argentine head of state Cristina Fernandez, Bolivian president Evo Morales, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, Salvador Sanchez Ceren the president of El Salvador and the recently elected Tabare Vasquez of Uruguay. Meanwhile, Nicolas Maduro handed in an international petition denouncing the US decree which gained over 13 million signatures in just four weeks. Latin America stands with Venezuela.

In the face of this overwhelming pressure, Obama admitted that ‘[the US does] not believe that Venezuela poses a threat to the United States’, being forced to back track thanks to the Bolivarian revolution’s determination to garner regional and international popular support. However, the White House refused to repeal the Executive Order. US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, stated that Executive Order would remain in place as ‘it's something that's already been implemented.’ The decree was always designed to be a legal cover for increased US intervention in Venezuela, enabling it to impose greater sanctions and freeze Venezuelan assets.

Meanwhile, the Civil Society and Social Actors Forum on the fringes of the summit provided a stage for a carnival of reaction. The list of participants included notorious anti-Cuban government mercenaries, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Elizardo Sanchez and Rosa Maria Paya, alongside members of the Cuban exile community. All are known for counter-revolutionary activities, backed by US funding. Ex-CIA agent Felix Rodriguez Mendigutia also participated in the forum. He is best known for the role he played in identifying Che Guevara for assassination, choosing the weapon and method used to kill him. In response the Cuban and Venezuelan official delegations withdrew and staged a protest, demanding his exclusion.

Hypocritically, the forum welcomed Venezuelan opposition figures such as Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo Lopez, detained for his leading role in last year’s ‘exit strategy’ that resulted in 43 deaths surrounding violent street barricades. However, the Venezuelan Committee for the Victims of the Barricades, formed last year to demand justice for the deaths, was denied entry. Founder Yendry Velasquez commented that ‘This is no coincidence, they want to silence our voices so that we can’t tell the stories of our family members who are now dead, thanks to who they are calling political heroes’. In addition, more than 20 Cuban delegates including prominent writer Abel Prieto were restricted access. Yoerky Sanchez, from the Union of Cuban Journalists commented, ‘we don’t understand why, if we are in a list of accepted delegates to the forum, they still haven’t given us the credentials that will allow us to participate.’ The civil society forum was clearly set up to provoke confrontation and spectacle, an attempt to distract and divide Latin America’s show of solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela.

For the second time running, the summit failed to unanimously agree a final declaration. Both Canada and the US blocked the document on the basis of several points including the recognition of healthcare as a human right, an end to electronic espionage and the repeal of Obama’s Executive Order against Venezuela. Bolivian President Evo Morales commented that ‘one point was important: health as a human right, and the U.S. government did not accept that health should be considered a human right.’

US imperialism is pursuing two tactics today in Latin America, both serve the same end. In Cuba, it is attempting to destroy socialism through ‘engagement’. In Venezuela, it is pursuing open aggression and economic warfare. Yet the main message from the summit is one of resistance. Cuba’s presence was not thanks to a benevolent gesture from the White House, it was the result of decades of Cuba’s unwavering stance against imperialism and commitment to international socialist solidarity. Throughout 2014, country after country threatened to boycott the summit should Cuba continue to be excluded. Now Latin America is more united than ever in defending the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. US imperialism will continue to meet resistance - El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido! - The people united will never be defeated!

By James Bell and Sam McGill