Pubdate: Mon, 16 Apr 2012
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2012 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Mark Kennedy


Canada, U.S. oppose country's involvement in next gathering

Political leaders from the Western Hemisphere ended their summit
Sunday seriously divided over the contentious issue of Cuba, as Canada
and the United States blocked an attempt by Latin American nations to
bring the communist Caribbean country into their fold.

The weekend summit ended frostily when the leaders of more than 30
countries failed to produce a final declaration about their work.

The reason for that failure was that the leaders were un-able to reach
a consensus on a key issue - the Latin American countries want Cuba to
be invited to the next summit of the Americas in three years, in Panama.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama, despite
facing pressure at the summit to agree with that plan, dug in their
heels and objected. They refuse to allow Cuba to attend the next
gathering until it initiates democratic reforms.

At a news conference at the end of the summit, Harper made no

"I think we have taken a principled position," said the prime

"And when we have taken principled positions, we are prepared to argue
that and discuss them. But obviously we don't have our positions
dictated either by any one country, or frankly, by any group of countries."

Cuba has not participated in the Organization of American States (OAS)
- - the backbone of the summits - since the early 1960s, but had
indicated it was interested in attending this year's gathering at the
Colombia seaside resort city of Cartagena.

However, the country, which has been ruled by brothers Fidel and Raul
Castro, does not meet OAS standards of democracy, said Harper.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa boycotted the week-end meeting
because of Cuba's continued exclusion and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega
also stayed home.

Momentum began to build here for a change, with Colombian President
Juan Manuel Santos saying the longstanding policy toward Cuba had
become "unacceptable."

Santos said "the isolation, the embargo, the indifference, looking the
other way, have been ineffective."

The gravity of the issue is highlighted by the fact that the leftist
ALBA bloc of nations - including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia,
Nicaragua and some Caribbean nations - have said they will not attend
future summits without Cuba's presence.

But Harper refused to back down. He stressed the summit leaders were
in agreement on a range of issues - from economic development to
fighting transnational crime - but had differed on two questions:
Cuba's participation in summits, and Argentina's claims to the
British-held Falkland Islands.

He took pains to insist that while both countries oppose Cuban
participation at the summit, Canada's policy toward the nation is not
a mirror reflection of U.S. policy.

"We don't have an embargo against Cuba and we don't support the
compete isolation of the people."

"We believe that engaging Cuba is one of the tools by which we can
hope to move it towards democracy and towards greater human rights."

That approach has "made a difference" in persuading other countries in
the Americas to become democratic, said Harper

"We do believe that the Summit of the Americas should be restricted to
democratic countries and that Cuba should be encouraged to come as a
democratic country in the future."

"It's our contention that the Canadian policy is the way to get that
kind of result."

Asked if Canada and the U.S. were adopting a paternalistic approach to
the issue over the objections of the rest of the Western Hemisphere,
Harper indicated he was standing firm.

"Our position, as it is for all summits, is that for anything to be
agreed, it has to be agreed equally by all partners, including Canada."

Santos said the leaders did not release their normal "declaration" to
conclude the summit because there was no "consensus."

He said he is hopeful that a "process" can be put in place in the next
three years to further discuss whether Cuba can be invited to the next

But it's clear some leaders are angry.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said earlier in the weekend that all
the Latin American countries wanted to invite Cuba, but were stopped
by the U.S.

'It's like a dictatorship," said Morales, adding: "It is just
impossible for one country to oppose the will of others and not listen
to them."

Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman blamed both the U.S. and
Canada for using a "veto" to stop a consensus in favour of Cuba's

Meanwhile, another issue - illicit drugs - captured the attention of
the summit.

Harper said the leaders had a solid discussion on the

"I think there is almost a universal agreement that we should continue
to fight transnational criminal networks. There is increasing doubt
about whether we are taking the best approach to doing that."

"What I think everybody believes and agrees with - and I'll be frank
myself - is that the current approach is not working. But it is not
clear what we should do."

The escalating violence connected to drug cartels in Latin America has
some nations insisting it's time for a new approach - a decriminalized
system in which governments regulate how the drugs are sold. The
purpose of establishing a legal, regulated system would be to
undermine the profits of the drug gangs.

To varying degrees, the leaders of Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico and
Costa Rica have spoken out in favour of why different approaches other
than strict criminal crackdowns need to be explored.

The development comes after decades of the "war on drugs" - a war that
many Latin American leaders say has been lost.
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