In a move that will add to mounting pressure on US President Barack Obama to deal with the issue of Cuba, Chavez warned he will bring “ammunition” to the summit and joined with Cuban President Raul Castro and Mexican President Felipe Calderon who both yesterday raised the issue of Cuba’s place in the region.
“Venezuela is vetoing the declaration right now. We do not agree with the declaration, just like other countries,” Chavez said yesterday upon arriving in Cumana, Venezuela, where he presided over a summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). “The final declaration is hard to digest. It is misplaced both in time and space, as if time had stopped,” Chavez said, moments after greeting Castro in the city which is in Venezuela’s eastern state of Sucre and lies 380 kilometres west of Port-of-Spain where 34 heads of state will gather. He added, “we do not have great expectations about the Summit of the Americas.”
“Why does Cuba continue to be mistreated?” Chavez said after warmly greeting Castro at the airport. “We can’t accept it. I hope the president of the United States is going to listen. We are going to continue fighting.”
But yesterday Obama sent a clear signal that it is now up to Cuba, not the US, to make the next move when it comes to relations between both countries. Obama spoke at a news conference after meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who called the US embargo against the island a failed strategy.
“We do not believe that the embargo or the isolation of Cuba is a good measure for things to change,” Calderon said.
But Obama said Cuba needs to reciprocate to his overtures with actions “grounded in respect for human rights” and warned relations between the countries “won’t thaw overnight.” Cuba can show it wants to move forward by lifting its own restrictions on Cubans’ ability to travel and to voice their opinions, he added.
A similar message was sent by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Port-au-Prince, Haiti yesterday. “We would like to see Cuba open up its society, release political prisoners, open up to outside opinions and media.”
In Mexico yesterday, Obama pledged to assist Mexico in its fight against arms by ratifying an OAS treaty which aims to curb the transfer of weapons across borders. But even as he attempted to focus on crime in Mexico, which his administration hopes to have discussed at the summit, Obama could not escape the Cuba issue.
The ALBA nations include: Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Honduras and Dominica, all of whom are poised to back Chavez in his plan to veto the declaration. Chavez yesterday warned the ALBA leaders met to “prepare the ammunition” they will bring to the summit today which will kick-start with opening speeches by several leaders including Obama, summit chairman Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega.
Castro, at the ALBA summit in Cumana yesterday, repeated Cuba’s stance that it is not willing to join the OAS. “We are not interested in the OAS. The OAS must disappear,” Castro said.
Chavez and Ortega, among other leaders, have reportedly questioned Articles 53 and 57 of the 66-article draft declaration the 34 presidents and heads of state are expected to sign on Sunday the end of the summit. El Universal on Wednesday reported both as disagreeing on the provisions with regard to how they propose human rights and democracy to be enforced in the Americas. Cuba has been excluded from the OAS and this week’s summit because it is an authoritarian state.