He addressed a signing ceremony, and then a closing news conference minutes later at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, that he attended with Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper, Mexico President Felipe Calderon, and Panama President Martin Torrijos Espino.
Manning said, “All the countries without exception would like to see Cuba properly reintegrated into the Western Hemisphere. All the countries.”
He said summit leaders had been very heartened by statements from Washington before the conference and from President Barack Obama at the summit that showed a new thinking in the United States.
Manning said, “New thinking, a new attitude and a new approach. In those circumstances we believe it is reasonable to expect that not too long from now we can see a proper reintegration of Cuba into the institutions of the Western Hemisphere. We look forward to that, my dear friends, with great anticipation.”
Manning yesterday signed the Declaration of Commitment of Port-of-Spain to reflect a majority consensus, but not a unanimity, among the 34 leaders at the summit.
The declaration mainly relates to economy, ecology, energy and governance.
However, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) allies such as Bolivia President Evo Morales had long vowed not to sign the document, reportedly because sections on democracy and human rights might put pressure on Cuba towards reform.
Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit yesterday told Newsday he had not opposed the document, likely because Dominica is also a member of Caricom.
Although Obama during the summit continued to have positive exchanges with the Cuban leadership, these small steps were apparently insufficient for Chavez who wants an immediate end of the US embargo against Cuba and its reintegration into the region.
Despite the tussle, the summit is seen by many as far better than the 2005 Fourth Summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina, which had failed to reach an agreement, and in fact ended in violence. Manning yesterday said although the two opposing camps had each taken a different stance on Cuba, the summit had occurred in a spirit of great cordiality.
“I have attended many conferences, but never one where the spirit of cooperation was as good as in Port-of-Spain.” He said talks launched the dawn of a “newer, brighter and better day.”
Manning elaborated on his points at a news conference minutes later.
“What is evident is that it marks a turning point in relations between the various states and it heralds a new spirit of goodwill in the Western Hemisphere that we believe can only redound to an improvement in the quality of life and standard of living of all the peoples of the hemisphere.”
He was glad Trinidad and Tobago is the country where this turning point has taken place.
Manning admitted some leaders had rejected the declaration. “To be sure, my dear friends, there was not agreement on everything...There were certain countries that had reservations, because the document is a negotiated document.”
He said because several countries rejected the document, it was decided that it would be adopted by the summit rather than requiring all leaders to each sign it.
“We adopted the declaration today at the retreat. It was adopted which meant there was not unanimity but there was consensus on the matter. The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago as chairman of the conference was authorised to sign the document on behalf of all his colleagues which I have just done and which I was happy to do a few minutes ago downstairs.”
He said deliberations on the draft declaration had been too far advanced to include the world economic crisis when it occurred, and that any alteration could have raised contentious issues and left the summit with no declaration at all.
“So what the negotiators instead agreed to do — because the conclusions came before April 1 — was to allow the document to be concluded, and following the deliberations of the G-20 countries in London on April 1, we discussed those issues at the summit and in the statement that we issue after the summit those issues will be taken into account.”
Harper, at the news conference, hailed the great atmosphere that had prevailed at summit talks. He said he had come to the summit with low expectations, plus worries about hostilities, but had seen these fears replaced by the winds of dialogue. Harper said it was an incredible thing that great confrontation had been avoided. “We saw the replacement of confrontation with dialogue, a dialogue that was very genuine, and a chemistry among leaders and some principal protagonists which was good.” Harper attributed this to Obama’s remarkable speech at the start of the summit, the tremendous reciprocation of that spirit by the ALBA countries, and the involvement of the Caribbean countries, especially the hosts.
“The Caribbean countries were a tremendous voice of reason and openness at those times when the dialogue did get a little bit heated. Without stirring us away from those disagreements, I think the hosts of Caricom did an excellent job in taking the temperature of those things and having a very reasonable exchange on those things that did divide us. Obviously a great deal of credit for this goes out to the hosts here in Trinidad and Tobago...I particularly want to say to you Mr Manning how truly impressed I think we all have been with the steady hand and wisdom in your chairmanship of what could have been a difficult conference, turning it into a very productive conference.”
Calderon also praised Manning for how he conducted deliberations and for the summit’s excellent atmosphere. Calderon said he had never attended a summit which had such cordiality, frankness and openness.
In the question session, Calderon said the spirit of cooperation at the summit was so compelling that it went beyond any disagreement about the wording of the declaration. As for excusing the non-unanimity over the declaration, he said some heads may not have signed because they had not had enough time to scrutinise it .
Asked about the cost of the summit, Manning said the event had highlighted the country globally, which could in turn bring foreign investment even as he noted one leader had brought 15 top businessmen.
Manning defended the exclusion of media from the plenary sessions saying this was done to avoid providing a platform for any leader to be posturing for the cameras. Manning then repeated his earlier plea for help for Haiti. He said earlier President of Haiti Rene Preval had made a touching presentation about Haiti’s plight. Manning urged that no one apportion blame over Haiti but simply help. “None of us can feel comfortable that there is a Haiti in our own back yard.” Haiti will be discussed further at the next Organisation of American States (OAS) meeting on July 1 at San Pedro Sula, Honduras.