This inaugural session, which is carded to start at 5 pm on Friday, is due to be televised “live” on local television stations.
Manning disclosed this yesterday as he spoke to reporters while touring the Summit Village near the Hyatt Regency.
Obama’s election has been widely hailed in Trinidad and Tobago where there seems to be a growing public clamour among nationals to witness this visit as closely as possible of America’s first black president.
Manning predicted Obama’s speech might refer to the thawing relations between the United States and Cuba, the latter which cannot yet attend the summit due to human rights concerns and because the Castro regime is not a democratically elected government. Otherwise, Manning welcomed Obama’s move yesterday to allow Cuban-Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba and to post unlimited remittances. Manning said, “I have been watching that. I suppose that those gestures are very welcome (but) I don’t want to start the summit now.” He said the Cuban question has been on the lips of everybody in the hemisphere, as he himself had heard as he spent a lot of time travelling from country to country on summit business.
Manning said, “We just have to await the statement by President Obama at the opening ceremony. He is invited to speak in the opening ceremony and he will.”
Obama yesterday lifted a decades-old travel restriction on Cuba and also paved the way for the transfer of money to the island. The move lets Cuban-Americans travel freely to Cuba for the first time since 1982 and lifts the current annual cap on remittances to Cuba of US $1,200.
White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, yesterday said: “The President has directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce to carry out the actions necessary to lift all restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit family members in Cuba and to send them remittances.”
Saying the move could boost human rights and democracy in Cuba, Gibbs said, “The president would like to see greater freedom for the Cuban people. There are actions that he can and has taken today to open up the flow of information to provide some important steps to help that.”
Associated Press hailed the reforms as “a new era of openness” between the US and Cuba, which would diffuse tensions ahead of the summit.
Manning said the inaugural session speakers are Obama, Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, and himself as chairman.
“There are five of us and those statements will be very interesting. So let us see what happens.” He said he had spoken to Prime Minister Barrow yesterday.
Obama will on Thursday visit Mexico before heading to Trinidad on Friday.
Manning said he had done all the work of speaking to the other heads of state last week.
“We are just putting things in order now to make sure things go smoothly and well. I think that you now will begin to feel the spirit.” He said he was overwhelmed by the reaction at the Summit Village of people he was meeting. “I have been overwhelmed by it. I couldn’t believe the reaction could have been as good as it is, but there you go...It is clear that too many people are unable to see the vision, even when you talk about it.
“But now that this project is virtually complete and the waterfront is open, as it were people are able to ‘put their finger in the wound’ and get a better feel for it. Now we can discuss what else is to come, with a higher level of credibility than would have been the case otherwise.”
He vowed to also soon talk about urban renewal of the Port-of-Spain city-centre.
Manning said summit preparations were going quite well.
He said, “It’s not that they are going without a hitch — they have glitches here and there — but we are working and we are trying our best to get everything in order. Things are just falling in place; You wouldn’t believe it.”
He praised the planning of the event.
“People are now beginning to take note of it. What was happening before is that people were allowing themselves to be sidetracked by all kinds of extraneous issues...Now people better — understand it.”