Monday, September 8, 2014

Panama to Invite Cuba to 2015 Summit of the Americas

For the first time since the series of summit meetings began in 1994, Cuba looks set to participate in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama. And while Washington has publicly voiced displeasure at the development, Panamanian officials say the United States has privately signaled its acceptance of Cuba’s attendance.

In a press conference last week, Panamanian Vice President and Foreign Minister Isabel De Saint Malo announced that Cuba would be formally invited to the summit, which will take place in April 2015. As La Estrella reported, Saint Malo said that the decision was made as a result of the regional calls for Cuba’s attendance made at the last OAS General Assembly in Asuncion.

At the June OAS meeting, Bolivia and Ecuador threatened to boycott the Summit of the Americas if Cuba was not invited, and Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman claimed his country’s participation would be “difficult” without Cuba. The governments of Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Chile, and even Paraguay also called for Cuba to be invited.

When asked about Saint Malo’s statement last week, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki cited an agreement made at the 2001 summit, which asserted that “strict respect for the democratic system” was a necessary condition for attendance. Rather than going back on this commitment, Psaki said the region should instead encourage “democratic changes necessary for Cuba to meet the basic qualifications.”

Psaki’s remarks came just as Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with Saint Malo in Washington. In their joint press conference, both Kerry and Saint Malo said they hoped the 2015 summit would focus on democracy and human rights, while the Panamanian official also added that her government “expect[s] President Obama to be present and the rest of the leaders of the region.”

So will observers see a repeat of the December 2013 Obama-Raul Castro handshake? It may not be out of the question.

In an interview back in Panama on Sunday, Saint Malo told local television station TVN-2 that she had discussed Cuba’s attendance with both Canadian and American officials, and that both governments have said they “understand” Panama’s need to respond to the region’s support for Cuba.

News Briefs
  • Writing for the Americas Quarterly Blog, Brookings fellow and former senior director for inter-American affairs at the National Security Council Richard E. Feinberg has an analysis of President Obama’s options ahead of the 2015 Summit of the Americas. Noting that the administration faces a difficult choice between sticking to its guns on Cuba or losing diplomatic influence in the region, Feinberg argues that Obama should take unilateral action to ease U.S.-Cuba relations prior to the summit. A good complement to this argument is Greg Week’s recent op-ed for Al Jazeera English, in which he asserts that claims that the U.S. is “losing” Latin America are greatly exaggerated. According to Weeks, in reality U.S. engagement in the region remains considerable, though it has adapted to accept the emergence of new regional institutions.
  • On Sunday, the Colombian government and FARC negotiators in Havana announced the creation of a new sub-commission to the peace talks, tasked with ensuring that all agreements have “an adequate focus on gender.” Spanish news agency EFE reports that the FARC, for their part, took advantage of the development to dispute the many reports of gender-based violence within the guerrilla group’s ranks. Despite allegations that many female recruits often become “sex slaves” to their rebel units, guerrilla leader Victoria Sandino claimed sexual abuse is strictly punished by the FARC.
  • The odds of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election bid, which were complicated by Marina Silva’s entrance into the race, now look even steeper. On Friday, Veja magazine published confidential testimony by jailed former Petrobras executive Paulo Roberto Costa, who claimed that dozens of political figures -- including current Energy Minister Edison Lob√£o and congressional leaders Henrique Eduardo Alves and Renan Calheiros -- received kickbacks from oil contracts. However, the New York Times notes that the revelations could also pose trouble for Silva because her former running mate, the late Eduardo Campos, was also implicated in the kickback scheme.
  • The Washington Post has a profile of Silva’s colorful past and her current platform, with an interesting highlight of her approach to relations to the United States. While Silva’s platform calls for deepened ties to China and the rest of Latin America, it also asserts U.S. relations “need updating” and promises a “mature, balanced and purposeful dialogue that doesn’t dramatize natural differences between partners with economic interests.”
  • Today’s Washington Post also features a report on diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Mexico over the terms of a 1944 water-sharing agreement. While American officials are irked that their counterparts to the south are not fulfilling their end of the bargain, the Mexican government claims a prolonged drought makes it impossible to do so.
  • In a column for Sin Embargo, Fundar researcher Jose Knippen casts a critical eye on a new joint border program launched by the governments of Guatemala and Mexico, ostensibly meant to protect migrants from criminal groups. Knippen argues that the program fails to properly ensure that corrupt officials at various levels of government will be purged, and contrasts it with recent recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
  • The Wall Street Journal looks at the rise of online media in Venezuela, profiling the emergence of sites like Prodavinci.com and La Patilla in a country where media watchdogs say traditional news outlets are increasingly facing censorship. Also on Venezuela’s media landscape, the Washington Post has an update on the sale of newspaper El Universal to shadowy Spanish buyers, whom many suspect are enforcing an editorial shift towards anti-government coverage.
  • The Associated Press has a look at the ceasefire between El Salvador’s rival street gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, concluding that while it resulted in a temporary drop in homicides, the truce ultimately strengthened their authority. Another good illustration of the maras’ conversion into increasingly political actors came in April, when El Faro reported that conservative Salvadoran presidential candidate Norman Quijano made overtures to the gangs during his campaign, promising to support the truce if they stopped intimidating residents into voting for his opponent.
  • Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, who has been a fugitive from justice since a court issued a warrant for his arrest on embezzlement charges earlier this year, finally turned himself in to a San Salvador court on Friday.  Reuters reports that Flores, who is believed to have been hiding out in Panama, has been ordered to remain under house arrest.