Summit of the Americas convenes in Panama City amid confusion over U.S. policy toward Latin America; Venezuela will be at top of the agenda

Apr 8, 2015 | 2 comments

The Summit of the Americas opens later this week in Panama City with Latin American leaders saying they are mystified by recent actions of the United States.

Venezuelan President Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

They say there is a contradiction in Washington’s December announcement that it was normalizing relations with Cuba, and President Barack Obama’s March declaration that Venezuela represented a “threat to the security of the United States.”

“We are trying to figure out the meaning of these two actions,” Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela said last week. “We are getting mixed messages and wonder what to expect at the summit,” he said.

Cuban President Raúl Castro.

Cuban President Raúl Castro.

After applauding the U.S. move toward Cuba, Latin American countries unanimously rejected Obama’s blacklisting of Venezuela, calling it “the application of unilateral coercive measures contrary to International Law.” Even U.S. allies Mexico and Colombia, signed the protest.

The summit is scheduled for Friday and Saturday although a number of meetings between members start on Wednesday.

After first threatening not to attend, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said he would travel to the summit along with foreign minister Ricardo Patiño. “We are happy to see the U.S. finally admit the failure of its policy toward Cuba but cannot understand why they would continue that policy against Venezuela,” said Correa. “When we first heard it, we thought it was a joke,” he added.

U.S. President Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama

Nicaragua called Obama’s declaration against Venezuela “criminal,” while Uruguay ex-president José Pepe Mujica called anyone who considers Venezuela a threat “crazy.” He added: “Even the Europeans think Obama’s crazy,” he said. Two weeks ago, 100 members of the British Parliament, both liberal and conservative, called on the U.S. to retract its declaration.

Political analysts also seem mystified by U.S. actions. Ecuador economist Ramiro Crespo, speculated that the move against Venezuela may have been intended by Obama to show that he is not soft on leftist governments, in hopes of gaining support for opening doors to Cuba.

The U.S. is hoping that the Venezuelan issue does not become a major distraction at the summit. Under Secretary of State for Latin America Roberta Jacobson says the U.S. does not plan to bring up Venezuela. “I see no reason to talk about a specific country,” she said.

Former Ecuadorian Ambassador to the U.S., Luis Gallegos, says he sees no way the issue can be ignored. “Frankly, it will be the elephant in the room. It will have to be talked about.”

A Cuban delegation led by President Raul Castro, will take a seat at a hemispheric summit for the first time since 1994. Obama will also attend, making it the first time in more than 50 years that Cuba and the U.S. have attended an official function together.

In addition to addressing Obama’s executive order against Venezuela, the summit will also consider other issues, including Venezuela’s arrest of opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, and the dispute between Bolivia and Chile over Bolivia’s demand for a Pacific port on land taken by Chile during the Pacific War of 1883.

Last week, Secretary-General of the UNASUR, Antonio Samper, also suggested that discussions begin concerning the elimination of all U.S. military facilities in Latin America.

Leaders say they expect a lot from this year’s summit, in contrast to the last one in Cartagena, Colombia in 2012. That summit is mostly remembered for a scandal involving U.S. Secret Service agents and prostitutes.

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