HAVANA TIMES — This year’s Summit of the Americas will be the first Cuba attends, but the central issue of debate will be, not the island’s re-established relations with the United States, but Washington’s declarations against Venezuela, a country it considers a threat to its national security.
Latin America’s response has been unanimous, because no one believes this country truly has the capacity to constitute a threat to the United States. In addition, such a label could in the future be used to justify a new military intervention in the region.
US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson seems to feel misunderstood by Latin American governments, saying: “I was disappointed that there were not more (countries) who defended the fact that clearly this was not intended to hurt the Venezuelan people or the Venezuelan government even as a whole.”
The US diplomat is upset that the tone Latin American leaders are setting “is one of demonizing the United States as the source of Venezuela’s problems, when we are not.”
What is truly surprising, however, is that she should be surprised by the reaction of Latin America, a continent that has been invaded by the US military dozens of times throughout its history, where many coups against democratically elected governments have also relied on the United States’ support.
The Toll of History
Today, things are quite different. The family of the Chilean president was repressed by the dictatorship that the United States helped set up. The Brazilian president was tortured by the dictatorship the US supported. In El Salvador, the FMLN, a movement that fought an army financed by the United States, is now in power.
The Sandinistas, a guerrilla that overthrew Somoza, a dictator the White House defended, calling him “our son of a bitch,” came back to power. Uruguay’s Frente Amplio, many members of which were murdered or disappeared during the Condor Plan (a repressive initiative that relied on US advice) now leads the country.
They questioned the link to coca leaf growers maintained by Bolivia’s indigenous president. In Ecuador, they support forces that oppose Rafael Correa’s democratically elected government. In Argentina, they defend so-called “crow funds” and sovereign control over the Falkland Islands by the UK.
While organizations seeking regional integration hope to create a peace zone (CELAC) and call for the withdrawal of foreign military bases (UNASUR), the United States increases the number of troops and military equipment at its military base in Honduras.
In addition, the United States keeps military bases in Cuba, El Salvador, Curazao, Aruba, Colombia, Costa Rica, Turks and Caicos, Bermudas, Bahamas and Paraguay. With the Cold War behind us, it is hard to believe the aim of these bases is to protect the region from foreign invasion.
With the exception of the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, the remaining military facilities are welcomed by the governments of those countries, the same countries that unanimously vote to convert the region into a peace zone, without foreign military bases.
Beyond Public Speeches
Five months after the announcements made on December 17, Cuba continues to face a US embargo [called a blockade by Cuba], is still on the United Sates’ list of countries that sponsor terrorism and we are now hearing about a plan to “broaden” Cuban dissident movements in Panama. There’s even a recording where we hear they will be asking for extra funds from the State Department, because they want to put together “something big.”
Panamanian authorities detained and interrogated Cuban dissidents at the airport. Late dissident Osvaldo Paya’s daughter claims they told her she would “be deported to Cuba if you cause any disturbances. Cause disturbances in your own country.”
Obama is to meet with the Cuban and Venezuelan opposition. The New York Times, a newspaper that has become the White House’s Granma, asked all of Latin America for support, but only secured the backing of its counterparts in Uruguay and Costa Rica.
The island’s government didn’t get left behind on this. It filled up a plane with civil society representatives and sent them to the Summit. This way, we will be seeing the image of a society that is divided into irreconcilable blocks, when most Cubans do not believe their country is the hell people speak of or the paradise others paint.
Cuba in Second Place
Despite the fuss being kicked up by Cubans, the central debate will be about Venezuela. Though the White House wishes to avoid the issue, it probably won’t be able to step around it because it constitutes a general concern and it will be hard pressed to silence all governments in attendance.
Obama has just stated Cuba is a “miniscule country” and that having broader relations with it does not presuppose many risks for them. Now, he will have the opportunity to explain how Venezuela could constitute a risk to US national security.
If any advisor has told Obama the Summit is going to be a cakewalk, he should be fired, because he is well on his way to reliving the Colombia Summit, which concluded without a final declaration and all of the region’s presidents demanding Cuba’s participation.
Academic Luis Suarez insists this Summit and its parallel gatherings will be genuine battlefields, and his claims don’t seem to be too far from the truth. He adds that the region does not intend to slam the door in Obama’s face, but to set in motion a collective negotiation process.
It is no accident the United States’ policy of rapprochement with Cuba was celebrated by the entire continent. The region calls for a new kind of treatment, to be considered neighbors rather than a “backyard.” This will be President Obama’s last encounter with Latin America, and it is up to him to decide what kind of a farewell he wants.
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.