Latin American leaders demand US end Cuba embargo
COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil (AFP): Latin American leaders on Wednesday demanded an end to the 46-year-old US embargo on Cuba, in an unprecedented joint declaration issued just a month before Barack Obama takes charge in Washington.
Presidents and top officials from 33 countries covering all of Latin America and the Caribbean — including Cuban President Raul Castro — made the appeal at the end of a two-day summit in Brazil.
They also urged the "immediate" scrapping of measures reinforcing the embargo introduced under outgoing US President George W. Bush over the past five years, and slammed the 1996 US Helms-Burton law that blocked foreign investment and sources of finance for Cuba.
Argentine’s President Cristina Kirschner (L) talks with her Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Taiana during the South America and Caribbean Summit in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil. AFP PHOTO
"In the defense of free exchanges and the transparent practice of international trade, the application of unilateral coercive measures that affect the wellbeing of the people and obstruct the processes of integration are unacceptable," the statement said.
Castro, attending his first multilateral summit abroad since taking over in Cuba from his brother Fidel more than two years ago, called the meeting "magnificent."
"I find the result very good, and I’m very content," he told AFP.
He scored another symbolic victory over the United States at the summit on Tuesday, when the Rio Group — a policy-coordinating bloc covering most of Latin America — welcomed Cuba as its newest member, delivering a pointed challenge to Washington’s bid to isolate Havana.
On Wednesday, Castro reiterated his willingness to hold talks with Obama, but only on condition the two meet each other as equals.
Obama, who formally succeeds Bush on January 20, said during his presidential campaign that while he was ready to meet Cuba’s leaders, the embargo would stay.
Bolivian President Evo Morales urged the leaders at the summit to give Washington an ultimatum on the issue: lift the embargo on Cuba or risk having its ambassadors kicked out of the region.
"If the new United States government doesn’t lift the economic blockade, we should expel its ambassadors," said Morales, one of a growing number of leftwing leaders taking Latin America out of the US orbit.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the host of the summit, distanced himself from Morales’s call, even though he reaffirmed his opposition to the US embargo.
"Prudence and political diplomacy" was needed until Obama was formally made US president so the region can "see what he proposes for Latin America, what treatment he will give Cuba," he told a post-summit news conference with other leaders, including Morales, at his side.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cuba’s main ally and a frequent critic of Washington, said Tuesday he believed "a new era is starting" in the region, one free of US influence.
He added Wednesday: "Full independence has not come about because we have never been as united as we are now. Maybe now is the true moment for full integration."
Both Morales and Chavez in September kicked out the US ambassadors to their countries, accusing them of siding with the opposition and fomenting unrest in Bolivia.
Latin America’s ambitions to assert its independence from the United States could also be seen in efforts to establish joint institutions.
Unasur, a South American bloc counting 12 of the biggest nations, on Tuesday agreed to set up a regional defense council to act as a forum for confronting common threats.
And Mexican President Felipe Calderon said many Latin American leaders wanted to formalize their regional summits within a mooted organization which would not include the United States.
If realized, that body would effectively rival the existing Organization of American States, which has seats for US and Canadian representatives.