Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cuba to attend Summit of the Americas for first time

MIAMI – Cuba will attend the Summit of the Americas next year for the first time in the history of the regional gathering that began in Miami two decades ago, Panama’s foreign minister said Friday.

Panama is organizing the April summit, which has brought leaders together at three- to four-year intervals since 1994 at different locations around the region.

Panamanian Foreign Minister Isabel de Saint Malo said Cuba and several other countries had confirmed they would attend the summit within days of receiving a formal invitation.

It was unclear whether Havana would be represented by Cuban President Raúl Castro or someone else.

Castro skipped an Ibero-American summit in Veracruz, Mexico, earlier this week, sending his number two Miguel Díaz-Canel at the last minute instead.

“Panama is working for all the heads of state and government from the 35 countries of the Americas to be present at the VII Summit,” Saint Malo said in an email to international news agencies.

The United States, which hosted the first summit in Miami, has long been reluctant to include Cuba, one of the last of its Cold War adversaries and still the target of a half-century-old trade embargo.

“Even given the region’s heterogeneity, more issues unite us than divide us and these are the ones we will concentrate on,” said Saint Malo.

“To do so all of America should be present,” she said.

Saint Malo was in Miami this week for a conference on Latin America organized by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador have also said they will attend, she said.

The United States has said it will concentrate on shared commitments to the collective defense of democracy and human rights, shrugging off the prospect of Cuba taking part in the Panama summit.

“I think what we’re focused on is less on who’s invited and more on what’s discussed,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said last week.

Cuba, the region’s only communist state, has emerged over the past decade from diplomatic isolation as it attempts a transition from a Soviet-style economy to one with a greater degree of private enterprise.

The United States and Cuba have lacked full diplomatic relations since 1961. In 1962, Washington imposed an economic embargo on the island.

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