by Shooka Shemirani, Mao Pengfei

The 7th Summit of the Organization of American States (OAS), to be held on April 10-11 in Panama, will be a test for Latin American integration, given the changing political climate between Cuba and the United States.
After years of icy relations between the two countries, which had blocked Cuba from attending the hemispheric gathering, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro jointly announced in December they agreed to normalize diplomatic ties.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, whose country will host the summit this year, noted it will be the first time both heads of state attend a hemispheric meeting since 1956, when Panama also served as host.
Given the historic dimension of the 7th summit, Panamanian authorities are expecting a strong turnout among regional leaders and top officials.
At the same time, the Panamanian government is working to ensure this summit takes a more pragmatic, less political approach to regional issues.
Panama’s president has proposed scrapping the traditional final declaration in favor of making concrete commitments that can be realistically achieved within a given timetable.
Panama’s deputy minister of Multilateral Affairs and Cooperation, Maria Luisa Navarro, said the issues to be debated, and on which there has been substantial agreement during pre- summit negotiations in Washington, where the OAS is headquartered, include education, health, energy, infrastructure, security, democratic governance, citizen involvement and immigration.
Panama hopes the expected encounter between Obama and Castro will not steal the show from the real issues, but help generate an atmosphere of cooperation that will lead to results. Everything points to that being the case, it maintains.
While the U.S. is pursuing rapprochement with Cuba, however, it has raised hackles in the region by bullying Venezuela’s socialist government with new sanctions and hawkish decrees.
Bolivia’s outspoken President Evo Morales expressed regional frustration with Washington’s policy, saying just days ago that the U.S. president would have a lot of explaining to do at the summit.
His remark, and Washington’s recent actions, highlight the differences that exist between the U.S. and much of the rest of the Americas, especially member nations of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), differences that threaten to erupt during the summit.
Navarro declined to comment on Morales’ statement regarding the summit, which is costing Panama 15 million U.S. dollars. Panamanian political observers and business leaders, meanwhile, have different takes on the gathering.
Roco Setka, a professor of international relations, said Panama took the bold step of inviting both Obama and Castro because it had prior information from the U.S. State Department on the secret talks to restore ties, and even about an eventual lifting of the trade embargo.
During the 6th summit, Latin American countries almost unanimously threatened to boycott the next gathering unless Cuba was invited. Such pressure also played a major role in determining how this summit was organized, said Setka.
Jose Luis Ford, president of Panama’s Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, believes the summit will offer an opportunity to showcase the host country, as well as reach regional consensus on health, education, immigration and other issues.
Law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal said all other issues will take a back seat to the mere fact that both Obama and Castro are at the summit.
“The restoration of U.S.-Cuba ties marks the beginning of geopolitical changes at the continental and global level,” said Bernal.
Raul Moreira, former president of Panama’s Association of Economists, said the summit does offer leaders an opportunity to discuss issues of common interest. It should additionally help support the process of dialogue between the U.S. and the Cuba, he said. Enditem

Source: Xinhua


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