Cuba Regards Ibero-American Summit as Victory Over US

Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Monday, October 17, 2005

Cuba Regards Ibero-American Summit as Victory Over US

( - In what Cuban media are describing as a "defeat" for the United States, leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal ended a summit at the weekend calling for an end to the U.S. embargo against Fidel Castro's Cuba.

They also said the U.S. should hand over for trial a suspect in the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976, a reference to the ongoing legal wrangle over Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro _migr_ in custody in the U.S.

Representatives of 22 countries meeting in the central Spanish city of Salamanca put their names to the resolutions despite expressions of concern by the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, where a spokesman said earlier "it would be unfortunate if these texts were interpreted as a sign of support for the Castro dictatorship."

The president of the European Union's executive Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said during a press conference in Spain that he hoped the embargo resolution was "not interpreted as a sign of tolerance of violation of human rights in Cuba."

Relations between Cuba and the E.U. have been strained since 2003 over human rights abuses by Havana, and the E.U. last April for the first time co-sponsored a U.S.-initiated resolution critical of Cuba at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

The Ibero-American summit's final statement called on the U.S. government "to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade that it maintains against Cuba."

It also referred to 13 resolutions by the U.N. General Assembly demanding an end to the embargo, the most recent of which was taken in 2004. A fourteenth resolution is expected shortly.

Cuba says the embargo, first imposed in 1962, cost the country $2.7 billion last year.

The use by summit participants of the politically charged word "blockade" favored by Cuba -- rather than "embargo" as used at past meetings -- was, in itself, seen as a blow to the U.S.

Havana's Prensa Latina news agency called it "not merely a semantic change, but a profound one," and said the move was interpreted as "an important success for Cuba and a thorough defeat for the United States."

It also said the summit was a watershed in attempts to strengthen the Ibero-American grouping, with a "common desire to strengthen multilateralism from a unity perspective, relations between countries, and the rejection of coercive and unilateral measures."

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque also hailed what he called a diplomatic victory for his country.

Roque represented Cuba at the summit after Havana announced at the last minute that Castro would not be able to attend.

The official reason was Castro's need to oversee relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Stan, which caused serious damage and loss of life in Central America and Mexico.

However, two anti-Castro groups were reportedly planning to file a legal complaint against him, just days after Spain's Constitutional Court ruled that the country's courts could investigate suspected crimes against humanity in other countries, whether Spanish citizens were involved or not.

During the summit, separate pro- and anti-Castro demonstrations were held in the city.

In Castro's absence, his close ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez provided the anti-U.S. rhetoric in Salamanca.

"[The U.S.], which says it fights terrorism, which invades countries like Iraq using the excuse of the war on terror ... protects terrorists on its own territory," the leftist leader was quoted as telling reporters.

The reference was to Posada, whom Cuba and Venezuela accuse of involvement in terrorist attacks including the bombing of a Cuban Airlines flight between Caracas and Havana, in which 73 people died. The 77-year-old, a naturalized Venezuelan and former CIA operative, has denied involved in the attacks.

Venezuela has applied for Posada's extradition -- Cuba doesn't have an extradition agreement with the U.S. -- but a U.S. court ruled last month that he cannot be sent to Venezuela because of the risk of torture there.

Chavez is an arch-critic of U.S. policies in Latin America and around the world. Last week he announced that an evangelical missionary organization active in Venezuela for 59 years would be expelled, calling Sanford, Florida-based New Tribes Mission staffers "agents of imperialist penetration."

Meanwhile, Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Mexican President Vicente Fox both defended their support for the Cuba resolutions.

Zapatero pointed out that the embargo resolution was similar to those passed by the U.N. General Assembly.

Fox said the measure was in line with Mexico's longstanding policy based on "respect and justice. Attempts to resolve the dispute with Cuba by means of an embargo were "out of touch with reality," he told a press conference in Salamanca

President Bush will have the opportunity to meet with many of the leaders who took part in the Ibero-American meeting when he attends the Summit of the Americas, hosted by Argentine President Nestor Kirchner early next month.

The summit of the 34-member Organization of American States (OAS), the fourth to be held since 1994, is due to focus on "Creating Jobs to Fight Poverty and Strengthen Democratic Governance."

Cuba is an OAS member but the Castro government has been excluded from participation since 1962. Venezuela is a member.

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