While heads of state at the Summit of the Americas in Panama prepared to give their major speeches, there was a lot of action on the side, at various parallel meetings and at the Summit of the Peoples.
At the “Civil Society” meeting, there was sharp conflict. First, numerous delegates, who had been given preliminary clearance to attend by the Panamanian organizers, were not given credentials to actually participate. Cuba’s labor federation, the CTC (Cuban Federation of Labor) and a Puerto Rican organization, the Hostiano National Independence Movement, were both denied such credentials.
On the other hand, a gaggle of opponents of the left wing governments of Cuba, Venezuela and other countries suddenly appeared as representatives of those countries’ “civil society.” The news soon spread among the delegations that these included people whose oppositional activities at home had been financed by the U.S. government, through the Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy and other agencies. Particularly annoying was the presence of several Cuban dissidents based in the United States, some of whom have hobnobbed politically and socially with violent extreme right wing elements in the Cuban exile community in the United States.
The story got around that Felix Rodriguez Mendigutia had arrived in Panama. Rodriguez Mendigutia is a veteran of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961, and a long time CIA agent. To Cubans and other Latin Americans his chief claim to fame is ordering the killing of the Cuban-Argentine guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia on October 9, 1967.
Che, while heading a small group of Bolivian and Cuban fighters against the dictatorship of U.S. sponsored President Rene Barrientos, had been wounded and captured. Although Rodriguez Mendigutia did not kill Che himself, he transmitted orders from the Barrientos regime to have him killed. After Che was killed, Rodriguez fired some shots into his dead body and stole his watch.
General Barrientos and his colleagues did not wish to put Che on trial, because it would have given him a platform to project his political ideas. After the killing of Che, Rodriguez Mendigutia went on to participate in Operation Phoenix during the Vietnam War, in which tens of thousands of Vietnamese civilians suspected of sympathizing with the Viet Cong were tortured and murdered. Later he was involved in the bloody Contra Wars in Central America.
Angered by the denial of credentials to the Cuban trade unionists, and by the credentialing of the “mercenaries,” all the Cuban and Venezuelan delegates walked out of the Civil Society activity. When some of the Cuban dissidents tried to lay a wreath on the monument to Cuban independence hero Jose Marti, in front of the Cuban Embassy in the Panamanian capital, supporters of the present Cuban government protested and there was a scuffle, evidently without injuries.
The parallel Summit of the Peoples, Unions, and Social Movements went more smoothly. The more than 3,500 delegates representing hundreds of labor unions and peasant, indigenous, women’s, student and youth and other organizations, produced, on Apr. 11, a final declaration that reflects the progressive nature of the peoples movement for change in Latin America and the Caribbean. Approved were resolutions calling for:
*Declaring Latin America to be a zone of peace, and free of colonialism.
*Rejection of military intervention and harassment by the United States and its allies against the nations of the hemisphere, and the removal of all U.S. military bases, which have grown in number from 21 to 79 in the last four years.
*A salute to the Cuban Revolution and to the freedom, now achieved, of the Cuban five, and demanding an end to the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba, as well as the closing of the U.S. base at Guantanamo, Cuba.
*Rejection of U.S. harassment of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the withdrawal of President Obama’s executive order which characterized Venezuela as a threat to the United States.
*Reaffirmation that Puerto Rico is a Latin American and Caribbean nation with full rights to sovereignty which are currently violated by the colonial tutelage of the United States.
*Expression of full support to Argentina in its efforts to reclaim the Malvinas (Falklands) islands as national territory, and for Bolivia’s claim to a means of access to the Pacific Ocean.
*Support for the building of a new society based on human solidarity, which respects the rights and participation of women, youth and all other sectors.
*Defense of the area’s natural resources, biodiversity, food sovereignty, mother earth and the rights of the indigenous peoples and afro-descendents, and for the right to struggle for jobs, unionization, and economic well being.
*Opposition to neo-liberal trade pacts such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas and new forms of the same thing which are being developed. Rejection of the external debt which is illegitimate and immoral.
*Supporting the processes of regional integration such as ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States).
Photo: Arnulfo Franco/AP