Up until March 6, many people thought that the Seventh Summit of the Americas meeting, organized by the Organization of American States (OAS) and scheduled for this coming weekend, April 10-11 in Panama City, Panama, would feature an easing of tensions between the United States and the group of Latin American and Caribbean states with left or left-center governments.
The announcement by Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Raul Castro of Cuba that there would be steps toward normalization between these two countries led to feelings of relief and satisfaction in the Latin American countries. The last three remaining members of the “Cuban Five” were released by the United States and Cuba released jailed subcontractor Alan Gross and Several other people. Meetings began between U.S. and Cuban diplomats to facilitate the eventual normalization of relations between the two countries. The acceptance by the United States of Cuba’s presence at the Summit is also new, and came at the assistance of several member nations who threatened to boycott the event if Cuba continued to be excluded, as it had been at U.S. insistence since the Cuban Revolution.
But late in 2014, Congress passed a bill imposing sanctions on Venezuela, one of Cuba’s closest allies in the hemisphere. President Obama signed the bill on December 18. On March 6, Obama issued an executive declaration of a “state of emergency” and stated that the situation in Venezuela represents an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to U.S. interests and foreign policy, and therefore he was implementing sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials. But incongruously, the sanctions were imposed not for threatening the United States in any way, but for abuses supposedly committed against the right-wing opposition within Venezuela during riots a year ago, and the arrest of a number of right wing figures for their part in a failed coup earlier this year.
As much because of the bizarre language about an obviously nonexistent “threat” to the United States as because of the sanctions themselves, all sectors of the Latin American left and left center, in and out of power, erupted in protest and in solidarity with Venezuela. A dozen international organizations, including the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of our America (ALBA), UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC, which includes every single Western Hemisphere state except Canada and the United States), plus individual governments, mass organization and leaders throughout Latin America and the world denounced the U.S. policy and a demanded that it be rescinded. China, Russia and the nonaligned nations joined in. In Venezuela itself, at writing 8 million people have signed petitions demanding that President Obama retract his declaration.
The language about an “unusual and extraordinary threat” is taken from Title 50, Chapter 35 paragraph 1702 of the U.S. Code which defines the steps to be taken in imposing sanctions, in this case on Venezuela. But this suggests that in order to impose sanctions the U.S. wanted, an imaginary “threat” had to be cooked up.
The executive statement and sanctions are sure to be raised at the Summit of the Americas, both in the main session and in the several side conferences and meetings. This will threaten to overshadow a probable face to face meeting between Presidents Obama and Castro, who will both be at the Panama encounter.
To counter the tongue lashing and bad publicity that Obama and the United States will probably receive, there is frantic organizing on the right. A group of 19 former presidents and prime ministers of Latin American countries plus Spain have issued a demand that Venezuela release a group of people arrested for plotting a coup in February of this year. Several of these presidents had much worse human rights records when they were in power than does Venezuela now: Felipe Calderon of Mexico presided over a “drug war” in which tens of thousands were killed, including many civilians, and Alvaro Uribe of Colombia’s blood toll was even higher. Others ran utterly corrupt administrations, while still others had “hard right” associations, such as Spain’s former Prime Minister Felipe Aznar with his Francoist roots, and former Chilean President Sebastian Piñera whose career started under the bloodstained dictator Pinochet.
The people whom they defend are a strange lot. Parliamentarian Maria Corina Machado had signed a document in 2002 supporting an attempted coup d’état to overthrow President Hugo Chavez, but since has claimed that in fact she signed it by mistake, thinking it was merely a sign-in sheet. Machado now has appeared as an official of the government of Panama, causing protests and threats of legal action both in that country and in Venezuela.
The Cubans and Venezuelans accuse the United States of bringing in “dissidents”, whom they characterize as mercenaries in the pay of U.S. government agencies, to the Summit. Panamanian unions and progressive people’s organizations have protested the presence of these individuals also: Having promised the Panamanian government not to organize demonstrations against President Obama and the United States during the Summit, they now feel taken advantage of. Cuban trade unionists complain that they are being excluded from a key “civil society” forum.
The possibility of confrontational situations at the summit is now very high, and can only be diffused by the retraction of the anti-Venezuela statement and sanctions.
Photo: Felix Rodriguez, the murderer of Che. Beside him, one of the Cuban counterrevolutionaries invited to the forum Civil Society in Panama. At least 20 Cuban counterrevolutionaries have credentials to participate in the Forum of Civil Society. Telesur.