Thursday, July 18, 2024

As Summit kicks off, prospect of Obama-Castro meeting draws hype, skepticism

Obama Castro

Just one day after Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez held the highest-level meeting between the two nations in more than 50 years, the Summit of the Americas, kicking off today in Panama, will play host to a hugely hyped, potential encounter between Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro of Cuba. The Cold War tensions of old, having been somewhat tempered since December’s call to normalize diplomatic relations with the island nation, are currently hinging on the Mr. Obama’s plan to remove Cuba from the three-decade-old designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“Our emphasis has been on the facts,” Mr. Obama said earlier on Thursday at a speech in Kingston, Jamaica. “We want to make sure that given that this is a powerful tool to isolate those countries that genuinely do support terrorism, that when we make those designations we’ve got strong evidence that, in fact, that’s the case. As circumstances change, then that list will change as well.”

The eve of today’s Summit of the Americas, the seventh such gathering, was further marred by clashes between pro-Castro and anti-Castro demonstrators, a signal of just how deep the friction runs between the two factions. Still, leaders remain optimistic.

“We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but we don’t want to be imprisoned by the past,” Mr. Obama said. “Engagement is a more powerful force than isolation. I believe that we can move past some of the old debates that so often define the region, and move forward.”

And despite all of the focus given to Cuba-U.S. relations, President Obama and his delegation face another critical encounter, this time with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, angered by American-led sanctions due to alleged human rights abuses from the Venezuelan ranks. This, too, will draw eyes and ears for the already drama-laden Summit.

New York Times