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Obama: A casualty of the Cold War?

obama-colombiaby Lucia Newman

If this hadn’t been an election year , things may have been different.

Nobody realistically expected Barack Obama, the US president, to bow to unanimous demands by his Latin American and Caribbean peers to re-incorporate Cuba into the Organisation of American States (OAS) , from which  it was expelled - on Washington’s insistence - exactly 50 years ago.

At the time, the communist island's Sino-Soviet alliance was considered a security threat to the region.

Fast forward to the last Summit of the Americas, held four years ago in Trinidad and Tobago, where nearly every country in the hemisphere, except Canada and the United States, called for Cuba’s reincorporation behind closed doors.

Pressure from the US State Department  managed to ensure that the subject did not make it to the official list of talking points.

Washington’s southern neighbours, who are now showing unprecedented independence from the United States on many levels, appear no longer willing to take no for an answer. 

This time around, the absence of Cuba is on the front burner. To keep the image of harmony , even conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is reportedly willing to sign a final declaration - with reservations - that includes two clauses calling  for Cuba’s reincorporation into the OAS, without prior conditions. 

Washington, however, won’t sign,  arguing that Cuba is not a democracy and has no place at the table. Because of this, at the time of this blog being written, there will be no final declaration of the Sixth Summit of the Americas. 

Obama attempted to deflect attention from the thorny issue by blaming the messenger -  using an argument that he now probably regrets.

“Sometimes I feel as if in some of these discussions, or at least the press reports,  we are in a time warp going back to the 1950s, with gunboat diplomacy and Yankees and the Cold War. That’s not the world we live in today,” said Obama, when asked about Cuba during an economic forum preceding the presidential summit inauguration.

The reference to times changing and the Cold War soon backfired on the US President. 

Opening the summit , host President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia not only turned the tables on Obama, but he also made it clear there  would likely not be another Summit of the America’s if  Washington does not change its mind.

“Cuba’s isolation, the embargo, the indifference, the habit of looking the other way,  have shown this doesn’t work.  In today’s world it is not justified.

"That anachronism has us chained to a Cold War era that ended decades ago. In  the same way, another summit with Haiti still on its knees is unacceptable, so too is another of these summits without Cuba present," said Santos, a conservative and one of Washington’s strongest regional allies.

Colombia’s president ended by accusing those who refuse to end Cuba’s isolation of  “ideological stubbornness”.

With hindsight, President Obama would likely have been better served if he simply said that the Cuba issue would be revisited after the US presidential elections in November.

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