Cuba’s Coming Out Party at the Summit of the Americas

For the tiny island of Cuba, the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama marked a type of “coming out” party. Banned from the for-capitalists-only gatherings from the time they began in 1994, Cuba was not only invited to participate in the Summit this year, it was the belle of the ball (albeit the belle was a shaky, 83-year-old Raul Castro who lacks his brother Fidel’s charisma). Cuba’s presence was heralded in the speeches of each and every nation’s leader and the handshake amongst President Obama and Raul Castro was the Summit’s Kodak moment.

In Raul Castro’s extended 49-minute speech (he joked that simply because Cuba had been excluded from six prior Summits, he deserved six instances the recommended eight minutes), he gave a history lesson of past US attacks on Cuba—from the Platt Amendment to supporting the dictator Fulgencio Batista to the Bay of Pigs invasion and the opening of the Guantanamo prison. But he was gracious to President Obama, saying he was not to blame for this legacy and calling him an “honest man” of humble origins.

President Obama certainly won praise throughout the Summit for turning this web page in the Cold War. Some leaders insisted on clarifying, on the other hand, that Cuba was not at the Summit because of Obama’s good gesture Cuba was there because the leaders of Latin America insisted that there would not be yet another Summit without the need of Cuba. Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos, no lefty, recalled his position at the final summit, which he hosted, that Cuba should be invited to the subsequent one particular. Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and other people had threatened to boycott any new gathering without Cuba.

Argentine’s Christina Kirchner Fernandez went a step further in taking credit away from Obama: She said Cuba was at the table since it had fought valiantly and defiantly for more than 50 years even though suffering under the US blockade. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa mentioned the Obama’s opening was fantastic, but not good adequate. He insisted it was time to finish the “inhumane and illegal blockade” that had so damaged the Cuban people and to return the “occupied territory” of Guantanamo. Bolivia’s Evo Morales dismissed any notion of the US as a benevolent force now coming to aid poor Cuba rather, he stated, the US need to just compensate Cuba for over 50 years of damages to its economy.

There had been expectations that President Obama would use the summit to announce that Cuba would be taken off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, a crucial step in the normalization of relations. But unfortunately, that didn’t come about.

It’s challenging for a lot of Americans to fully grasp the oversized significance Cuba has in the hemisphere. Colombia’s Santos thanked Cuba for its mediation of peace talks between his government and the FARC rebels. Other governments thanked Cuba for sending doctors to their nations, treating patients in poor regions where their personal medical doctors refused to go, or for setting up health-related schools or education their nationals in Cuban schools. There was praise for Cuba sharing its thriving literacy plan. But what most Americans fail to fully grasp is the pride felt by so quite a few individuals in Latin America—even men and women who don’t like Cuba’s policies—that for over 50 years the tiny island has managed to fend off the attempts by the US Goliath to overthrow it.

From the extremely beginnings of the revolution, the US government has made use of each means it could conjure up to overthrow Fidel Castro—from poison cigars to funding saboteurs to diplomatic isolation. History is littered with CIA and exile-sponsored dirty tricks, like the October 1976 attack on a Cuban jetliner that killed all 73 persons aboard. Even in Panama, exactly where the Summit took location, there was a plot in November 2000 to kill Fidel Castro by blowing up an auditorium exactly where he was scheduled to speak.

So the truth that Cuba has managed to thumb its nose at the US for all these years is observed by a lot of as nothing at all quick of a miracle. “I was in Cuba on trip,” Gabriela Gomez, a teacher from Panama told me. “I located its economy in tatters, with buildings literally falling apart. And I do not like the restrictions on no cost speech and totally free assembly. But I really like the truth that Cuba has managed to survive as a communist nation in the face of so significantly outside aggression.”

But is the US government actually accepting Cuba as a sovereign nation that has selected a distinct path? Or is it just trying to overthrow the Cuban government by distinctive implies?

Reverend Raul Suarez who runs the Martin Luther King Center in Havana and in Panama for the Civil Society Forum that preceded the Summit, sees the very same old intrigue, interference and manipulations. “Just appear at what has happened at the Civil Society Forum,” he stated. “The Americans paid for Cuban dissidents who have no following in Cuba to come to Panama and participate as Cuban representatives of civil society. Meanwhile, many of the representatives of Cuba’s mass-primarily based organizations have been not allowed in.”

“Half our delegation got right here only to discover that they couldn’t get the credentials they had been promised, and had been shut out of the meetings,” mentioned Gretchen Gomez Gonzalez of the Cuban Federation of University Students, “while dissident Cubans who don’t represent any one but themselves have been offered credentials to represent Cuban civil society.” Pro-government Cubans confronted the dissidents in the streets and at the meetings, calling them mercenaries for taking US funds and carrying pictures showing some of them embracing convicted terrorist Jose Posada Carriles. They also say that former CIA operative Felix Rodriguez, blamed for killing revolutionary hero Che Guevara, was at the Summit working with the dissidents.

The dissidents insist they are being attacked by pro-government mobs merely for promoting absolutely free speech and absolutely free assembly. The U.S. State Division condemned what it mentioned was “harassment” and “use of violence” against participants.

The cordial meeting among Obama and Castro showed the constructive face of the opening, although the clashes on the streets of Panama City represent the rocky road ahead for US-Cuba relations. But at least the path forward is a new one, with fresh momentum emanating from the Panama Summit.

Obama said the US opening could lead to much more Americans visitors, much more commerce, additional investment and additional sources for the Cuban men and women. If the US government could do that though leaving it to the Cuban persons themselves to push for higher person freedoms, that would be—to take a page from the Castro brothers—truly revolutionary.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of and author of several books on Cuba, including No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba.