U.S. President Barack Obama is facing sustained pressure from his counterparts at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia to include Cuba in future meetings.
Both leftist and conservative-run nations are pushing for communist-run Cuba to be included in the next summit. The summit’s host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, told the gathering that there is no reason in the current climate to exclude the island nation.
“Isolation, the embargo, indifference, turning away, have all already shown their ineffectiveness,” he said. “In today’s world, that’s not a justifiable path. It’s an anachronism that ties us to the era of the Cold War that was overcome decades ago.”
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa is boycotting the gathering in Cartagena to protest Cuba’s absence.
The United States has argued that Cuba is ineligible to attend because it lacks democratic credentials and does not respect the human rights of the Cuban people.
More than 30 heads of state and government are taking part in the sixth Summit of the Americas. The two-day regional meeting ends Sunday.
Drug legalization is another divisive issue that has emerged at the summit. President Santos and other leaders say it should be considered as a more effective and less expensive alternative to the U.S.-led war on drugs. President Obama reiterated his opposition to the move, though he recognized the “brutal” toll of drug violence and said he is open to “legitimate discussions.”
On Saturday, Obama said Washington wants deeper economic relations in the Western Hemisphere, but that existing barriers hamper greater integration.
Obama spoke of impressive economic growth in Latin America and highlighted two U.S. free trade agreements – one with the host country, Colombia, and the other with Panama. But he also said “stark inequalities” endure in the region, with “far too many” people still living in poverty.
Santos has urged his fellow leaders to be “partners for prosperity,” which is part of the official theme of the gathering.
Washington’s influence in Latin America has waned since the last summit in 2009, as the region increases its economic and diplomatic ties with emerging economies such as China and India.
Haitian President Michel Joseph Martelly and his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, are not attending the summit for medical reasons.