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By Ardain Isma

CSMS Magazine Staff Writer

The historic summit ends today with Barack Obama’s hope soaring to the max. The US president hopes that he will walk away with a new favorable image of the United States. Leaders in the region appear confident that they have found a new partner in Washington. Many of them were rushing to top on Obama’s stardom status in order to boost their own image at home, as it was the case of Felipe Calderon, president of Mexico, whose popularity has plummeted sharply since the drug kingpins have virtually paralyzed most urban areas of the country, forcing thousands to flee for relative safety north of the border into the United States.

Obama’s new opération de charme seems to have made some headway on Saturday when the most flamboyant of the leaders of all—harsh critique of the US during the Bush era—Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez moved publicly to express his humble approval of the new administration in Washington.  Chavez, who has had several cordial encounters with Barack Obama earlier in the day, even offering him a copy of his book, approached Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the touchy issue of restoring normal diplomatic ties with the US, officials said. The two countries expelled each others’ envoys last September.

 Contemplating a diplomatic rapprochement with Washington, Chavez did not hide his optimism. “I think President Obama is an intelligent man, compared to the previous U.S. president,” he told reporters. With that, he set the stage for a nice close of the summit—free of anti-American rhetoric.

The White House was quick to capitalize on the warn welcome. “There is great hope that with all the outreach … we are indeed starting new relationships,” said Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough. And he went on to say that “we are confident that we’ll go home with some very robust commitments on energy and climate, on … public security, and a renewal of the region’s commitment to democracy.”

According to the Associated Press, Obama, in a side show, is to meet with Central American leaders before the summit‘s final working session. Opportunists leaders like Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and newly elected president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, will certainly capitalize on their meet with Obama. Barack Obama is also scheduled to hold a news conference before returning home to Washington.

Cuba occupies front and center

Noticeably visible by its absence was Cuba, expelled from the OAS (Organization of American States) since 1961 in Punta del Este, Uruguay with the complicity of the Papa Doc regime through his envoy—Haitian Foreign Minister, Rene Charlmers. Papa doc was seeking tacit endorsement for his brutal crackdown on the growing student movement and trade unions’ strong opposition to his fascist regime. Something he wholeheartedly got from the United States, which helped craft Papa Doc’s 29 years of a diabolical dynasty on the back of the ever-suffering Haitian people.

However, since the expulsion of Cuba, Latin American leaders, reactionaries and progressive alike, who have felt being bullied into rejecting Cuba, never felt at ease with that diplomatic shame. But Obama hopes to change all that, at least cosmetically. Ahead of his arrival in Port-of-Spain, he announced a series of “seductive” advances, including the lifting of travel restrictions and the limit of the amount of money Cubans living in the United States can send to their relatives back home in Cuba. He also announced his desire to hold direct talk with the Cuban government—a first in nearly fifty years.

Cuba, meanwhile, remains pessimistically optimistic about Washington seriousness. President Raoul Castro has also expressed his willingness to hold talks but not only on the subjects of political prisoners and freedom of the press. He also wants all issues to be put on the table, including the vexing question of the US embargo that has caused serious hardships for the average Cubans on the island.  However, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was quoted saying that he “would like to see actions,” not just words from the Cubans. “We’re anxious to see what the Cuban government is willing to step up to do,” he said. Cuba is not likely to be used as the poster child for Obama’s diplomatic overture toward previously unfriendly nations like Iran. Washington must take concrete measures to lift the embargo in order to show its “kind” desire to establish normal relations with Cuba.

Note: Dr. Ardain Isma is the chief editor for CSMS Magazine and the executive director of the Center for Strategic And Multicultural Studies. He teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at Nova Southeastern University. He is a novelist and the author of several essays on multiculturalism and Caribbean politics. He may be reached atpublisher@csmsmagazine.org.

NoteLeslie Manigat name was cited in the first publication of this article as the Haitian envoy out of an error in name. We apologize for this oversight, but we intend to clarify this in a later article.

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