Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Seventh Summit of the Americas hailed as historic

Published:Monday | April 13, 2015 | 12:00 AM
US President Barack Obama (right, middle row) and Cuban President Raúl Castro (left, middle row) and other world leaders participate in the Summit of the Americas arrival ceremony in Panama City, Panama.
US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro shake hands during their meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama.
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PANAMA (AP):

The historic face to face between the United States and Cuba, energy solutions, climate change, peace in Colombia, and Argentina's long-standing claim of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, were among the many issues highlighted at the seventh Summit of the Americas, which concluded on Saturday in Panama City, Panama.

This year's summit, the first in history that included representatives of the 35 independent countries of the hemisphere, had addresses by the 27 heads of state and government, five foreign ministers and three permanent representatives to the Organization of American States (OAS).

Heads of state representing lands from Tierra del Fuego to the North American tundra pressed their concerns in a marathon session at a Panama City convention centre. However, it was all overshadowed by the first substantial face-to-face encounter by sitting US and Cuban leaders since 1958, as presidents Barack Obama and Ra?l Castro seek to restore diplomatic relations and lower the combative tone that has prevailed since ties were severed 54 years ago.

Obama sought to chart a smoother course in relations with Latin America, and many other leaders notably did not take a page from the leftist ALBA bloc nations and take strong stands against Washington.

The moderate voices included the presidents of Latin America's two most populous and economically powerful nations: Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, who only briefly criticized the US sanctions on Venezuelans as "counterproductive and inefficient", and Mexico's Enrique PeÒa Nieto, who delivered an attack-free address.

PeÒa Nieto expressed solidarity with Chile, whose president skipped the summit to oversee the country's response to deadly flooding in recent days; backing Colombia's peace talks with the hemisphere's largest surviving guerrilla army, a common theme on the day; and praising US-Cuban dÈtente and Castro's unprecedented attendance.

"All 35 states that make up the Americas are here ... . This historic gathering is thanks to the dialogue between two great friends of Mexico, Cuba and the United States," PeÒa Nieto said.

"Our nation supports, recognises and is an ally of this process."

Obama announced that Rousseff will visit Washington in June, rescheduling a 2013 trip that she called off amid a diplomatic flap over revelations that the US National Security Agency had covertly monitored her private communications.

She said she was pleased by the invitation and looked forward to the trip.

OBAMA AND MADURO MEET

A potentially tense moment was avoided when President Nicol·s Maduro of Venezuela didn't follow through on a pre-summit pledge to confront Obama with 10 million signatures on a petition demanding the repeal of the sanctions. Instead, he said the petitions would be delivered through diplomatic channels.

Maduro's change of heart came after senior US State Department official Tom Shannon flew to Caracas to meet with Maduro, and Obama and other officials walked back language declaring Venezuela's political and economic instability a threat to US national security.

Obama and Maduro met briefly in private later in the day.

The first plenary session included the presentation of the host, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, and the presence of the secretary general of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza, included addresses by 14 heads of state.

The second plenary session featured addresses by the prime minister of The Bahamas, Perry Christie; the prime minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller; the president of Uruguay, Tabare Vazquez; the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves; the prime minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart; the president of El Salvador, Salvador S·nchez CerÈn; the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne; the president of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina; the president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega; the president of Haiti, Michel Martelly; the prime minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell; and the prime minister of St Lucia, Kenny Anthony.

Speakers in the second session also included the foreign minister of Costa Rica, Manuel Gonzalez; the foreign minister of Chile, Heraldo MuÒoz; the foreign minister of Belize, Wilfred Elrington; the foreign minister of Dominica, Francine Baron; the foreign minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Mark Brantley; the permanent representative of Paraguay to the OAS, Elisa Ruiz Diaz; the permanent representative of Suriname to the OAS, Niermala Badrising; and the permanent representative of Guyana to the OAS, Bayney Karran.

The summit concluded with a Declaration from the Presidency, which President Varela delivered at the end of the event. In it, the Panamanian president said he convened the summit "with a universal character," and that the result was a "historic" event, thanks to the presence, for the first time, of Cuba.

"The decision announced by the presidents of Cuba and the United States to move forward with a new approach to the relations between their countries created a legitimate expectation that situations, both old and new, that have made for tense hemispheric relations can be resolved," he said.

"This summit has built bridges in that direction."

In Panama, it was also determined that the eighth Summit of the Americas will be held in Lima, Peru, in 2018.