President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela began his visit to Panama City for the Summit of the Americas with a visit to the impoverished neighbourhood of El Chorrillo to lay a wreath at the monument to those killed by the US bombing of the community during the 1989 US invasion of Panama.
The seventh Summit of the Americas, held in Panama City on April 10 and 11, was widely hailed as a victory for left-leaning and progressive forces in the region, particularly Venezuela and Cuba.
The summit involved all nations in the region, with this year's marked by the historic presence of Cuba for the first time. Cuban President Raul Castro addressed the summit and held face to face talks with hues US counterpart Barack Obama ― the first Cuban leader to do so since the socialist nation's US-imposed expulsion from the Organization of American States in 1962.
However, the much anticipated rapprochement between the two nations was largely upstaged by regional leaders' near uniform rejection of Obama's March 9 executive order labelling Venezuela a “national security threat”.
This move has been condemned by all 33 nations of the (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which unites all nations in the hemisphere except the US and Canada) and other regional bodies.
Castro noted the positive steps taken by Obama to reestablish bilateral ties with Cuba, but criticised the US president for his aggressive measures against Venezuela.
“Venezuela is not and could never be a threat to the national security of a superpower like the US,” Castro said, calling on Obama to “repeal the executive order” and “lift unilateral sanctions”.
“I must reaffirm all of our loyal and resolute support for the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, for the legitimate government and civil-military union headed by President Nicolas Maduro.”
Obama's executive order was further denounced by many other heads of state, who also called for its repeal.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said the order “fragrantly violates international law”.
“The regional response has been overwhelming, rejecting the executive order and calling for its repeal,” Correa said. “Our peoples will never accept more tutelage, nor intervention.”
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said “unilateral measures of isolation” were no longer tolerable in this “new moment of hemispheric relations”.
She added: “We reject the adoption of sanctions against Venezuela.”
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez also denounced the order as “ridiculous”.
She said: “It's ridiculous … that not just Venezuela but any country on our continent could be some kind of threat to the huge country that is the US.”
During his speech before the summit, Bolivian President Evo Morales slammed US imperial intervention in the region.
“We don't want more Monroes in our continent, nor more Truman doctrine, nor more Reagan doctrine, nor more Bush doctrine. We don't want any more presidential decrees nor more executive orders declaring us threats to their country.”
Recently elected Uruguayan President Tabare Vasquez added his voice to the resounding chorus condemning the White House's executive order.
“As we've already expressed in other bilateral and multilateral spheres such as the Union of South American Nations and the Organization of American States, we reject the executive decree of the US government,” he said.
Daniel Ortega and Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the presidents of Nicaragua and El Salvador, also slammed Obama's decree.
“This is a blow to our America,” remarked Ortega.
Sanchez Ceren, from the left-wing FMLN, demanding the rescinding of the order by “appealing to the principle of self-determination of peoples”.
US President Barack Obama failed to stay for the speeches of Fernandez and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, leaving the plenum early in order to reportedly meet with his Colombian counterpart, Manuel Santos.
During the summit, Obama agreed to a 10 minute closed door meeting with Maduro, who termed their meeting “serious, frank and cordial”.
“I told president Obama that I am not an enemy of the United States, nor are my people,” the Venezuelan leader said.
Addressing the summit, Maduro said he was open to direct talks with his US counterpart, emphasising that Venezuelans “are not anti-United States” but “anti-imperialists”.
“I extend my hand to you president Obama to resolve the problems we have between us, in peace, without any intervention in internal matters,” he said.
Maduro also named several key issues he called on Obama to address in the context of bilateral talks, including US refusal to “recognise our revolution”, the executive decree, the US embassy's role in destabilisation efforts, as well as US support for anti-government groups operating from US soil.
Towards the summit's close, the US and Canada blocked the approval of a final declaration. This was despite it being backed by the 33 other nations of the region, broad agreement that was the result of four months of negotiations.
The final declaration requires approval by consensus. The two North American nations opposed several points in the draft document, including a point declaring health a human right, calling for technology transfers to developing countries, for an end to electronic espionage, and for the repeal of the executive order targeting Venezuela.
The US-Canadian veto was slammed by Morales.
The Bolivian leader said: “One point was important: health as a human right, and the US government did not accept that health should be considered a human right … President Obama did not accept the document.”
The previous Summit of the Americas, held in Colombia in 2012, also failed to issue a final document due to US rejection of a point opposing its blockade against Cuba.
Despite repeated calls for Obama to repeal his executive order targeting Venezuela, the US administration has dug in its heels.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said on April 11 that although her government admitted Venezuela was not a “threat”, the order would not be repealed given that “it's something that's already been implemented”.
The comments follow contradictory remarks by Obama on April 9, who also denied that Venezuela posed a threat to the United States. This was an admission that has been hailed as a victory by Maduro, who initiated a petition campaign that has collected 13 million signatures against the order.
“We do not believe that Venezuela poses a threat to the United States, nor does the United States threaten the Venezuelan government,” clarified Obama in an interview with EFE.
Nonetheless, the US leader indicated no intention of repealing the executive order, going on to justify the sanctions imposed on Venezuela, which are allegedly aimed at “discouraging human rights violations and corruption”.
Over the past month, the executive order has ignited a global backlash against US aggression, a reaction which has been lamented by Jacobson.
“I am disappointed that there were not more countries to defend [the sanctions],” she said. “They were not made to harm Venezuelans or the Venezuelan government.”
[Reprinted from Venezuelanalysis.com.]
President Maduro visiting El Chorrillo (Photos: HoyVenezuela.info):