At the centre of the Summit of the Americas held in Trinidad and Tobago over April 17-19, was the only country from the hemisphere not present – Cuba.
Speaking at the opening session, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega noted that while a large majority of the heads of states of the Americas were present, "there are two major absentees".
The first was "Cuba, whose crime has been to fight for its independence, for the sovereignty of the peoples; lending solidarity, without conditions, to our peoples, and for that it is being sanctioned, for that it is being punished, for that it is being excluded."
The second was the nation of Puerto Rico, which continues to be an official colony of the United States – denied independence.
In 1962, Cuba was expelled from the Organisation of American States for having openly declared the nature of its revolution to be socialist – based on the ideology of "Marxism-Leninism".
Despite its exclusion, Cuba’s presence was felt at the summit.
In his April 4 column, "Why is Cuba being excluded?", former Cuban president Fidel Castro explained that Ortega "gave me a large number of paragraphs that are being debated about the final declaration of the upcoming Port of Spain Summit".
Arguing that there were "a great number of inadmissible concepts", he said that the summit would be a "litmus test for the peoples of the Caribbean and Latin America".
Cuban President Raul Castro attended the Bolivarian Alternatives for Our Americas (ALBA) Summit in Cumana, Venezuela, over April 16-17, in which the anti-imperialist bloc sought to "prepare its artillery".
The ALBA countries (Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Dominica) issued a public document declaring their opposition to the draft declaration of the Summit of the Americas.
Part of the reason was the exclusion of Cuba and the refusal of the US to lift its nearly five decade-long economic blockade.
At the summit, Latin American president after president denounced the US blockade and called for Cuba’s inclusion in the summit. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez proposed the next summit be held in Havana.
Others raised the need for an Organisation of Latin American and Caribbean States, including Cuba but not the US or Canada.
The March decisions by the Costa Rican and El Salvadoran government to renew diplomatic ties with Cuba left the US as the only country in the Americas without official ties with Cuba’s socialist government. This is a long way from previous decades, when only a handful of regional governments kept links and the OAS backed US anti-Cuba policy.
In light of this hemispheric shift, the Obama administration recently moved to lift travel restrictions to Cuba for Cubans living in the US. It also eased restrictions on remittances from Cuban immigrants in the US sent home.
However, Obama remains firm on keeping the US blockade, despite speculation of more changes to come.
On April 20, the Washington Post reported Obama as saying: "The policy that we’re had in place for 50 years hasn’t worked the way we want it to."
This is because, Obama said, "The Cuban people are not free".
But, as Shamus Cooke noted in PEJ News that same day, the "purpose of the embargo is not to pressure Cuba into being more democratic: this lie can be easily refuted by the numerous dictators the U.S. has supported in the hemisphere, not to mention dictators the U.S. is currently propping up all over the Middle East and elsewhere".
The real cause of continued US hostility is that "Cuba remains a solid source of pride" for the continent.
Cuba achieved impressive social gains, including an extensive and completely free education system and a lower infant mortality rate than the US. It has achieved these gains despite the US blockade and the economic crisis caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
The US government and its apologists accuse Cuba of a lack of democracy.
Cuba’s system is not perfect. However, not only is access to housing, jobs, education and health care (guaranteed in Cuba) pre-requisites for democratic participation, Cuba’s political system is based on "people’s power". Cuban citizens are able to exercise significant control over the system – including the right to recall elected officials.
"Where is there more democracy, in the United States or in Cuba?", Chavez said. "Who has the democracy meter? I have no doubt that there is more democracy in Cuba than in the United States."
Speaking at the ALBA summit, Bolivian President Evo Morales said, "The US has no right or authority to speak of democracy, because they are the ones that foster coups". He said Cuba exercised a democracy, in which million-dollar electoral campaigns don’t exist
Cuba’s crime is the political and economic independence won through the revolution.
Cooke said: "Defeating the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion [in 1961] while remaining fiercely independent in a region dominated by U.S. corporations and past government interventions has made Cuba an inspiration to millions of Latin Americans. This profound break from U.S. dominance – in its ‘own backyard’ no less – is not so easily forgiven.
"There is also a deeper reason for not removing the embargo. The foundation of the Cuban economy is arranged in such a way that it threatens the most basic philosophic principle shared by the two-party system: the market economy (capitalism)."
Cooke said that "the current crisis of world capitalism is again posing the question: is there another way to organize society?"