Colombia President In Cuba To Talk Summit Flap

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Colombia President In Cuba To Talk Summit FlapColombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks to reporters upon his arrival at the Jose Marti International Airport,in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday March. 7, 2012. Santos flew to Cuba on Wednesday to meet with counterpart Raul Castro about an upcoming regional summit amid talk of a possible boycott that would be a challenge to U.S. foreign policy. Members of the Venezuelan-led leftist Bolivarian Alliance, or ALBA, demanded last month that Cuba be included in the April 14-15 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, but stopped short of threatening a boycott while urging Colombia to extend an invitation. As host, Colombia gets the final decision. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)(Credit: AP)

HAVANA (AP) — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos held talks with President Raul Castro on Wednesday amid a controversy over whether the South American nation will invite Cuba to attend a regional summit, but it was not immediately clear what was said.

Santos also planned to see convalescing Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who underwent cancer surgery in Havana last week.

Santos said on arrival that the April 14-15 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, would top the agenda for his discussions with Castro. Members of the leftist Bolivarian Alliance, or ALBA, demanded last month that Cuba be included in the regional gathering, but stopped short of threatening a boycott while urging Colombia to extend an invitation. As host, Colombia gets the final decision.

Washington, a staunch supporter of Santos, opposes Cuban inclusion in the gathering. Santos has sought to maintain friendly ties to Cuba, and his efforts to remain on good terms with Chavez have dramatically set him apart from his predecessor.

“Our relations … are very good, but any relationship can be improved,” Santos said of Cuba-Colombian ties upon his arrival at Havana’s international airport.

In the late afternoon, Cuban and Colombian officials said Santos’ discussions with Castro had concluded, and that Santos was paying a visit to Chavez. Santos planned to make a statement before flying home.

The Summit of the Americas is historically linked to the Organization of American States, and Cuba has not participated in the OAS since 1962. But Cuba has expressed a desire to attend the Cartagena summit.

U.S. officials say Cuba, ruled since 1959 by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro, does not meet OAS standards of democracy and thus has no business taking part.

“They don’t fit the definition of democratic countries and the development of democracy in the hemisphere,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “So at this point we see absolutely no basis and no intention to invite them to the summit.”

Geoff Thale, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a U.S.-based think tank, said the fact that Santos is going out of his way to smooth over the flap, together with ALBA’s support for Cuba, shows that the region is increasingly willing to deviate from U.S. international policy.



“The widespread support in Latin America for Cuba’s participation in the Summit, and the willingness of many governments to push the issue, underscores the decline of U.S. influence in the region,” Thale said by e-mail.

Santos and Chavez were to have met March 1 about a commercial accord, but that was postponed by Chavez’s illness, Santos said.

ALBA, Chavez’s brainchild, is made up of Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela.

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Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Havana and Vivian Sequera in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

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Andrea Rodriguez is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

Andrea Rodriguez is a San Francisco writer.

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