A Historic Handshake…
Today is the 7th Summit of the Americas and rumours are rife as to whether Barack Obama and Raul Castro will shake hands in Panama City.
Whether the ‘action’ will take place on 10-11 April is uncertain - and if it does it will certainly be a historic one given that the last time a US President and his Cuban opposite number met was over 60 years ago. So far, although no official bilateral meetings have been scheduled it is expected that top Cuban and American officials will hold talks, building on months of behind-the-scenes diplomatic negotiations, we can certainly guarantee that, bar some unforeseen dramatic event, both Obama and Castro will be at the summit, along with the 19 other continental leaders.
Cuba’s attendance is, in itself, already a historic event. This is the first summit that the country has been invited to attend since it was expelled – at the behest of the United States – from the Organisation of American States in 1962. Recent attempts from other participant countries to invite Cuba to previous summits has also been barred by the US, so Castro’s presence in Panama City this time can almost be seen as the ending of almost five decades of Cuba’s official isolation.
There is still, however, a tricky point to be addressed... for 33 years, Cuba has been on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and although three high-level negotiating sessions have been held since both countries announced the thawing of relations back on December 17, Havana has balked at moving forward on reopening embassies until it is taken off the list. Thus this summit can be the chance to eliminate this stalemate. Obama ordered a review soon after the announcement was made and White House officials hinted at an imminent decision on whether to remove Cuba from this list. This move will certainly open the possibilities for the U.S.to use the summit to clear this point and thus pave the way for the reopening of an embassy in Havana.
Whether or not we see any change in the terrorism designation, the summit in Panama City will offer a monumental stage to witness history in the making.