Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela endorsed the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba and said the doors “are open” for Cuban dissidents to potentially attend a key forum during the upcoming Summit of the Americas.
Both President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro are scheduled to attend the April event in Panama.
In an interview with el Nuevo Herald, Varela avoided confirming whether the Cuban dissidents — who have been repeatedly classified by the Cuban government as mercenaries at the service of “the empire” of the U.S. — would be invited by the Panamanian government to the civic society forum.
Varela said Ruben Castillo, former president of Apede (the Panamanian Association of Executives), would be the person in charge of the forum.
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But asked whether that debate would include the dissidents, he signaled it was a possibility that would be debated. “When a country seeks unity, if things are done the right way, when a country seeks unity and dialogue, well, then that’s the path to follow,’’ he said. “So, the doors are open.”
Varela, who spoke at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit this week in Costa Rica, said that the joint announcement that Cuba and the U.S. had initiated a process to normalize relations after 46 years of hostility “consolidates peace in the continent and restores social peace within the different countries.”
For the first time since the founding of the Summit of the Americas, a Cuban government head has been invited to attend. Panama invited Castro, who accepted the invitation. That means that in an act unprecedented since the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, the presidents of Cuba and the U.S. will sit at the same table of an Inter-American summit. The Organization of American States (OAS), from which Cuba was expelled in 1962, is sponsoring the summit.
However, Cuba has not shown any signs of wanting to be reincorporated fully into the inter-American system.
During the first meeting among delegates of both nations held last week in Havana, Cuban negotiator Josefina Vidal held a press conference in which she stated: “The Cuban government doesn’t consider dissidents to be ‘representative of civil society in Cuba.’”
In his CELAC speech on Wednesday, Castro also avoided addressing whether he thinks the dissidents should attend the Summit of the Americas but he voiced a range of questions about that possibility.
Castro largely used his time at the podium to chastise the U.S. for its immigration policies and the recent string of protests against police brutality held across the country. The Cuban leader also said he supports “the popular movements and the non-gubernatorial organizations that advocate nuclear dismantling, that are environmentalists, against neo-liberalism, the Occupy Wall Street of this region.”