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No stopping Cuba now

The majority of delegations from the 34 nations coming to Trinidad and Tobago for the Fifth Summit of Americas will be doing so with Cuba very much on their mind.

A clear understanding is emerging that a discussion on Cuba-USA relations cannot be deferred at this summit as one of the very significant, if not the most politically sensitive issues for Latin America and the Caribbean.

If up to this past weekend President Barack Obama's senior advisers were still of a differing persuasion, then they need to update themselves and listen carefully to the governments of the hemisphere, including that of host Prime Minister Patrick Manning.

With no malice towards the USA, but known for their solidarity with Cuba against America's unprecedented 47-year-old trade and economic blockade of that Caribbean country, the overwhelming majority of OAS members are simply anxious to avoid unnecessary skirmishes over a lingering problem that carries a bitter reminder of the worse features of America's 20th century hegemonic politics.

Had the advisers and strategists of the President, whose promised "politics of change'' continues to stir imaginations, had given some thought to a polite letter from Caricom to Obama before his inauguration last January, they would have been alerted to Caricom's current mood.

As a group of small and developing nations that form the single largest bloc of members within the OAS, Caricom-which was primarily responsible in the 1970s for breaking the US isolation of Cuba, regards America's punitive embargo against that country as the last cold war political issue of the 20th century.

As articulated by Caricom this problem reveals a "fracture in the hemispheric family'' that requires, as Obama has been informed, "unconditional dialogue'' between Washington and Havana.

But as rising voices have been proclaiming within recent weeks, the exclusion of Cuba from the OAS cannot any longer be sustained. No official response is known to have been received from Obama to the Caricom letter.

Nevertheless, Caricom shares the view that Cuba's readmission to the OAS, which the Obama administration could begin to talk about at the summit, will begin the healing process of the "fracture'' that had occurred back in 1962.

The veteran Republican Senator of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar- about whom Obama had favourably written before his election as President-has found it necessary to send a message to the 44th President that it was time to come to terms with normalisation of US-Cuba relations.

In his letter of March 30 Lugar told Obama: "At the Summit of the Americas you will be confronted with growing momentum within the region in favour of reincorporating Cuba as a member of the OAS....

"Cuban inclusion in the OAS,'' said Lugar, "presents challenges to the integrity of the organisation and its commitment to promote and defend democracy and human rights, as codified in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights...''

President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are destined to hear of this and more from Caricom and Latin American leaders, starting with the summit's host, Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Caricom's current chairman Prime Minister Dean Barrow of Belize, during the formal opening session on April 17 when Obama will make his much-awaited address.

Other speakers at plenary sessions the following day, April 18, to underscore the necessity of ending the US embargo against Cuba and its return to the OAS, will include Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Guyana's Bharrat Jagdeo, St Vincent and the Grenadines' Ralph Gonsalves as well as Jamaica's Bruce Golding and Dominica's Roosevelt Skerrit.

The legendary Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, has called on delegations at the summit to ensure firm support for an end to the exclusion of Cuba and termination of the US embargo.

In a regular column he writes for Granma, Castro ridiculed what he deemed "inadmissible concepts'' in the draft text of the "Summit Declaration''. He was given a copy by Nicaragua's President Ortega who paid him a visit. He said the summit would be a "trial by fire'' for the Caribbean-Latin America region.

Just this past Monday, Caribbean economist Norman Girvan, recently awarded with an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Havana, noted that, "Fidel Castro will be the unseen guest'' at the Fifth Summit for which "he is evidently a player'', to follow information coming out of various hemispheric capitals, among them Havana, Santiago de Chile, La Paz, Bolivia and Caracas.