No discussion on Cuba trade, says Obama

United States President Barack Obama does not believe there needs to be any discussion of his country's 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba when he attends the Fifth Summit of the Americas here later this month.

Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, who is the special adviser to the White House for the summit, made this statement yesterday, although Prime Minister Patrick Manning told reporters in Brazil, on March 16, that "there is a meeting of minds as to how best the question of Cuba should be handled".

"We do not believe that Cuba is a topic of discussion at this summit," Davidow said in a telephone interview with the Express yesterday, from his Washington DC office.

"The policy of the United States on Cuba is that we hope that the Cuban people will someday be able to share the same kind of democracy that the people of Trinidad have," Davidow, who is overseeing preparations for Obama's participation in the summit, said.

His comment came just three days after the communist country's leader, Raul Castro, accepted an invitation from Manning to come to Trinidad and Tobago at a time of his choosing.

"Obviously, Trinidad is free to work on its own relationship with Cuba as all countries are. However, I think it would be very unfortunate if the topic of Cuba were to become the principal issue at this summit and detract attention from the other important things you and I have been talking about -energy, poverty, crime," Davidow said.

Cuba is a member of the Organisation of American States (OAS), which is the group of states behind the summit, but its government has been excluded from participation in the OAS since 1962. Castro is not expected to visit this country during the summit, but even if he did, he would not be able to participate in it because of the existing OAS rules regarding Cuba.

Contacted for comment on the matter earlier this week, US Embassy public affairs officer Michelle Jones said: "Trinidad and Tobago is a sovereign nation, and the prime minister is free to invite any guest to his country. We do not anticipate any confrontations at the summit and look forward to good discussions."

In a radio address last week, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, a strong ally of Cuba, called for Cuba's inclusion in the summit and urged Obama to lift his country's 47-year-old trade embargo on that country.

Commenting on this yesterday, Davidow said, "We do not believe that Cuba should be at the summit because the summit is for the community of democratically elected heads of state. I don't think anybody in Trinidad would argue that Raul Castro was democratically elected."

A former US ambassador to Venezuela, Davidow is working in conjunction with the US Department of State to help manage summit-related diplomacy in the region. As such, he was asked about the relationship between the United States and Venezuela, which was contentious under the administration of Obama's predecessor in office, George W Bush, and that of Chavez.

"Certainly, the American president is coming to the summit with the intention of meeting and talking with all of his democratically-elected colleagues in the hemisphere. It is not our intention to have difficulties with any of these countries or with their leaders," Davidow said.