Colombia's Santos Averts Summit Crisis on Cuba, and Everybody Wins
I must confess that I didn't envision a neat solution to the Summit of the Americas stand-off, but that is exactly what Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, whose country will host the meeting next month in Cartagena, has achieved after a visit to Havana this week. Santos traveled to Havana, where he lamented a lack of consensus among the Summit's participants on including Cuba and promised to raise the issue of Cuba at the meeting. But Cuba's government didn't heap any blame on Colombia - there were no charges that Santos was just doing Washington's dirty work and playing the lapdog to the villanious Uncle Sam. (There was plenty of blame heaped directly on Washington, though.) And, according to Colombia's foreign minister, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez will not only attend the Summit, but would be happy to call Ecuador's President Correa and encourage him to attend, even without Cuba's Castro allowed in.
Santos handled the players expertly, and it paid off for him, both by averting embarassment when he hosts the Summit next month and by demonstrating his ability to be an effective regional negotiator.
But Santos wasn't the only winner. I'm not convinced Raul Castro truly wanted to attend the Summit, but arguably, he got something more valuable out of the row. The president of Colombia, the country in Latin America with which Washington considers itself most allied, made a special trip to see the Cuban president (the first trip to Cuba by a Colombian president in 13 years). And he took pains to express respect for and gratitude to Raul Castro for not making a "problem" for the Summit host. The photo op above, released by the Colombian government, doesn't exactly telegraph an embarassing loss by Cuba.
Hugo Chavez also scored a win. As he recuperates from surgery and fights for his life, this is no time to be grandstanding over Cuba's participation in the Summit. Instead, now is when he needs to demonstrate his continued fitness for office and for the re-election campaign ahead of him. He needs to go to the Summit - not to boycott it. So, Santos's diplomatic touch - meeting with Castro and Chavez in Cuba, and promising to raise the issue at the Summit itself - enabled Chavez to back away from the potential boycott.
And, of course, President Obama won, too. His State Department repeatedly insisted that Cuba should not attend the meeting. But that is about all it had to do. There was very little visible nail-biting, and no compromise. The heavy lifting was done by Summit host President Santos. So, if anyone gets heat for being too cozy with Cuba's Raul Castro, it won't be President Obama. And that's just what the president's advisors must have hoped for.