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By Fareeza Haniff in Panama City
[www.inewsguyana.com] – Under the theme – Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas – the VII Summit of the Americas was officially declared opened on Friday night (April 10), where dozens of Latin and Caribbean leaders have converged to discuss a range of topics at the Atlapa Convention Center in Panama City.
The highlight of the conference was the official ‘meet and greet’ between United States President, Barack Obama and Cuban Leader, Raul Castro who met for the first time face – to face at a dinner for Leaders.
The meeting is said to be a historic one, given the fact that the two nations have barely been on speaking terms for more than 50 years. A press statement from National Security Council spokesperson, Bernadette Meehan said: “At the Summit of the Americas this evening [Friday], President Obama and President Castro greeted each other and shook hands.”
Meanwhile, the US told Latin American leaders that the days when his country could freely interfere in regional affairs are past. He was speaking just before the Summit commenced.
He told a forum of civil society leaders in Panama City that “the days in which our agenda in this hemisphere presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past”.
Additionally, the Summit also saw several protests by Venezuelans, urging the US to lift sanctions imposed on Venezuela. The protesters were greeted by their President, Nicolas Maduro.
Guyana on the other hand was represented by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues – Birkett, who told iNews in an interview a mere few hours before the Summit that the meeting has a lot to do with “quality.”
“I think this is something that the hemisphere is struggling with even though we have been able to achieve poverty reduction overall, we still have that problem with equity…where less than 100 persons own over 70 percent of the wealth in the hemisphere,” the Minister said.
She is also optimistic about the reconciliation between Cuba and the US.
“If we’re able to see Cuba back in this whole hemispheric dialogue it makes for a better political integration,” Rodrigues – Birkett noted.
The opening of the Summit was also addressed by Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, who expressed “joy” at the “historic moment” of seeing the 35 independent nations of the Hemisphere together.
He wished for the region “a future of peace, democracy, freedom and justice.”
“Sometimes, in real life, our simultaneous commitments toward respecting sovereign equality, full inclusion, and respect for democracy and human rights pose dilemmas that are difficult to resolve. But intervention, exclusion, political repression, and confrontation are no longer acceptable or useful in inter-American relations,” said the OAS leader.
Addressing the majority of the Heads of State and Government of the region, Secretary General Insulza said “our hemisphere has, in recent years, undergone major changes that make it impossible to sustain the policies of the past. In the 21st century, the inter-American system can only function as an inclusive system made up of diverse, sovereign countries that are legitimized by democracy and act on a single hemispheric agenda in conditions of full equality.”
In that context, he highlighted, the foundation for the future could not be better, because in the Americas, “We have a commitment to peace. It has been almost a century since the nations of the Americas waged war among themselves: longer than any other part of the world.”
He further noted, “These are achievements that we must protect. Our region may have many problems and even more than a few differences, but we all agree that they must never be resolved through conflict.”
Also delivering opening remarks was Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, who congratulated Castro and Obama for their opening of negotiation that would lead to the normalization of bilateral relations between both governments.
In his speech, the main UN representative praised the peace process underway in Colombia and the talks that are being held in Havana. He claimed that an agenda of peace is being developed throughout Latin America.
The Summit ends today, Saturday April 11 after several plenary sessions.