Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Cuba this morning to meet with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Hugo Chávez in a visit the Colombian government says has two objectives. The first is to discuss the questions of Cuba’s participation next month in the Organization of American States’ Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. The second is to formally sign an outstanding bilateral trade agreement with President Chávez who is in Cuba recovering from surgery since February 24th.
Although the United States has thus far opposed any possible role for Cuba in the summit, other regional leaders, such as Ecuador President Rafael Correa, have supported inviting Cuba to attend, saying, “it is unheard of that in the twenty-first century, something is called the Summit of the Americas and for certain hegemonic countries some of us are Americans and some of us are not.” Correa further stated that the regional trade alliance, Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA), would boycott the event if Cuba was not somehow involved. As host of the Summit, Colombia will likely have ultimate say over the question of Cuba’s participation.
The signing of the Colombia–Venezuela trade agreement was originally scheduled to take place earlier this year, but was delayed because of President Chavez’ health. The Acuerdo de Alcance Parcial (AAP) will establish preferential tariff rates between both countries and allow their goods to flow more freely.
President Santos' visit to Cuba makes him only the second leader to see President Chávez after his third operation to remove a cancerous tumor.