Hugo Chávez is urging fellow left-leaning leaders to attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas, despite their displeasure at Cuba’s exclusion from it. The Venezuelan president confirmed Tuesday that he plans to attend the summit in Cartagena, Colombia, on April 14-15, and urged other members of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas) to follow suit, though they had previously threatened to boycott the meeting if Cuba were not invited. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced earlier this month that Cuba would not be attending the summit, following a failure to reach consensus during bilateral talks.
In a phone call broadcast on state television Monday night, Chávez said, “This will be the last so-called Summit of the Americas without Cuba,” as “a good number of us” would advocate Cuba’s inclusion in future such gatherings at the Summit. He said he had discussed the issue with leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Nonetheless, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said ALBA member countries still had yet to decide whether to participate. That position was reiterated by Deputy Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde yesterday, who said in a statement to Prensa Latina that “Cuba has to be present, [and] must be part of the family living in this continent.” He did not say, though, which method of promoting Cuba’s inclusion was preferable—skipping the regional meeting by way of protest, or demanding Cuba’s inclusion from within it. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, said last week he would not attend in protest.
The Venezuelan and Bolivian statements came just after President Barack Obama confirmed his participation at the summit. Other high-profile attendees will include Microsoft founder Bill Gates, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Mexican media mogul Carlos Slim, and World Bank President Robert Zoellick. One issue expected to be a hot topic is drug decriminalization, which Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina has firmly advocated of late, and which Santos and Mexican president Felipe Calderón are open to discussion. The U.S. has said it is “willing to listen” to the debate at the upcoming meeting but remains firmly opposed to legalization.