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Cuba, Venezuela likely to overshadow Central American issues at Panama summit

Cuba, Venezuela likely to overshadow Central American issues at Panama
summit
LARRY LUXNER

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela visits the Atlapa Convention
Center, the site for the upcoming VII Summit of the Americas, in Panama
City, on April 2, 2015. Rodrigo Arangua/AFP
WASHINGTON, D.C. – All eyes will be on Barack Obama and Raúl Castro when
the two presidents meet face-to-face in Panama next week for the first
time since the United States and Cuba agreed to normalize bilateral
relations in December.

But issues crucial to Central America – ranging from immigration and
climate change to violent crime and the region’s growing need for
electricity – will also be on the agenda for the VII Summit of the
Americas, to be held Apr. 10-11 in Panama City.

Roberta Jacobson, assistant U.S. secretary for Western Hemisphere
affairs, said her delegation will focus on four themes at the summit,
the first which the leaders of all 35 nations in the hemisphere,
including Cuba, are to attend. Those themes are democracy and human
rights, global competitiveness, social development and climate change.

“This summit in Panama will showcase a lot of very important issues that
deliver on President Obama’s promise of equal partnerships – in
particular what he promised at the fifth summit in Trinidad & Tobago in
2009, which was an updated architecture for cooperation and partnership,
based on truly shared responsibility by the U.S. and our partners,” said
Jacobson, speaking at Washington’s Brookings Institution.

“We won’t always agree on everything,” she added, “but we agree on so
many things that are in our mutual interests that we can have mature
21st century relations.”

Much of the hype over next week’s summit understandably centers on the
extent and depth of potential discussion between Obama and Castro, whose
two countries are now trying to repair relations after more than half a
century of hostilities.

“Clearly, President Obama knew when he made the decision to go to the
summit that Cuba had been invited. There will be interaction with Raúl
Castro,” she said, explaining that none of Obama’s one-on-one meetings
have yet been scheduled other than a meeting with the summit’s host,
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela.

As Washington’s ties with Havana warm up, its relations with the
government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro have taken a turn for
the worse. Last month, the Obama administration imposed sanctions
against seven Venezuelan officials on the grounds they constituted a
“national security threat” to U.S. interests.

Jacobson, a seasoned diplomat who assumed her current position in March
2012, admitted that she was “disappointed” by some leaders’ reactions to
the sanctions for “demonizing” the United States as if it were the
source of Venezuela’s problems.

“There’s been a great deal discussed about backsliding, and this summit
must confront that issue,” she said. “This is, of course, the first
summit that will have all 35 heads of states. It is momentous, but it
has to be followed up by robust conversations. The president has
committed to having a conversation with the forum on civil society.”

Jacobson added, without naming names: “Leaders must be held accountable.
Unless we have that, then we’re living in our own echo chamber of
leaders without getting the input we need from our citizens.”

See also: Costa Rica recalls its ambassador to Venezuela after
pro-Maduro statements

On that note, the State Department official indirectly criticized
Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina for refusing to renew the
U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala
(CICIG in Spanish) for a third time.

“I think the renewal of the mandate is critical, and I think there’s
very strong support for that in Congress, and in the administration,”
said Jacobson.

During his visit to Guatemala last month, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden
praised the commission’s work and urged the leaders of Honduras and El
Salvador to replicate the CICIG model in their own countries, or to
establish a regional CICIG.

CICIG was established in 2006 to investigate organized crime and its
connections to state officials. Absent another extension, CICIG’s
mandate will expire on Sept. 3. At his meeting with Pérez Molina, Biden
said the leaders of Central America must work harder to reduce levels of
impunity as a condition for receiving a much-debated $1 billion aid
package from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“There’s no doubt, beginning from before the Alliance for Prosperity
plan was drafted, that measures of effectiveness and commitments on
transparency, good governance and anti-corruption have got to be a part
of this,” said Jacobson.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to U.S. taxpayers to make sure this
money is being used wisely,” she said. “The governments themselves have
said to us that they want to use these funds to make fundamental changes
in the ways budgets are implemented in their countries, including
forcing through accountability mechanisms.”

Some changes have already been made, she said, pointing to an accord
between Honduras and Berlin-based Transparency International to work on
accountability issues.

Jacobson also stressed that not all the money would be going to El
Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

“The $1 billion aid request is not just for the Northern Triangle. We
want to make clear that it’s for all the Central American countries,”
she said. “Unless we work with everybody together, we will end up having
to do more in another of the countries. So while it does focus on the
Northern Triangle – because that’s where the greatest need is – there
are also funds for Costa Rica, Panama and Belize.”

Another priority, she said, was the promotion of renewable energy and
cleaner fossil fuels for the region.

“We’re obviously concerned that more than 31 million citizens in this
hemisphere lack affordable energy, and we expect electricity demand to
double in the next decade,” she said. “Energy costs in Central America
are way above what many other countries pay, and that is holding back
economic progress. Unless we can encourage connectivity and the ability
to move energy from the places that have it to places that will never be
self-sustaining – and bring those energy costs down – we’ll never be
able to overcome cycles of economic difficulty, and with it cycles of
emigration, poverty and violence.”

Source: Cuba, Venezuela likely to overshadow Central American issues at
Panama summit — The Tico Times –
http://www.ticotimes.net/2015/04/05/cuba-venezuela-likely-to-overshadow-central-american-issues-at-panama-summit

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