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Seventh Summit of the Americas to take place this week in Panama

This year’s summit on regional issues takes place amid normalizing relations between the US and Cuba

The seventh Summit of the Americas will be held at the end of this week in Panama City.  The event has been held every three years since 1994. It’s a chance for leaders from North, Central and South America to come together and discuss issues affecting the region. Topics expected to be on the agenda include trade, security and migration.

This is the first year that Cuba has been invited to attend the summit. All the Latin American and Caribbean leaders at the last summit, in Colombia in 2012, voted to invite Cuba. The U.S. and Canada have traditionally opposed its presence.

The summit comes just months after Washington and Havana decided in December to normalize relations after half a century of hostilities. Al Jazeera’s David Ariosto said that one of Havana’s major stipulations was that its removal from the United States’ list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba also needs U.S. cash to help boost its economy, he said.

U.S. relations with Brazil have been frosty since Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled a state visit to the United States in 2013 over allegations of U.S. surveillance in Brazil. The United States is Brazil’s second-largest export market, and Brazil could use a boost from the U.S. as it faces a stalling economy.

Another topic expected to be discussed at the summit is China’s role in the region. Beijing has lent Latin American and Caribbean countries nearly $120 billion over the past decade.

During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment The Week Ahead, Thomas Drayton spoke to Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, and Jorge Castañeda, a former foreign minister of Mexico.  

“I think the summit is a really important opportunity for the United States and Cuba to show that both countries have turned over a new leaf,” said Farnsworth. “I think the question is going to be what concrete actions come out of this particular meeting.”

He added that another question is what the posture will be of the other countries at the summit. “This isn’t just the United States and Cuba meeting. It’s all the countries of the Western Hemisphere. Some of them are going to be quite focused on the fact that they don’t much like the United States, whether or not there’s a rapprochement with Cuba.” Farnsworth said relations between the U.S. and Venezuela could become a pressing issue during the summit.

“There should be a dialogue between not only Venezuela and the United States,” said Castañeda, “but also between Venezuela and the inter-American community regarding its constant, systematic and increasingly brutal violation of human rights.” He added, “Unfortunately, it looks like the Latin Americans will not want to take on Venezuela on this issue, nor will the United States, because it does not seem to want to have a public debate with Venezuela get in the way of the rapprochement with Cuba.”

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro said he has 10 million signatures from Venezuelans urging the U.S. to remove sanctions on a number of its officials. The U.S. imposed the sanctions last month, citing human rights violations.

Farnsworth said that Mexico, Colombia and Chile don’t have much sympathy for the Venezuelan regime, though they might publicly show support and solidarity. He said their “real interest is developing an economic relationship with the United States, and so their hope would be that Venezuela does not take over the summit.”

Castañeda said, “Obama, unlike many of his predecessors, has done just about everything in terms of so-called respect for Latin American nationalism and old-fashioned anti-imperialism.”

He added that President Hugo Chávez, in an interview before his death, when asked if he thought there was any way to get along with the United States, said, “As long as the United States is an imperialist power and does not have a socialist government, there is no way.” Castañeda said, “That pretty much sums up what most of the Latin Americans … think about relations with the United States.”

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