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Americas leaders end summit in discord

A Pan-American summit has ended in discord here as regional leaders failed to agree on Cuba's inclusion in future summits in the face of US and Canadian opposition.

world Updated: Apr 16, 2012 11:31 IST

A Pan-American summit has ended in discord here as regional leaders failed to agree on Cuba's inclusion in future summits in the face of US and Canadian opposition.

US President Barack Obama, who defended his stance on Havana at a post-summit press conference, also faced questions on Washington's approach to the drug war and found himself on the defensive over an embarrassing Secret Service prostitution scandal.

The vast majority of the region's democratically elected leaders attending the talks in the coastal Colombian city of Cartagena said they wanted Cuba included in future meetings.

But Obama, backed by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, objected and the summit ended without the release of a final statement, as happened at the previous summit in Trinidad in 2009.

Cuba has yet to take part in a Summit of the Americas, a regular meeting sponsored by the US-based Organization of American States (OAS).

Explaining his opposition to Cuba's participation, Obama told a press conference that he hoped for a democratic transition in the hemisphere's only one-party Communist state but said it had not yet taken place.

"The fact of the matter is Cuba, unlike the other countries participating, has not yet moved to democracy. Has not yet observed basic human rights," Obama told a news conference.

Nor did summit participants agree on a call by Guatemala to consider decriminalizing drug use in view of the failure of the war on narcotrafficking, which is creating havoc across the region, particularly in central America.

But Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the summit host, said participants agreed on the "need to analyze results of the current anti-drug policy and to explore new approaches to strengthen the fight and to be more effective."

Santos, who leads the country that is the world's leading cocaine producer, said the 33 leaders present at the summit gave a mandate to the OAS to begin the process.

Obama, whose country is the world's biggest consumer of drugs, agreed for the first time to a direct dialogue with his Latin American partners on the issue of drug consumption and the flow of money and arms toward Latin America.

But he said he was opposed to the decriminalization or legalization of drugs proposed by Guatemala.

On Argentina's call for support for its claim on the British-ruled Falkland islands, Santos said most countries "call for a peaceful solution" to the dispute, but Obama said Washington would "remain neutral."

For Obama, the summit was certainly not that easy.

Speaking at a business forum Saturday, he said it was "remarkable to see the changes that have been taking place in a relatively short period of time in Latin, central America and in the Caribbean."

But he was bluntly told by his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff to treat Latin America as an equal.

"In Latin America, we have a huge space to make our relationship one of partnership but partnership between equals," said Rousseff, whose country has gained increasing international clout as the world's sixth largest economy and Latin America's dominant power.

On a positive note for the US leader, he said the US-Colombian free trade agreement will come into force next month, after years of Washington pressing for reform in the South American country.

Obama hailed the accord as "a win for both our countries".

Implementation of the pact will reduce duties on US exports entering Colombia, as well as help create half a million jobs in five years in Colombia, increase the country's output by one percent and lift 1.2 million Colombians out of poverty, according to government estimates.

Before flying home, Obama joined Santos and pop superstar Shakira at a ceremony to hand over land titles to descendants of Colombia's runaway African slaves.

Representatives of some 1,000 Afro-Colombian families descended from runaway slaves received ownership titles to more than 3,350 hectares (8,200 acres) of ancestral land they occupy.

Cartagena used to be Spain's largest slave trading port in the Americas during the colonial era.

First Published: Apr 16, 2012 11:02 IST