WASHINGTON – The presence of Cuba at the 7th Summit of the Americas will allow progress to be made on other key matters for the hemisphere, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), one of the U.S. legislators most involved in Latin America, told Efe in an interview.
Cuba has never attended the hemispheric gathering, which has been held since 1994, but that is a situation that will change this weekend at the summit hosted by Panama.
Thus, the senator emphasized the opportunity presented for regional leaders to be able to discuss things for the first time without complaining about Cuba’s absence.
“The summit’s going to be very important and very different due to Cuba’s presence. Now, Cuba’s going to be present and will stop being, therefore, the most relevant issue. There are other subjects” to discuss, Kaine said.
Regarding relations between the United States and the island, which entered into a new phase last December with the announcement of a rapprochement between the two countries, the senator said he was convinced that “there’s no way to go backward” and that the summit will be a good forum in which to move forward.
Inevitably, President Barack Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro will run into each other at some time during the meeting, as will U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez.
“We’re moving forward, we’re in a process that, although perhaps it’s not fast, of course we’re never going back to where things were in the past,” said Kaine in fluent Spanish, referring to the more than 50 years of the U.S. embargo on the communist island.
The lawmaker, who recently made a tour with Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn to Mexico, Honduras and Colombia, said that the authorities in all three countries agreed that the new relationship between Washington and Havana will not only be good for Cuba but for the entire region.
“I think we’re in a process that is advancing, and that it will open a new way of communicating with nations, an easier way,” added the senator, who spent several years as an aid worker in Honduras.
The final lifting of the embargo ultimately depends on Congress, where the opening to the island has more hurdles to overcome, especially among the Cuban-American lawmakers who maintain a more confrontational stance vis-a-vis the Castro government.
Nevertheless, as Kaine – a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – noted, lawmakers have already begun to present bills to alleviate the situation.
“We’re going to have an end to the embargo. I’m not sure when, but we’re going to have it, and we’re already working in Congress on issues like U.S. travel to Cuba, tourism and trade,” he said.