Cuba has been welcomed with open arms into the Rio Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, a sign that it is well and truly back in the international fold.
It is a coup for Cuban leader Raul Castro in his first summit outside of the island. It was not just the region’s socialists that applauded Cuba’s membership. Mexico’s conservative president Felipe Calderon, the Rio Group’s current head, said: “We’re sure the presence of our Cuban brothers will strengthen our permanent dialogue and bring a valuable contribution to our projects and to the building of our common destiny based on our shared values.” On the sidelines of the summit in Brazil, regional leaders were unanimous in calling for the United States to end the trade embargo it imposed on Cuba in 1962. Also in that year the communist island was expelled from another regional club, the Washington-based Organisation of American States. US business groups have urged Barack Obama to loosen the embargo when he takes office. Raul Castro, buoyed by all the support, says he is ready for dialogue with Obama but on equal terms and with no concessions. After half a century in the shadow of his brother Fidel, 77-year old Raul has been at the helm of the communist regime since February. Seen as more moderate than his sibling, Raul has adopted more pragmatic policies but remains just as defiant when it comes to the embargo: “More than 70 percent of our population was born after the blockade was imposed. That is why neither the pressures of the blockades nor the hurricanes will divide us or defeat us,” he said. But Cuba still needs to diversify its foreign support; it cannot rely solely on traditional allies such as Venezuela. Recently it has been developing relations with Russia and China. Now it has a seat at South and Central America’s political table.