October 15, 2005

Latin American summit backs Cuba despite U.S. concern

By Emma Ross-Thomas and Axel Bugge

SALAMANCA, Spain (Reuters) - Leaders from Spain, Portugal
and Latin America, ignoring U.S. concern, backed a strong call
on Saturday for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba and for the
suspected bomber of a Cuban airliner to be tried.

The 22-nation Ibero-American summit stood by the wording of
the resolution despite an unusual public expression of concern
by the U.S. embassy in Madrid over an earlier draft.

"We ask the government of the United States of America ...
to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial
blockade that it maintains against Cuba," a final statement

Spain's opposition press pounced on the resolution as a
diplomatic "own goal" for Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis
Rodriguez Zapatero, who irritated Washington soon after taking
office last year by pulling Spanish troops from Iraq.

Some newspapers said the wording of the resolution, which
spoke of a "blockade" rather than an embargo, was tougher than
past statements, but Zapatero said it was similar to past U.N.
resolutions and described his government's relations with
Washington as "suitable, correct, fluid."

The leaders also approved a Cuban-backed resolution on
terrorism in which they supported steps "to achieve the
extradition or bring to justice the person responsible for the
terrorist attack on a Cubana de Aviacion plane in October 1976
which killed 73 civilians."

The resolution is a reference to Luis Posada Carriles, a
former CIA operative who Venezuela wants extradited from the
United States and put on trial over the bombing.

A U.S. judge has ruled that Posada, who has denied
involvement in the attack, may not be deported to Cuba or
Venezuela, saying he faced the threat of torture.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, leading the Cuban
delegation in the absence of veteran communist leader Fidel
Castro, hailed the resolutions earlier this week as a victory
for Cuban diplomacy.

The U.S. embassy in Madrid had earlier publicly announced
its concern over the two resolutions favoring Cuba.

"It would be unfortunate if these texts were interpreted as
a sign of support for the Castro dictatorship," an embassy
spokesman said.

To smooth ruffled feathers, the U.S. embassy released a
statement to Spanish news agencies on Saturday saying
U.S.-Spanish relations continued to be solid.


European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso,
attending the summit, also voiced concern. "I hope it is not
interpreted as a sign of tolerance of violation of human rights
in Cuba," he told a news conference.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Castro ally and
outspoken critic of the United States, praised the resolutions.

"I think it's a very important step that this Salamanca
summit calls things by their name - calls bread bread and wine
wine," he told reporters.

Ideological divisions over the resolutions were reflected
in the streets of the historic city of Salamanca, where pro-
and anti-Cuban marchers rallied.

Some 200 people, according to a police estimate, marched
singing and chanting to demand an end to communist rule and
protesting against Madrid's invitation to Castro.

"We think that Cuba's chair should stay empty until there
are free elections in Cuba," said Cuban-born Georgina Chirino,
a member of the Miami-based Federacion Sindical, who said her
aunt died a political prisoner.

Later, hundreds of pro-Chavez and Castro protesters marched
through Salamanca, waving pictures of the Cuban leader and
iconic revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara.

The leaders agreed to set up a coordinating mechanism to
speed the response to natural disasters such as Hurricane Stan
that recently lashed Central America and to work together for
orderly migration while respecting migrants' human rights.

The leaders threw their support behind schemes to forgive
debt in return for investment in education and Zapatero said
Spain was talking to six countries about such agreements.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft, Carlos Andrade