HAVANA, January 29, 2014 (AFP) – Regional leaders declared a “zone of peace” in Latin America and the Caribbean Wednesday at a summit in Havana that also showcased Cuba’s emergence from international isolation.
“I solemnly proclaim Latin America and the Caribbean as a ‘zone of peace,’” Cuban President Raul Castro told representatives of 33 countries, not including the United States and Canada, which were not invited.
As part of the proclamation, the region’s leaders pledged not to resort to force for the resolution of conflicts among them.
Although largely spared wars over the past century, border disputes abound in the region and many countries have suffered civil wars and bloody insurgencies fueled by Cold War rivalries.
Among the heads of state and government attending the summit were the presidents of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, and Peru’s Ollanta Humala, whose countries this week received a World Court ruling on a longstanding maritime boundary dispute.
They were expected to meet on the sidelines of the summit for the first time since the ruling in the Hague.
The two-day summit was to close Wednesday with a “declaration of Havana” affirming the region’s “unity within diversity.”
“The creation of a common political space is of primordial importance to advance our objective of peace and respect among nations, in order to overcome natural barriers and those imposed on us,” said Castro.
Cuba’s communist regime received numerous expressions of solidarity during the summit and the final communique was expected to condemn the more than 50-year-old US trade embargo on the island.
Among those in attendance were the secretary general of the Organization of American States, a Washington-based regional security group that expelled Cuba in 1962 but reinstated it in 2009. Also taking part was UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Castro has taken strides to open Cuba’s Soviet-style state-controlled economy, but the regime brooks no political opposition.
Cuban rights groups reported more than 100 dissidents were taken in for questioning to prevent their meeting during the summit.
Unlike previous international gatherings in Havana, none of the presidents attending the summit sought to meet with dissidents, although the Costa Rican embassy received a visit from a delegation led by a prominent dissident, Elizardo Sanchez.
Ban on Tuesday said he raised the problem of “arbitrary arrests” with Castro.
Cuba also used the summit to pay homage to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who was a driving force behind the Community of Caribbean and Latin American States. Castro is to turn over the rotating presidency of the group to Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla.