Unprecedented Latin American opposition to US sanctions on Cuba left President Barack Obama isolated at a summit on Sunday and illustrated Washington's challenged influence in a region being aggressively courted by China.
Obama has had a bruising time at the two-day meeting in Colombia of some 30 heads of state. The US president is also running for re-election next November and can’t afford to loose support in conservative states such as Florida.
Sixteen US security personnel were caught in an embarrassing prostitution scandal before Obama arrived, Brazil and others have bashed Obama over US monetary policy and he has been on the defensive over Cuba and calls to legalize drugs.
Due to the hostile US and Canadian line on the Castro brothers regime, the heads of state failed to produce a final declaration as the summit fizzled out on Sunday afternoon.
There was no declaration because there was no consensus, said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. He bristled at suggestions the summit had been a failure, however, saying the exchange of different views was a sign of democratic health.
For the first time, conservative-led US allies like Mexico, Colombia and Chile are throwing their weight behind the traditional demand of leftist governments that Cuba be invited to the next Summit of the Americas.
Cuba was kicked out of the Organization of American States (OAS) a few years after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution and has been kept out of its summits due mainly to US opposition.
The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, looking the other way, have been ineffective, Santos said. I hope Cuba is at the next summit in three years.
Santos, a major US ally in the region who has relied on Washington for financial and military help to fight guerrillas and drug traffickers, has become vocal about Cuba's inclusion even though he also advocates for democratic reform by Havana.
In an ironic twist to the debate, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went dancing in the early hours of Sunday at a Cartagena bar called Cafe Havana, where Cuban music is played.
The leftist ALBA bloc of nations - including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and some Caribbean nations - said they will not attend future summits without Cuba's presence.
It's not a favour anyone would be doing to Cuba. It's a right they've had taken away from them, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said from Managua.