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Sat Dec 20, 2014, 08:39 PM

How Panama changed history in the Americas

How Panama changed history in the Americas

To go to Panama or not to go to Panama — that was the question. After all, Cuba’s president would be there. Now U.S. President Barack Obama will be there, too.

By: Oakland Ross Feature Writer, Published on Fri Dec 19 2014

Thank Washington. Thank Havana. But also thank Panama City.

Jorge Dominguez does.

The Harvard University Latin America scholar says it was a bold but largely unacknowledged master stroke by newly elected Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela that sparked this week’s stunning announcement that Cuba and the United States mean to restore diplomatic relations, after more than five decades of bitter hostility.

“Panama said, ‘We’re going to do it — and tough luck,’ ” says Dominguez.

He is referring to Varela’s decision this past October to invite Cuban President Raul Castro to attend a hemispheric summit scheduled for next April in the Central American country.
That move put the ricocheting ball of regional diplomacy firmly in Washington’s court.

There have been several previous such meetings, known as Summits of the Americas, but the host leaders in every case have bowed to U.S. wishes and kept Cuba off the guest list.

Varela chose a more daring course.

“Panama decided to invite Cuba as a full participant,” says Dominguez. “The White House had to reach a decision, to accept or not.”


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