The Summit of the Americas begins Friday, but the presence of dictatorships at the table with the rest of the Western Hemisphere’s democratic nations has already begun to cause havoc. On Wednesday, representatives of the socialist governments of Venezuela and Cuba walked out of the pre-Summit Forum on Civil Society due to the presence of pro-democracy activists.
While socialist-friendly Russia Today described the incident as the representatives of both nations “retiring” from the forum, meant to showcase various civil society groups on the eve of the arrival of heads of state, video from the incident shows Cuban and Venezuelan government agents blocking entry to the forum and heckling Cuban pro-democracy activists, including Guillermo Fariñas, who has survived 24 hunger strikes against the Castro regime, and Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, who risk weekly arrests by attending Catholic Mass on Sundays.
With chants of “kick them out!” representatives of alleged civil society groups approved by the Castro government demanded the removal of the pro-democracy activists, shouting insults at them and claiming they were “mercenaries” for the U.S. government.
“We as the civil society are defending what is ours, we cannot be in the same space,” Luis Morlote, a Cuban government supporter claiming to represent Cuban artists and writers, said to the Associated Press. The dissident groups were invited to the forum in March; their presence had been planned and public for weeks, making it possible for those who opposed it to simply not attend the forum to begin with, rather than walk out.
Venezuelan government-approved civil society representatives also abandoned the forum in solidarity with the Cuban government. Venezuelan newspaper El Universal notes that the departure from the forum, which resulted in dozens of Cuban and Venezuelan agents blocking the entrance to the forum, “heated the atmosphere and slowed down the entrance for many of those invited to the forum from other countries.”
This is the first time in the history of the summit that the Cuban government has been invited, and already its representatives have been involved in two violent attacks on pro-democracy activists. In addition to the walk-out at the Civil Society Forum, Cuban government activists physically assaulted a group of activists who had come to lay flowers at a bust of Cuban revolutionary hero José Martí in Panama City.
The Summit of the Americas proper will begin on Friday, with President Obama scheduled to attend. The White House has said that Obama will “interact” with Cuban head of state Raúl Castro in some form, though it is not yet clear in what way. It is not yet known if President Obama will acknowledge the Cuban pro-democracy activists in attendance.