Latin American support for Cuba grows

Dec. 12, 2012 at 5:32 PM

BOGOTA, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Support for Cuba's inclusion in Latin American regional conferences and organizations is growing amid renewed links reinforcing the Caribbean nation's ties with Moscow.

Cuba emerged as a power broker behind the scenes as it hosted peace talks between Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group and Colombia, a U.S. ally increasingly in favor of an end to the U.S. embargo Cuba.

Recent contacts also drew Cuba into networks including the Union of South American Nations.

But the FARC talks carry a special prize for Havana. If a peace deal brokered in Cuba leads to FARC joining Colombia's political process, it will raise questions about the U.S. embargo, the longest in history.

A peace deal would be a major diplomatic achievement for President Raul Castro's government and a blow to Washington's attempts to punish Cuba aiding FARC, one of several reasons the embargo has lasted so long, said.

The FARC insurgency was partly inspired by Fidel Castro's 1959 takeover but the government of the Castro brothers over the years "has paid a steep price for its links to the Colombian rebels," said. Some FARC rebels are said to be living in Cuba.

As the talks began FARC offered a cease-fire to Jan. 20, 2013, but Bogota vowed to continue attacks on suspected FARC strongholds.

If Cuba can make the cease-fire permanent and help deliver a peace deal, FARC would likely be transformed into a legitimate political party in Colombia, said. That would make Cuba's inclusion on the terror list obsolete, "even if anti-Castro hard-liners in the U.S. Congress try to block a change," the website said.

"More broadly, a resolution to the Colombia conflict would bring Cuba full circle, from regional outcast during the Cold War -- when Havana armed and supported guerrilla movements throughout the hemisphere -- to Latin American peacemaker."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has set November 2013 as the deadline for an agreement.

More than 600,000 people died in FARC-related violence in Colombia since 1964.

Alongside FARC peace talks, Colombia has been supporting Cuba's inclusion in regional Latin American conferences and organizations. Strong support for Cuba has also come from Brazil after President Dilma Rousseff offered Cuba a multibillion-dollar trade, economic and technical assistance program.

Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon was reported calling for an end to the U.S embargo.

Meanwhile, Russia has stepped up business contacts with Cuba, following direct air links with proposals for a joint airline.

A joint airline will give Russia greater access to Latin American countries, Rossiyskaya Gazeta government-run newspaper said, quoting Deputy Transport Minister Sergey Aristov.

Traffic from Russia to Cuba is growing every year, Ministry of Industry and Trade head Denis Manturov told the newspaper. In 2011, 80,000 Russian citizens visited the island.

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