08 April, 2015
Officials from Cuba will attend the Summit of the Americas this week in Panama. The summit brings together the leaders of countries in North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. This is the first time Cuba has been invited to the meetings.
United States officials say President Barack Obama plans to talk with Cuban President Raúl Castro at the summit. It will be the first time the two men have spoken since Mr. Obama announced plans to re-establish full diplomatic relations between their countries.
President Obama says he welcomes Cuba's participation at the conference.
"Our shift in policy toward Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas."
Obama administration officials hope that by welcoming Cuba to the summit, the United States will rebuild its leadership role in Latin America. Experts say the U.S. position has suffered because of economic weakness and the area's increasing involvement with China and other countries.
U.S. measures targeting Cuba's Communist government have been an issue in Latin American countries for many years. At the 2012 Summit of the Americas, some Latin American leaders criticized the U.S. decision to bar Cuba from the meetings.
Michael Shifter heads the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C. He says the invitation to Cuba to attend the summit in Panama is a major development.
"It has enormous symbolism, over the last 50 years as the country that has been isolated by the United States, squeezed by the United States and not treated as a sovereign nation. So for Latin Americans, that's very, very important."
But not everyone supports the Obama administration's decision to seek full diplomatic relations with Cuba. And some critics say Cuba's participation in the summit hurts democracy in Latin America.
The United States still includes Cuba on a list of countries that support terrorism. President Obama wants Cuba to be taken off the list, but he has not yet announced when that will happen.
I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.
VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reported this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
participation – n. the act of being involved with others in doing something or taking part in an activity or event
shift – n. a change in how something is done or how people think about something
renewed – adj. describing a new beginning, especially one with more force or enthusiasm
hemisphere – n. a half of the Earth
enormous – adj. very great in size or amount
symbolism – n. the particular idea or quality that is expressed by a symbol
isolated – adj. separate from others
squeeze(d) – v. (informal) to force (someone) to give you something or to do something, by using threats or pressure
sovereign – adj. having independent authority and the right to govern itself
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