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Last updated: 19 April, 2009 - Published 16:01 GMT
 
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Cuba inside, shutdown outside
 

 
 
gridlock
Cars backed up in Port of Spain to allow leaders to meet north of Port of Spain
Not being here at the Port of Spain Summit of the Americas has not stopped Cuba from being the centre of attention of leaders inside and outside of the conference.

Inside the conference chambers, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, Nicaraguan leader Daniele Ortega, Cristina Fernandez Kirschner of Chile and Bolivian President Evo Morales have put the reinstatement of Cuba on the agenda.

So too has host prime minister Patrick Manning.

He said the time is right for the ending of the 47-year old Washington embargo against Havana.

The Venezuelan leader has gone further saying that the next Summit of the Americas should be held in Havana.

In his capacity as chairman of the summit, Prime Minister Manning is expected to reassert what he and his colleague leaders of the 14-member Caribbean Community have been saying that it is time for the United States to meaningfully engage Cuba.

Indeed, even US President Barack Obama has made it clear that his administration is ready to talk with the Raul Castro regime.

Evo Morales
Morales wants Cuba reinstated into the hemispheric group

So too Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, says his government will continue to have positive relations with Cuba.

But he made it clear that US/Cuba relations are a matter ultimately for the two countries.

Outside the summit centres, groups of civil society activists have been petitioning in various forms for Cuba’s re-entry into the forums of the Organisation of American States.

Obama watching

As official cars were escorted to and from the Diplomatic Centre the official reception area for the leaders, police and soldiers extended the security zones to the northern suburb of St Ann's.

Sunday morning traffic backed up behind police barricades as cars flying the flags of Latin American countries swung into the St Ann's presidential residence.

The Diplomatic Centre and the Trinidad Hilton sit in the same area which meant that curious Trinis left their cars and took Sunday morning strolls to do a bit of Obama spotting.

Many brought their cameras and videos to look out for the American leader.

"We're delighted...we're just so sorry we haven't been able to see him at close-up quarters," one woman told BBC Caribbean.

"But we're really honoured that he can come to Trinidad, especialy so early in his presidency."

"We did get a glimpse of him...he slowed down and waved at us...it was worthwhile."

Many sported Obama t-shirts and walked around the usuallly traffic-ridden area, enjoying the views of the Brazilian, Ecuadorean cars whizzing past with outriders.

Gridlock

For those with vehicles, the prospect was much gloomier as main roads around the central artery of Queen's Park Savannah, Trinidad's Hyde or Central Park, were shut to normal traffic.

A promised closedown until 0900 Sunday morning drifted onto lunchtime leaving drivers in gridlocked traffic on side roads or parked up waiting for permission to move on.

People used the Sunday morning call-in radio shows to vent their anger.

Cars with environmental and other protest signs also found themselves caught in the gridlock, delaying proposed protests in areas outside the security zone.

On Saturday, the protestors had their chance for the column inches and airtime.

The security shutodwn around the smaller 'red zone' of the conference area simply pushed protests outside the capital.

At the east Trinidad campus of the multi-Caribbean campus University of the West Indies (UWI) hosted a parallel 'People's Summit'.

In the suburb of St James, west of Port of Spain, NGO's held a Saturday afternoon "Drummit2Summit" in which a series of community activists, labour and student groups staged a musical opposition to the summit.

People's Summit

The People's Summit had much advanced publicity organised by Trinidad's powerful Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU).

They held a parallel "People's Summit which presented an alternative declaration on Saturday evening.

However, attempts at a protest closer to the Summit venue came to a swift end on Saturday morning.

As People's Summit organsiers gathered in Port of Spain's Independence Square, five minutes from the Summit venue, led to a quick crackdown by Trinidadian police forces.

The swift end to the attempt march near the summit security red zone drove protestors back to the UWI campus and their leaders onto local TV shows to get their points across.

Drumming the message home

The "Drummit2summit" protest consisted of a group of drummers played African rhythms consistently as speaker after speaker raised their concerns to the accompaniment.

An attempt to stop the concert by police led to more people, watching the event live on TV, coming to join the activities.

Finally, the police allowed the by-then crowded concert to continue and activist after activist read out their concerns live on TV networks, against a backdrop of African drumming.

"Summit or plummet" and "Playing for change" read the placards at the good-humoured protest.

Cuba

One global web-based group decided to stage their protest in the west Trinidad port of of Chaguaramas.

We urge the United States government to move from isolation to constructive engagement with Cuba--initiating dialogue and lifting the embargo, said Avaaz.org in its petition.

 
 
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