Democracy to take center stage at summit

Dissident groups from Venezuela and Cuba are arriving in Panama for the Summit of the Americas.


The seventh Summit of the Americas is approaching, and the atmosphere is becoming heated as dissident groups, mainly from Cuba and Venezuela, are planning to demand more freedom from their governments.

Groups opposed to the regimes of Raúl Castro of Cuba and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela have scheduled vigils, rallies and press conferences. They have a single goal, to demand a respect for democracy and human rights.

In recent days, international analysts have warned that the confrontation between ideological positions within the framework of the summit will be in context with conflicts facing the continent. Yesterday, the Cuban delegation issued a statement that denounced the presence of "terrorists" and "mercenaries paid for by the historical enemies" of Cuba.

"It is unacceptable that people of such low moral character are here," said Liaena Hernández Martínez at a Cuban Foreign Ministry press conference.

As part of the summit, there will be a number of auxiliary meetings among business leaders, unionists and young people. These activities are expected to accommodate opponents to the current regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.

Cuban dissidents Guillermo Farinas, Rosa María Payá and Yoani Sánchez are expected to participate. Payá has called for a referendum to allow citizens to decide if they want to elect their authorities in a free and democratic election. Sánchez, an anti-government journalist, has questioned the presence of pro-government groups that he called "mercenaries."

"They are hiding behind a fear that does not benefit Cuba," Sánchez said. "Luckily there are always people willing to reconcile."


While Castro supporters were protesting the presence of opponents to its government, Panama City Mayor José Isabel Blandón received Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, wife of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, who is being detained in his country accused of conspiracy.

At the same time, Lilian Tintori, wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, who is also imprisoned, will participate in activities parallel to the summit.

The Maduro government has already criticized the participation of Venezuelan dissidents. Venezuelan Ambassador to Panama Jorge Durán called on "opponents" not to demonstrate during the conference. However, Venezuelan dissidents have already requested permission to carry out peaceful protests. The first will be today at 5 p.m. in Urraca Park. On Friday, a vigil is planned to demand the release of opposition politicians in the Church of Santa Marta, El Dorado, 7 p.m.

These are the only permits issued so far by the Mayor's Office for public demonstrations. There are at least 10 other activities planned by organizations to demand the protection of rights to freedom of expression, democracy and human rights, among others.

The Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, in conjunction with several organizations, for example, has planned a series of activities.

The demonstrations have Panama officials concerned. Vice Minister Luis Miguel Hincapié said: "We hope that nobody comes to Panama to violate laws," but he acknowledged that "protests are inevitable" at events like this.



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