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Americas rivals see signs of hope

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Barack Obama and leaders of South American countries

The Summit of the Americas has ended on an upbeat note, despite a lack of agreement on a joint declaration.

Regional heads of state had talks over three days, but several remained in dispute with the US on issues including Cuba's exclusion from the summit.

US President Barack Obama said he saw positive signs from Cuba and Venezuela, and that the summit marked a new start in US relations with its neighbours.

The leaders of Brazil and Venezuela also said they hoped for better ties.

Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva agreed he saw "potential positive signs" between the US and Cuba and Venezuela.

Communist Cuba has been subject to a US embargo since 1960, while Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was an implacable foe of former US President George W Bush.

Key issues

Mr Chavez also hinted at a thawing in relations.

"We have a different focus obviously, but we are willing, we have the political will to work together," Reuters news agency reported him as saying.

Mr Obama headed to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad having offered Cuba a "new beginning" in relations with the US.

Barack Obama: 'The test for all of us is not simply words but also deeds'

Many others in the region wanted better, more constructive ties with US, he said.

In a news conference at the close of the summit, Mr Obama conceded that decades of US policy on Cuba "hasn't worked the way we wanted it to".

But he highlighted a string of key issues where Cuba must make progress.

"Issues of political prisoners, freedom of speech and democracy are important, and can't simply be brushed aside," Mr Obama said.

Hope and belief

Despite the upbeat statements, the Summit of the Americas was left without a final declaration as the 34 countries taking part failed to reach a consensus.

Left-wing leaders from Bolivia, Honduras and Nicaragua, as well as Venezuela's president felt the document omitted crucial issues such as the US embargo on Cuba.

It's a reminder for us in the United States that if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction... then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence
Barack Obama
US President

But criticisms of the US were generally softened by admissions of respect for Mr Obama himself.

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega emerged as a strong critic of US economic policy, and told the US president his views during a meeting between Mr Obama and Central American leaders.

But Mr Ortega praised Mr Obama's approach to dialogue, saying: "I want to believe he's inclined, that he's got the will."

Mr Obama signed off noting that he had heard his Latin American counterparts praise the good work done by Cuban-trained doctors working across the continent.

"It's a reminder for us in the United States that if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence," he said.



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