It's a shame to see so many people in Latin America clamoring for greater prestige and sanction-lifting for Cuba. Have they learned nothing from the Arab Spring? Just as was the case with Burma, there should be international sanctions applied to Cuba which will be lifted in exchange for elections and a free press. It's brought about a great deal of progress in Burma and that should be the condition for lifting sanctions on Cuba. It's not our decision, it's the decision of the Cuban regime and the Cuban people if they want the sanctions lifted. We don't go out of our way to enable dictators.
For the first time, conservative U.S-allied nations like Colombia are throwing their weight behind the traditional demand of leftist governments that Cuba be in the next meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Diplomats said the dispute could block the final declaration planned for Sunday at the closing of the meeting, and originally intended as a show of unity.
"The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, looking the other way, have been ineffective," summit host and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said of the Cuba issue.
A major U.S. ally in the region who has relied on Washington for financial and military help to fight guerrillas and drug traffickers, Santos has become vocal over Cuba despite his strong ideological differences with Havana.
In an ironic twist, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went dancing after midnight on Sunday at a Cartagena bar called "Cafe Havana" where Cuban music is played.
Havana was kicked out of the OAS a few years after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, and has been excluded from its summits due to opposition from the United States and Canada. Latin Americans also oppose Washington's trade embargo on the island.
"There will be no final declaration of the summit because the United States vetoed the articles about Cuba, a veto that Canada joined," said Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman. "In consequence, there was no consensus."
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who has insisted Washington recognize its claim to the Falkland Islands controlled by Britain, left the summit on Sunday morning, before its official closure.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa boycotted the meeting over Cuba, and fellow leftist Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua also stayed at home. The leftist ALBA bloc of nations - including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and some Caribbean nations - said they will not attend future summits without Cuba's presence.
"It's not a favor anyone would be doing to Cuba. It's a right they've had taken away from them," Ortega said from Managua. "At this meeting in Cartagena, I think it's time for the U.S. government, all President Obama's advisors, to listen to all the Latin American nations."
Though there were widespread hopes for a rapprochement with Cuba under Obama when he took office, Washington has done little beyond ease some travel restrictions, saying democratic changes must come on the island before any further steps can be taken.
Obama has not spoken of Cuba in Colombia, though he did complain that Cold War-era issues, some dating from before his birth, were hindering perspectives on regional integration.
"Sometimes I feel as if in some of these discussions, or at least the press reports, we're caught in a time warp, going back to the 1950s and gunboat diplomacy and Yankees and the Cold War, and this and that and the other," the 50-year-old Obama said.
"That's not the world we live in today."
The controversy at the summit added to strain on the Washington-dominated system of hemispheric diplomacy that was built around the OAS but is struggling to evolve with changes in the region.
"I'm not sure the next summit will even be possible," said Colombian politician and former presidential candidate Carlos Gaviria.
Regional economic powerhouse Brazil has led criticism at the summit of U.S. and other rich nations' expansionist monetary policy that is sending a flood of funds into developing nations, forcing up local currencies and hurting competitiveness.
She called it a "monetary tsunami" that Latin American nations had the right to defend themselves from.
Cheering the mood a bit, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced that a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement will come into force in the middle of May.