Leaders of 31 countries from the Western Hemisphere wrapped up the two-day Sixth Summit of the Americas on Sunday without issuing a final declaration due to a lack of consensus on controversial issues.
"There is no final declaration because there is no consensus," said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at a closing press conference for the hemispheric gathering in this Caribbean resort city.
However, Santos said he was still "most satisfied" with the results of the summit, which he called "a summit of dialogue and sincerity."
In the past two days, the participating heads of state and government discussed a wide range of "hot topics," something they never did before, and they did so in a "respectful, direct and open" manner, said Santos.
"With respect and tolerance for differences, it indicates we are a more mature region," said the president of the host country.
Of all the six Americas summits held so far since 1994, only the current one and the fourth one in Argentina in 2005 have failed to produce a final declaration.
The Cartagena summit features the theme of "Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity". However, once again, the issues of Cuba and the dispute over the Malvinas Islands (known as the Falkland Islands for the British) between Argentina and Britain, divided the two sides.
On Cuba's exclusion from the summit, an issue which has long roiled U.S.-Latin American relations, President Santos criticized U.S. policy of "isolation" and "embargo" against Cuba, calling it "an anachronism that keeps us anchored to an outdated Cold War era. "
He expressed the hope that Cuba would be present at the next summit, saying its absence then would be "unthinkable".
The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, a bloc of eight Latin American and Caribbean countries, said on Saturday that it will boycott any future Americas summit unless Cuba is granted unconditional admission to the hemispheric gathering.
"Our brother republic Cuba, as a part of our Americas, has the unconditional and unquestionable right to be present and participate in this forum," the group said in a statement, declaring: "We will not participate in Cuba's absence."
Cuba was suspended from the Organization of the American States in 1962 at the height of the Cold War, and has been unable to participate in all the past summits since 1994.
The suspension was officially lifted in 2009, but the Caribbean island country has chosen not to return to the pan-American bloc.
"All the countries here in Latin America and the Caribbean want Cuba to be present. But the United States won't accept," Bolivian President Evo Morales told reporters late Saturday, stating "It's like a dictatorship."
The foreign ministers of Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay said their presidents would not sign any declaration unless the U.S. and Canada remove their veto of future Cuban participation.
Washington did not back down, as President Barack Obama is facing re-election and cannot afford ammunition to his conservative opponents who oppose any leniency toward Cuba.
Cuba was not mentioned in Obama's remarks at the summit or during his meetings with leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina and Peru on the sidelines of the summit.
Obama did not show up either at a scheduled joint press conference with Santos at the close of the summit.
As the host country, Colombia faced two options in terms of the summit's agenda, Santos said. "One is to focus on usual business, second is to lay on the table the matters that divide us. We opted for the second path," he said.
"Talking about issues which we agree on and also on issues we don't have similar positions, this is the first time that there is no prohibited topics at this summit," he said.
"Most of the nations support Cuba's presence at the summit," the president stated.
On the issue of Malvinas, Santos said, "We appeal to peacefully settle this dispute," a position echoing that of Argentina.
However, President Obama had promised to stop prodding Britain and Argentina to talk to each other by sticking to its historic position of neutrality in his March meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House.
No consensus on Malvinas prompted on Sunday an early retreat from the summit by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is battling cancer and absent from the summit, has called for the cancellation of the Cartagena summit, saying it is meaningless by shunning fundamental issues like the Malvinas dispute and Cuba's exclusion from the hemispheric summit.
Despite their political differences, leaders of the Americas also shared common ground on how to promote development and prosperity for the benefit of the people.
"Development and prosperity of our people are the essential elements for the Americas summit," said Santos.
He said three communiques were adopted by the leaders.
One, introduced by Brazil and Argentina, was about the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, calling for concrete outcome from the meeting slated for June in Rio de Janeiro.
The other two, sponsored by Mexico and Colombia respectively, were about fighting transnational organized crime and improving the competitiveness of the Americas, Santos said.
The leaders also identified five areas for further strengthening of cooperation, namely natural disasters prevention and quick response, citizens' security, the integration of regional infrastructure, better use of IT and communications technologies for education and health care, and poverty eradication and greater social equality.
Santos also pointed to the fact that the Cartagena summit created much more space for participation and dialogue for many important social actors, such as entrepreneurs, indigenous people and civil society.
"For the very first time, the business summit of the Americas was held ... and we had presidents in those forums for the first time," he noted.
The Colombian president stressed that the fundamental purpose of the Americas summit is to "build bridges and connect ourselves. "
"We want a single, united and prosperous hemisphere," he said. "United we will be much stronger and we will be able to attain those dreams and objectives."
He also announced that the seventh Summit of the Americas will be held in Panama three years later.