By Dave Sherwood
HAVANA, April 25 (Reuters) - Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Monday that the United States had decided to exclude Cuba from preparations for a summit of regional leaders, a setback for relations just days after the long-time rivals held their first high level talks in four years.
Rodriguez said that the United States was pressuring regional governments to block Cuba from participating in the Summit of the Americas in June in Los Angeles.
"The government of the United States has decided to exclude Cuba from the preparations for the 9th Summit of the Americas," Rodriguez told reporters.
He said U.S. officials were already leaving Cuba out of pre-summit conversations on such issues as a regional health strategy and migration, both of vital interest to the island´s leaders.
"I respectfully call on Secretary of State (Antony) Blinken to say, in an honest way, if Cuba will be invited or not."
A U.S. State Department spokesperson told Reuters that, "No invitations (to the summit) have been issued from the White House at this time."
The United States, at odds with Cuba since the early days of Fidel Castro´s 1959 revolution, further ratcheted up sanctions against its foe under former president Donald Trump, cutting off most travel and remittances between the U.S. and the island.
Relations have remained tense under President Joe Biden, whose administration has alleged human rights violations against Cubans who protested in widespread rallies on the island last July.
Cuba participated in both the 2015 and 2018 Summit of the Americas, after allying governments pressured for their inclusion, but had not previously attended the gathering. The summits often showcase discussions and agreements among member nations around democracy and human rights.
Rodriguez, in a televised address to reporters in Havana, noted the mixed messages emanating from the Biden administration after last week's talks on migration between high level Cuba and U.S. officials in Washington.
"It is paradoxical because...we have just had official migratory conversations, which were undoubtedly a positive sign," Rodriguez said.
Those talks, however, did not yield fresh agreements to deal with the burgeoning crisis.
Rodriguez reiterated Cuba´s concerns that the United States is seeking to foment unrest on the island by tightening Cold War-era sanctions to create economic hardship while at the same closing doors to Cubans seeking to migrate.
"This incoherent, contradictory policy of tightening the blockade and wanting to restrict migration, pretending to discuss these issues in the hemisphere and excluding Cuba, says a lot," Rodriguez said.
The number of Cuban migrants arriving at the border with the United States has recently spiked amid a festering economic crisis in Cuba, nearly doubling in March over the previous month alone, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
Cuba´s government has demanded the United States issue more visas and restore consular services in Havana for Cubans wishing to travel to the United States.
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood, additional reporting by Nelson Acosta Editing by Alistair Bell)
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.