Leaders from across the Americas failed to agree Sunday on Cuba's inclusion at future summits in the face of US and Canadian opposition, ending a rough two days for US President Barack Obama.
CARTAGENA- Obama, who defended his stance on Havana at a post-summit press conference, also faced questions on Washington's approach to the drug war and found himself on the defensive over an embarrassing Secret Service prostitution scandal.
The vast majority of the region's democratically elected leaders attending the talks in the coastal Colombian city of Cartagena said they wanted Cuba included in future meetings.
But Obama, backed by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, objected and the summit ended without the release of a final statement, as happened at the previous summit in Trinidad in 2009.
Cuba has yet to take part in a Summit of the Americas, a regular meeting sponsored by the US-based Organization of American States (OAS).
Explaining his opposition to Cuba's participation, Obama told a press conference that he hoped for a democratic transition in the hemisphere's only one-party Communist state but said it had not yet taken place.
"The fact of the matter is Cuba, unlike the other countries participating, has not yet moved to democracy. Has not yet observed basic human rights," Obama told a news conference. "I am hopeful that a transition begins to take place inside of Cuba."
But he added: "We haven't gotten there yet."
Obama, who is campaigning for re-election in November, cannot afford to give ammunition to his domestic right-wing opponents who reject any concessions to a Havana government seen as infringing on the fundamental rights of its citizens.
Summit participants also did not agree on a call by Guatemala to consider decriminalizing drug use in view of the failure of the war on narcotrafficking, which is creating havoc across the region, particularly in central America.
The two issues dominated the proceedings although Obama said before arriving here that his goal was to open markets for US goods.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the summit host, sought to put a brave face on the apparent setback, expressing "satisfaction with the results" and with the "direct and frank exchanges".
"The fact that there is no (final) statement is not a failure," he told a press conference. "There was no statement precisely because there is no consensus. We all knew there would be no accord... on the Falklands or Cuba."
"The majority of countries back Cuban participation in the process of the Americas," Santos said. "A process should begin to make this a reality in the next summit."
On how to handle the region's drug war, Santos said, "We agree on the need to analyze the results of the current policy and to explore new approaches (through the OAS) to strengthen this fight and to be more effective."
Obama told his peers that he favored a debate on a new drug war strategy but opposes decriminalization or legalization of drugs.
On Argentina's call for support for its claim on the British-ruled Falkland islands, Santos said most countries "call for a peaceful solution" to the dispute, but Obama said Washington would "remain neutral."
For Obama, the summit was certainly not that easy.
Speaking at a business forum Saturday, he said it was "remarkable to see the changes that have been taking place in a relatively short period of time in Latin, central America and in the Caribbean."
But he was bluntly told by his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff to treat Latin America as an equal.
"In Latin America, we have a huge space to make our relationship one of partnership but partnership between equals," said Rousseff, whose country has gained increasing international clout as the world's sixth largest economy and Latin America's dominant power.
On a positive note for the US leader, he said the US-Colombian free trade agreement will come into force next month, after years of Washington pressing for reform in the South American country.
Obama hailed the accord as "a win for both our countries".
Implementation of the pact will reduce duties on US exports entering Colombia, as well as help create half a million jobs in five years in Colombia, increase the country's output by one percent and lift 1.2 million Colombians out of poverty, according to government estimates.
Reacting to the Secret Service scandal that marred his visit, Obama said he expected a "rigorous" probe, and warned he would be "angry" if the allegations were proven true.
The incident saw 11 Secret Service and five military personnel pulled from their duties at the summit.
The US Secret Service, which has sent the men back to the United States, is investigating claims they brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms in Cartagena late Wednesday and had a dispute over payment with one of the women.