PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, April 17 (Xinhua) -- Leaders of 34 countries in the western hemisphere gather here later Friday to kick off the Fifth Summit of the Americas.
Trinidad and Tobago, the first Caribbean country to host a summit of the Americas, has pooled national efforts to pull off the party, constructing the state's two tallest buildings and sprucing up the airport for the event.
High on the agenda would be the economic crisis, energy security, climate change, the fight against lawlessness and crime, and Cuba, which was suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1962.
The vast majority of the countries have called for the return of Cuba into the OAS and an end to the United States' five-decade long embargo on Havana.
U.S. President Barack Obama, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and Bolivian President Evo Morales are among the leaders who attract much of media attention.
Expectations are high that Obama's first Latin America trip would usher in a new start in Washington's relationship with the hemisphere. Signs of rapprochement between top officials of the two sides, a modest thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations and a fresh U.S. approach to the anti-drug campaign all show that the first African-American president appears determined to seek a new, more collaborative U.S.-Latin American relationship.
In an opinion piece that appeared Thursday in more than a dozen U.S. and Latin American publications, Obama dubbed the Port of Spain gathering as "a summit of change," pledging commitment to "renewing and sustaining a broader partnership between the United States and the hemisphere."
There are people less optimistic though, amid the euphoria.
It's not going to revitalize the relationship "just because President Obama is more diplomatic and more well-liked than (former) President (George W.) Bush," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a think-tank based in Washington.
"He'll get a better reception than President Bush did, and I think people will be friendly, and he will listen, and so it will be different symbolically and on the surface," Weisbrot told Xinhua. "Right now, there is no evidence that it will lead to major or significant changes in U.S. policy toward the region."
Thirty-three of the 34 heads of state and government will be present at the opening ceremony, which is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. (2200 GMT), said the host country's Trade and Industry Minister Mariano Browne. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa will arrive after the ceremony.
The leaders and their delegations will be treated to a cultural show after opening ceremony. Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Patrick Manning and his wife, Local Government Minister Hazel Manning will then host a cocktail reception for the leaders, their spouses and special guests.
On Saturday the leaders will go into bilateral discussions in the morning. This will be followed by the summit's first plenary session at Hyatt Regency. At noon, Manning will host a working lunch for the visiting leaders at the hotel. The second and third plenary sessions will be held in the afternoon.
On Sunday, the final day of the summit, all 34 leaders will hold a retreat at the Diplomatic Center. That will be followed by the closing ceremony, signing of the Declaration of Port-of-Spain and final press conference at the center.