Friday, April 13, 2012

Uzbekistan's policy of secretly sterilizing women

An Uzbek woman and child

The BBC has been told by doctors that Uzbekistan is running a secret programme to sterilise women - and has talked to women sterilised without their knowledge or consent.
Adolat has striking looks, a quiet voice and a secret that she finds deeply shameful.
She knows what happened is not her fault, but she cannot help feeling guilty about it.
Adolat comes from Uzbekistan, where life centres around children and a big family is the definition of personal success. Adolat thinks of herself as a failure.
"What am I after what happened to me?" she says as her hand strokes her daughter's hair - the girl whose birth changed Adolat's life.
"I always dreamed of having four - two daughters and two sons - but after my second daughter I couldn't get pregnant," she says.

“Every doctor is told how many women are to be sterilized - there is a quota”

Uzbek gynaecologist

She went to see a doctor and found out that she had been sterilized after giving birth to her daughter by Caesarean section.
"I was shocked. I cried and asked: 'But why? How could they do this?' The doctor said, 'That's the law in Uzbekistan.'"
Sterilization is not, officially, the law in Uzbekistan.
But evidence gathered by the BBC suggests that the Uzbek authorities have run a program over the last two years to sterilize women across the country, often without their knowledge.
Foreign journalists are not welcome in Uzbekistan, and in late February of this year the authorities deported me from the country. I met Adolat and many other Uzbek women in the relative safety of neighboring Kazakhstan. I also gathered testimony by telephone and email, and in recordings brought out of the country by courier.
None of the women wanted to give their real names but they come from different parts of Uzbekistan and their stories are consistent with those of doctors and medical professionals inside the country.
"Every year we are presented with a plan. Every doctor is told how many women we are expected to give contraception to; how many women are to be sterilized," says a gynecologist from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.
Like all doctors I interviewed, she spoke on a condition of anonymity. Talking to a foreign journalist could result in a prison term, in a country where torture in detention is the norm.
"There is a quota. My quota is four women a month," she says.
Two other medical sources suggest that there is especially strong pressure on doctors in rural areas of Uzbekistan, where some gynecologists are expected to sterilize up to eight women per week.

Uzbek women working in a field
Listen to the full report on Crossing Continents on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, 12 April at 11:00 BST and on Assignment on the BBC World Service

"Once or twice a month, sometimes more often, a nurse from the local clinic comes to my house trying to get me to the hospital to have the operation," says a mother of three in the Jizzakh region of Uzbekistan.
"Now it's free, but later you will have to pay for it, so do it now," the nurse tells the mother.
Another mother says she experienced months of mysterious pain and heavy bleeding following the birth of her son. Then she had an ultrasound check and discovered that her uterus had been removed.
"They just said to me, 'What do you need more children for? You already have two,'" she says.
The BBC gathered similar testimony from the Fernanda Valley, the Bukhara region and two villages near the capital Tashkent.
According to a source at the Ministry of Health, the sterilization program is intended to control Uzbekistan's growing population, which is officially held to be about 28m people. Some demographers are skeptical, however, pointing to the large numbers of people who have emigrated since the last census in 1989, when the population stood at around 20m.

“On paper, sterilizations should be voluntary, but women don't really get a choice”

Uzbek doctor

"We are talking about tens of thousands of women being sterilized throughout the country," says Sukhrob Ismailov, who runs the Expert Working Group, one of very few non-governmental organizations operating in Uzbekistan.
In 2010, the Expert Working Group conducted a seven-month-long survey of medical professionals, and gathered evidence of some 80,000 sterilizations over the period, but there is no way of verifying the number and some of the procedures were carried out with the patient's consent.
The first cases of forced sterilization were reported in 2005, by Gulbakhor Turaeva - a pathologist working in the city of Andijan who noticed that uterus's of young, healthy women were being brought to a mortuary where she worked.
After gathering evidence of 200 forced sterilizations, by tracing women from whom the uterus's were removed, she went public with her findings and asked her bosses for an explanation. Instead they sacked her.
In 2007 Turaeva went to jail, accused of smuggling opposition literature into the country. Like many others, she refused to be interviewed for this report because of fears for her and her children's safety.

Sterilised mother    
The women who were interviewed
did not want to be identified

In 2007, the United Nations Committee Against Torture also reported forcible sterilizations and hysterectomies in Uzbekistan, and the number of cases of forced sterilization appeared to fall.
But according to medical sources, in 2009 and 2010 the Uzbek government issued directives ordering clinics to be equipped to perform voluntary surgical contraception. In 2009, doctors from the capital were also dispatched to rural areas to increase the availability of sterilization services.
There is evidence that the number of sterilizations then began to rise again.
"On paper, sterilizations should be voluntary, but women don't really get a choice," says a senior doctor from a provincial hospital, who wished to remain unnamed.
"It's very easy to manipulate a woman, especially if she is poor. You can say that her health will suffer if she has more children. You can tell her that sterilization is best for her. Or you can just do the operation."
Several doctors I spoke to say that in the last two years there has been a dramatic increase in Caesarean sections, which provide surgeons with an easy opportunity to sterilise the mother. These doctors dispute official statements that only 6.8% of women give birth through C-sections.
"Rules on Caesareans used to be very strict, but now I believe 80% of women give birth through C-sections. This makes it very easy to perform a sterilization and tie the fallopian tubes," says a chief surgeon at a hospital near the capital, Tashkent.

Uzbekistan: Infant and maternal deaths

Uzbekistan ranked 140th out of 194 countries in terms of infant mortality in 2005-2010, according to data from the UN Population Division
This put it just behind Laos, Madagascar and Bolivia, and just ahead of Bangladesh, Ghana and Papua New Guinea
Figures from the UN Population Fund indicate that Uzbekistan had a maternal mortality ratio of 30 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2008 - a 44% improvement on 1990
This ratio put it level with Iran, just ahead of Albania and Malaysia (31) and just behind Armenia (29), Romania and Uruguay (27)
Several doctors and medical professionals said forced sterilization is not only a means of population control but also a bizarre short-cut to lowering maternal and infant mortality rates.
"It's a simple formula - less women give birth, less of them die," said one surgeon.
The result is that this helps the country to improve its ranking in international league tables for maternal and infant mortality.
"Uzbekistan seems to be obsessed with numbers and international rankings," says Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"I think it's typical of dictatorships that need to construct a narrative built on something other than the truth."
Swerdlow believes foreign governments could do more. Until recently Uzbek President Islam Karimov was a pariah in the West, but in recent years both the US and the EU have lifted sanctions, including a US ban on arms sales.
This is apparently related to America's worsening relationship with Pakistan and Nato's increased use of routes through Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, to get supplies and troops in and out of Afghanistan.

Islam Karimov

President Islam Karimov
Born 1938, became first secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party in 1989 and president of the Uzbek Socialist Republic in 1990
Elected president of independent Uzbekistan in 1991 with 86% of the vote, re-elected in 2000 with 92%, and again in 2007 with 88%
Mr Karimov has been accused of using the threat of Islamic militancy to justify authoritarianism
Uzbekistan country profile
A number of Western dignitaries have visited Uzbekistan in recent months, but few have made any public comment on the country's human rights record.
"Karimov has managed to get to the point in his relationship with the West when there are no consequences for his actions and human rights abuses," says Swerdlow.
"There is a deafening silence when it comes to human rights. Reports of forced sterilization add urgency to breaking this silence."
In a written reply to the BBC's request for comment, the Uzbek government said the allegations of a forced sterilization program were slanderous and bore no relation to reality.
The government also said that surgical contraception was not widespread and was carried out only on a voluntary basis, after consultation with a specialist and with the written consent of both parents.
The Uzbek government stressed that Uzbekistan's record in protecting mothers and babies is excellent and could be considered a model for countries around the world.
However, Nigora is among many for whom forced sterilization is a reality. She had an emergency C-section. A day later she was told she had been sterilized. On the same day, her newborn died.
Nigora is 24 and will never have children.
Listen to the full report on Crossing Continents on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, 12 April at 11:00 BST and Monday, 16 April at 20:30 BST. You can also hear the report on Assignment on the BBC World Service.
Listen again via the World Service website or download the Crossing Continents podcast.

Tennessee Enacts ‘Monkey Bill’ To Dumb Down Kids In Biology And Physics, Undermine Their Future

Two years after state hit by warming-enhanced 1000-year deluge, bill to ‘teach the controversy’ on evolution and global warming becomes law

On Tuesday, Tennessee adopted a law “to prevent school administrators from reining in teachers who expound on alternative hypotheses” to the scientific theories of evolution and climate change.
The National Center for Science Education has said of the primary alternative to evolution — creationism — that “students who acceptthis material as scientifically valid are unlikely to succeed in science courses at the college level.”
I suppose this is some form of natural selection, then, as Tennessee encourages the disinforming of its kids in two of the most important areas they will need to thrive in the 21st century — thrive economically in a world of  global competitors who don’t teach anti-science disinformation to their kids and, of course, thrive literally in a world where a livable climate is being destroyed by man-made global warming and a man-made disinformation campaign to delay action.
Ironically, the bill was enacted two years after one of the epic extreme weather events in U.S. recorded history devastated one of America’s great cities (see “The Tennessee deluge of 2010: Nashville’s ‘Katrina’ and the dawn of the superflood“).
The status quo media barely told the story of Nashville’s Katrina (let alone its link to human-caused climate change), so you may not remember this superstorm unless you are a regular Climate Progress reader. But this one was way off the charts.
NOAA’s National Weather Service reported the jaw-dropping factoids in its report, “May 1 & 2 2010 Epic Flood Event for Western and Middle Tennessee“:
  • Fifteen (15) observation sites had rainfall measurements exceeding the maximum observed rainfall associated with Hurricane Katrina landfall.
  • The two day rainfall of 13.57 inches at Nashville International Airport shattered the monthly rainfall record for May which was 11.04 inches.
  • The heaviest rainfall occurred in a swath across Davidson, Williamson, Dickson, Hickman, Benton, Perry, and Humphreys Counties.  An average of 14 to 15 inches of rain fell equivalent to 420 billion gallons of water in just two days.
The NWS put together this “stunning map of Tennessee’s 1000-year deluge“:
What is a 100 year flood?  A 100 year flood is an event that statistically has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year. A 500 year flood has a .2% chance of occurring and a 1000 year flood has a .1% chance of occurring. 

The map below relates to amount of rainfall that fell to the chances of that amount of rain actually occurring.
I had never seen a map like that before, but then that may be because there simply aren’t many events to rival this one.  Look at the red streak, which is the area hit by a greater than 1000-year deluge.  And look at how much of western Tennessee was slammed with a greater than 500 year downpour.  This is the biblical “high water” of Hell and High Water — but it is science that tells us humans are contributing to the superstorms by pumping billions of tons of heat trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year
It was an off-the-charts extreme weather event that human-caused global warming set the table for and almost certainly made more intense, as Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained to me the very next month:
I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.
Not that kids in Tennessee will ever hear any of this. But then why should they. It’s not like there’s anything they might be taught that would suggest this will happen before another 1,000 years, is there?

Rove-Linked Crossroads GPS Launches $650,000 False Ad Campaign On Gas Prices

By Josh Israel on Mar 23, 2012 at 4:00 pm

This week, Crossroads GPS announced a $650,000 nationwide television ad campaign called “Deflect.” The 30-second spot falsely blames Obama administration actions for the rise in gasoline prices since 2009.
Crossroads GPS is a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) group, affiliated with the American Crossroads super PAC. Karl Rove has been linked to both groups.

The spot begins by noting gas prices “then and now” — going up from the unusually low prices of January 2009 to the higher prices of today. A narrator asks what has made the difference.
The narrator then claims the reasons for higher gas prices are:

– “President Obama’s administration restricted oil production in the Gulf”

– Limited development of American oil shale

– Obama personally lobbied to kill a pipeline bringing oil from Canada

Watch the spot:

Unlike candidate ad spots, television stations are under no obligation to run ads by outside groups, especially when the ads are factually wrong. This one is.

The non-partisan outright calls the ad’s claims “bogus.”

Some important points to keep in mind:

– U.S. gas prices do not correspond with domestic oil production. Decades of statistics show domestic gas prices correspond with global gas prices.

– The President is not to blame for rising gas prices. Oil companies, whose profits go up an estimated $800 million a year, every time the price of gas goes up a penny, and speculation are the key reasons for the cost increase.

– Gas prices were unusually low in January 2009. Though prices were much higher at other points during the Bush administration, they were artificially low when President Obama took office because the world economy was reeling from the Wall Street meltdown.

– The temporary moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico came because of the BP oil spill. The Obama administration put the moratorium in place to ensure that new safety precautions could be implemented after the worst oil spill on record poured about 4.9 million barrels of oil into the gulf (millions of barrels that might otherwise have been refined for gasoline).

– The Obama administration has not stymied development of American oil shale. As notes, “production of petroleum from shale formations is booming. What the administration slowed down were plans for experimental development of ways to produce oil by heating kerogen-rich rocks, something that is years away from becoming commercially feasible.”

– President Obama did not lobby to kill the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. He has supported building part of the pipeline — what has opposed are efforts by Congressional Republicans to deny his administration the time necessary to do a thorough review of the plan. And much of the oil delivered via the proposed pipeline would likely be exported after refinement.

Are the deceitful ads funded by Big Oil? By Keystone XL? Crossroads GPS isn’t telling — they do not publicly disclose their donors. But viewers — and television station executives — would be wise carefully scrutinize this dishonest content, even if they cannot scrutinize the motivation of the people paying for it.

Rove's Shadowy Crossroads GPS Plans $20 Million Ad Assault on Obama

—By Andy Kroll

 Mon Jun. 27, 2011 5:07 AM PDT

© Jeff Newman/Globe Photos/ZUMApress
Election Day 2012 is still 17 months away, but already ashadowy outside spending grouphas announced it will spend $20 million on ads bashing President Obama's record on the economy, jobs, and the nation's debt.

Conceived by GOP mastermind Karl Rove, Crossroads GPS will unveil its first, $5 million set of ads today, appearing on television stations in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, and Virginia, among other states. The ads will also appear on national TV networks. Here's that first ad, titled "Shovel Ready," ripping Obama for rising unemployment and national debt and a failed $830 billion stimulus. "It's time to take away Obama's blank check," says the ad's narrator.

Want to know who funded the "Shovel Ready" ad? Too bad. Crossroads GPS is what's called a 501(c)4 group, or "social welfare organization," under IRS tax law. That means the group can engage in politicking, but it can't be the majority of what they do. But more importantly, Crossroads GPS does not have to disclose who its donors are. It's a secret. When Crossroads GPS files its fundraising paperwork with the IRS for the 2010 election, which it has yet to do seven months after the fact, there won't be any donor names at all.

Think of Crossroads GPS' $20 million ad buy as a preview for what's to come in the 2012 presidential election. In fact, Crossroads GPS' sister group, American Crossroads, which does have to disclose its donors, has pledged to spend a staggering $120 million during the 2012 election cycle to unseat Obama and win the majority in the Senate. On the Democratic side, as I reported in May, there are an array of outside spending groups focusing on the presidential, House, and Senate races intended to counter the right wing's flow of dark money.

After watching the GOP cruise to victory in 2010, with the help of the Crossroads groups, they're building their own war chests for 2012. "What's the benefit," one Democratic strategist told me, "of sitting on the sidelines and losing your majority in the Senate, losing more seats in the House, and possibly losing the White House?"

Already Democrats are using the "Shovel Ready" ad as a way to raise as much as $400,000 this week, The Hill reported. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the main fundraising arm for Senate Democrats, blasted out an email to supporters highlighting the GPS ad and asking for money. "It’s a huge buy," wrote DSCC official Guy Cecil, "but we can fend them off in the states they’re targeting IF we hit this fundraising goal on Thursday."

Kirk Cameron Hit By Former Child Stars on Gay Comments

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Apr 13, 2012 5:51pm



A group of former child stars banded together in a video to lambast comments Kirk Cameron made in March calling homosexuality “unnatural,” “detrimental,” and “ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.”
The video, which was posted on Funny Or Die, featured seven child actors who had formed a group called Child Celebrities Opposing Kirk Cameron or CCOKC for short.
“Together we’re pledging to raise awareness about a serious threat to our civil rights–Kirk Cameron’s stupid opinions,” they say in the video.
The spoof public service announcement featured seven former child stars,  including Christine Lakin from “Step By Step,” Kenn Michael from “The Parent ‘Hood” and Josie Davis from “Charles In Charge.”
“Look, we’ve met Kirk and he’s a very pleasant guy,” they say. “But Kirk, like all of us, lived and worked in the company of homosexuals for years and I would challenge him to name one thing they ever did to hurt him, his community, or civilization as a whole.”
Cameron’s representative has seen the video but declined to comment.
The actor received backlashfrom the comments, which he made on Piers Morgan but told he had also received a tremendous amount of support.
“I should be able to express moral views on social issues,” he said, “especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years — without being slandered, accused of hate speech, and told from those who preach ‘tolerance’ that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I’m in the public square.”

Obama’s money woes

Top Line
President Obama has money troubles. The president's re-election campaign was rumored to be a $1 billion juggernaut, it was supposed to dominate the 2012 election. But it has fallen short of that lofty number, by a lot.
The inability to reach the big B is a warning signal to the base. In 2008 Democrats had every reason in the world to donate, and they need to be convinced of the same this time around.
Of course part of the problem stems from Super PACs, groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on candidates, as long as they do not co-ordinate with those candidates. The disparity between the Super PAC backing Obama -- Priorities USA -- and the conservative one affiliated with Karl Rove -- American Crossroads -- is stark: American Crossroads has ten times as much money in the bank as Priorities USA.
Once the general election begins, the Karl Rove group can start dumping a lot of cash on Obama's head, which will lead to a wake-up call for Democrats to start writing checks. Will the top fundraiser also be the Electoral College winner? This will be a hard-fought campaign where money is going to have to play.

Newt Gingrich: ‘CNN is less biased than Fox’

By Dylan Stableford | The Ticket – Thu, Apr 12, 2012

Gingrich on the trail. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)
In what some might consider an act of GOP political suicide, Newt Gingrich slammed Fox News earlier this week, saying that the cable news channel has favored Mitt Romney throughout the 2012 Republican raceand that CNN has been the more "fair-and-balanced" network this cycle.
"I think Fox has been for Romney all the way through," Gingrich said during a meeting with tea party leaders in Delaware on Wednesday, according, which said it was granted access to the private event. "In our experience, Callista and I both believe CNN is less biased than Fox this year. We are more likely to get neutral coverage out of CNN than we are of Fox, and we're more likely to get distortion out of Fox. That's just a fact."
The former House Speaker blasted the Roger Ailes-led network, blaming Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox News-owner News Corp., for the bias.
"I assume it's because Murdoch at some point said, 'I want Romney,' and so 'fair and balanced' became 'Romney,'" Gingrich said. "And there's no question that Fox had a lot to do with stopping my campaign because such a high percentage of our base watches Fox."
"This is nothing other than Newt auditioning for a windfall of a gig at CNNthat's the kind of man he is," a spokeswoman for Fox News responded in a statement to Yahoo News. "Not to mention, he's still bitter about the fact that we terminated his contributor contract." (Gingrich was dropped by Fox last year shortly before he announced his presidential bid.)
Gingrich added that he will attend the White House Correspondents' Association dinner later this monthas a guest of CNN.
"The only press events I go to are interesting dinners when the wife insists on it, so we're going to go to the White House Correspondents' dinner because she wants to. And we're actually going to go to CNN's table, not Fox."

‘Buffett Rule’ is not a campaign ‘gimmick,’ Obama says

By Olivier Knox | The Ticket – Wed, Apr 11, 2012

President Barack Obama defended his "Buffett Rule" proposal for higher taxes on the very rich Wednesday, denying it was a re-election campaign "gimmick" that will do little to close the deficit or spur job growth.
"This is not simply an issue of redistributing wealth," Obama said. "This is not just about fairness. This is also about growth. This is also about being able to make the investments we need to succeed and it's about we, as a country, being willing to pay for those investments and closing our deficits."
The president took aim at critics who say, in his words, "This is just a gimmick, just taxing millionaires and billionaires, just imposing the Buffett Rule won't do enough to close the deficit. "
He went on: "I agree, that's not all we have to do to close the deficit. But the notion that it doesn't solve the entire problem doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it at all. There are enough excuses for inaction in Washington, we certainly don't need more excuses. The Buffett Rule is something that will get us moving in the right direction."The proposal is named for billionaire financier Warren Buffett, who has said that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary because the tax code treats his investment income differently than her wages. Legislation that aims to ensure that people who make more than $1 million per year pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes is scheduled for a Senate vote on Monday. Even if it passes, the Republican-led House of Representatives is sure to reject the bill.
The measure would raise an estimated $47 billion over 10 years, a drop in the bucket of government spending and debt, but Obama has made the case that it could be enough to spare some popular government programsincluding financial aid for college students, scientific research and infrastructure developmentthat promote economic growth. Republicans have countered that the proposal will suck money out of the investor class in the private sector, which they say will smother growth.
"Sadly, an administration that promised it would focus on jobs is wasting yet another day on a political event that won't take a single person off the unemployment line," Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said Wednesday.
"With millions out of work, gas at nearly $4 a gallon, and the election still seven months away, Republicans are calling on the president to join us in support of the dozens of jobs and energy bills that have passed the House but are stalled in the Democrat-led Senate. We should be focused on jobs and energy legislation that can passnot tax-hike show votes designed to fail," McConnell said.
Obama has made clear that he will use the issue as a political weapon against all-but-certain Republican nominee Mitt Romney. To underline Buffett's argument, Obama spoke to an audience made up of millionaires and their assistants.
"It's not that these folks are excited about the idea of paying more taxesthis is something I've always made clear," he said. "I have yet to meet people who just love taxes. Nobody loves paying taxes. In a perfect world, none of us would have to pay any taxes, we'd have no deficits to pay down, and schools and bridges and roads and national defense and caring for our veterans would all happen magically."

Obama will play defense at Summit of Americas

Cartoon drawings of President Barack Obama, left, and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, by caricature artist Martin Bayona are on display at the Summit of the Americas media center in Cartagena, Colombia, Thursday April 12, 2012. Western Hemisphere leaders will gather this weekend for the sixth Summit of the Americas. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Chavez, who is undergoing cancer treatment, would attend this weekend’s summit only if his doctors give him the green light to travel to Colombia’s coastal city of Cartagena. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waves as she arrives at the airport in Cartagena, Colombia Friday April 13, 2012. Leaders of the western hemisphere will attend the 6th Summit of the Americas in Cartagena this weekend. (AP Photo/John Vizcaino, Pool)

 Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, left, greets Mexico's President Felipe Calderon at the inauguration of the 2012 CEO Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, Friday April 13, 2012. Regional business leaders are meeting to discuss trade and investment opportunities in Latin America. The summit is being held parallel to the sixth Summit of the Americas' meeting for leaders of the Western Hemisphere. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

 Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli, center, is received by Colombia's Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Monica Lanceta, far left, upon his arrival to Cartagena, Colombia, Friday April 13, 2012. Leaders of the Western Hemisphere, including Martinelli, are in the colonial-era port to attend the sixth Summit of the Americas this weekend. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

 President Barack Obama waves upon arrival to Cartagena, Colombia, Friday April 13, 2012. Obama is in Cartagena to attend the sixth Summit of the Americas. At right is U.S. ambassador to Colombia Michael McKinley. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP) — Barack Obama will be on the defensive heading into this weekend's Summit of the Americas, with the U.S. stubbornly clinging to positions opposed by most Latin American and Caribbean leaders as its influence in the region wanes. The American president, who arrived in this steamy Caribbean port Friday afternoon, can expect even some ofWashington's friendliest allies to protest U.S. insistence on excluding communist Cuba from the gathering.
Vigorous discussion among the 33 leaders is expected on drug legalization, which the Obama administration opposes. And Obama can expect to be in the minority in his opposition to Argentina's claim to the British-controlled Falkland Islands.
Foreign ministers were wrangling behind closed doors Friday over the insistence by leftist countries that the summits final declaration states unequivocally there be no more such gatherings without Cuba.
Obama remains popular in Latin America, but many of his positions are not.
On top of that, key issues Latin American leaders are seeking answers for, such as Cuba, drug trafficking and immigration, may prove to be contentious during a U.S. election year. Although the popular, charismatic Obama may be able to charm the region's leaders, he will have to convince them that the United States remains relevant to them and their countries.
"I think that the United States has to turn around and really look at Latin America with greater responsibility," Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina told The Associated Press in Cartagena Friday. "In reality, I feel that the agenda of the United States and the agenda of Latin America countries, instead of moving in parallel to each other, or converging, are taking paths that separate them, that distance them."
In large part, declining U.S. influence comes down to waning economic clout, as China gains on the U.S. as a top trading partner throughout the region. In fact, Latin America weathered the recent economic crisis by exporting soybeans, iron ore and other commodities to China.
"Most countries of the region view the United States as less and less relevant to their needs — and with declining capacity to propose and carry out strategies to deal with the issues that most concern them," the Washington-based think tank the Inter-American Dialogue noted in a pre-summit report.
Colombian President Jose Manuel Santos, the summit host, said in a newspaper interview before the gathering that he's told U.S. officials that it's foolish not to better engage Latin America.
"What I've said and I've said it in the United States to a lot of people in government is, 'You'd better look to the south,' because their long-term strategic interests are in Latin America, not in distant lands," Santos said.
Obama can expect a lot of criticism over Cuba's exclusion, at U.S. insistence, from the summits since the first one in 1994.
Leaders including Santos have said they will permit no more future Summits of the Americas without the communist country's participation. Obama's administration has greatly eased family travel and remittances to Cuba, but has not dropped the half-century U.S. embargo against the island, nor moved to let it back into the Organization of American States, under whose auspices the summit is organized.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was boycotting the summit over Cuba's exclusion, making him the only president in the region to do so.
Another major issue will be drug legalization, which the Obama administration firmly opposes. Santos left the idea off the official agenda but has said all possible scenarios should be explored and the U.N. should consider them.
Meeting with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez at his request, Obama can expect to discuss that country's claim to the Falkland Islands after Argentina lost a war with Britain 30 years ago while trying to seize them.
Among the hemisphere's leaders, there is nearly unanimous support for Argentina's position.
The U.S. and Canadian stances on the islands drew criticism Thursday from Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.
He told reporters the two countries "maintain their anti-historic retrograde positions of not accompanying Argentina in its fight for the Malvinas (Falklands) and by rejecting Cuba's presence in these meetings."
Obama has said he hopes to turn around the U.S. decline in the region.
Before departing on his fifth visit to the region as president, Obama told Colombia-based Caracol Radio Friday morning that he wants to expand the "powerful trading base" the United States has with Latin America, which has some of the world's fastest-growing economies.
The American leader blamed Republicans in an "obstructionist" U.S. Congress for blocking immigration reform, to which he said he's committed.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted on Thursday before leaving for Cartagena that the region's countries buy more than 40 percent of U.S. exports, three times as much as China buys from the United States in net value. The region also provides more than half of the United States' imported energy.
Nonetheless, the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean says a much greater share of U.S. exports, 61 percent, went to the region a decade ago. China has surpassed the United States in trade with Brazil, Chile, and Peru and is a close second in Argentina and Colombia.
U.S. assistance to the region has also decreased, with U.S. military, police and economic aid to Latin America falling from $3.2 billion in 2009 to a proposed $2.4 billion for fiscal 2013, according to a tally by three liberal think tanks including the Washington Office on Latin America.
The U.S. isn't the only summit participant facing challenges.
The Organization of American States, composed of all the countries in the Western Hemisphere except for Cuba, organizes the summit but has lost much of its former clout with the end of the Cold War.
The OAS, to which the U.S. still pays 59 percent of its $81 million annual budget, now faces competition from a hodgepodge of new regional groupings that have emerged this century, all of them omitting the United States and Canada. They include ALBA, a bloc proposed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and including Cuba; the Brazil-inspired UNASUR, encompassing South America; and CELAC, comprising 33 countries including Cuba.
Nonetheless, the OAS still plays a prominent role in the region by coordinating institutions such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an important buffer against abuses that has recently come under attack from nations including Brazil, Peru and Ecuador.
Chavez, for his part, grabbed the spotlight at past summits but has not announced if he will attend this one. Chavez has been undergoing treatment for an unspecified type of cancer in recent months, traveling frequently to Cuba for treatment.
While other leaders were traveling to Cartagena Friday afternoon, Chavez was preparing to speak to his supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace in Caracas, marking the 10th anniversary of his return to power after a failed 2002 coup.
Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera and Pedro Mendoza in Cartagena, Luis Alonso in Washington and Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil, contributed to this report.