Wednesday, May 20, 2009

OAS Membership for Cuba: Two Views from American University

Dr. William LeoGrande
Dean, School of Public Affairs
American University

The issue of Cuba’s OAS suspension is a complicated one. First, it will require a two-thirds vote to lift the suspension of Cuba’s membership, as specified in Article 6 (f) of the OAS Charter, just as it took a two-thirds vote to impose it in 1962.

How you apply the democracy condition of OAS membership to the Cuban case is a bit tricky from a legal point of view (and I remind you that I’m not a lawyer). The Santiago Commitment to Democracy (1991) and the Inter-American Democratic Charter (2001) provide for the suspension of a member state in which there is “an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order or an unconstitutional alteration of the regime that seriously impairs the democratic order” (Inter-American Democratic Charter, Articles 19-21). There is a clearly defined process for doing this, but at the end of the day, the issue is a political one because two-thirds of the voting members can take any position they please on the issue of suspension or lifting suspension.

In Cuba’s case, the United States might argue that Cuba’s suspension should not be lifted because it fails to meet the democracy requirement, even though the original purpose for the suspension was somewhat different. But the Cuban case doesn’t really fit under the Democratic Charter’s provisions regarding the interruption of an existing democratic order. Cuba’s friends could argue that OAS documents list a great many desirable aspects of democracy, that none of the member states meet them all, and that Cuba meets enough of them to be restored to full membership. The closest the OAS comes to specifying necessary conditions for qualifying as a democracy is in Article 3 of the Democratic Charter:

Essential elements of representative democracy include, inter alia, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people, the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.

The Cubans would argue that they meet all but last two of these conditions, and they have shown that they are willing to accept broad statements about democracy (in places like the Ibero-American Summit and the Rio Group) when there’s no real enforcement mechanism.

Moreover, even the Inter-American Democratic Charter doesn’t quite say that fully meeting the criteria of Article 3 is a condition of OAS membership. Article 2 comes closest, reading:

The effective exercise of representative democracy is the basis for the rule of law and of the constitutional regimes of the member states of the Organization of American States. Representative democracy is strengthened and deepened by permanent, ethical, and responsible participation of the citizenry within a legal framework conforming to the respective constitutional order [emphasis added].

This could be read as an imperative, that a member state must be a representative democracy, or it could be read as a simple declaration that they are.

In short, all the democracy language seems to have crafted with an eye toward situations where existing democratic institutions are being threatened and therefore the provisions don't fit the Cuba case very well. Cuba’s friends could very well argue that gradual improvements in Cuban democracy are more likely to be obtained if Cuba’s suspension is lifted rather than if it is maintained. The question is whether two-thirds of the membership agrees.

What will the U.S. do? It could oppose lifting the suspension, more or less vigorously. It could abstain. Or it could even vote in favor, as it did in 1975 when the OAS lifted mandatory diplomatic and economic sanctions, allowing each state to decide on sanctions for itself. My bet is on opposition, but not too vigorous, with the expectation that even if the suspension is lifted, Cuba will not become an active member again, based on recent statements by Fidel and Raul.


Dr. Philip Brenner
Professor of International Relations and History
American University

1) Representative democracy is not a condition for membership, per se. All of the OAS members signed the 2001 Inter-American Charter on Democracy, and profess their adherence to democratic principles. Insulza has said that this would not bar returning Cuba to full membership, and at worst could be fudged by including some statement about democracy as a goal for the future. Note that Cuba still is a member of the OAS. It was not removed from the organization; its membership was suspended.

2) I believe suspension required a 2/3 vote. Presumably un-suspension would require a 2/3 vote. I can imagine that a basis for such a vote would be a review of the formal reasons for the suspension in 1962, which were that Cuba had introduced an alien (non-hemispheric) ideology into the hemisphere (Soviet communism), and in keeping with the Monroe Doctrine, the OAS asserted that the hemisphere did not want alien ideologies (in the case of the Monroe Doctrine the alien ideology in question was monarchism). A second reason was that Cuba supported armed insurrections in member countries. Both reasons no longer have validity in OAS terms, and so un-suspension would be warranted.

3) I can imagine that Cuba would allow an OAS office to be opened in Havana, but its purpose would need to be clear. Perhaps such an office could be used at first for OAS-sponsored hemispheric projects on which Cuba might want to participate. In fact, if the OAS withdrew suspension of Cuba, an OAS office would be a good compromise position -- between outright rejection of the OAS (and hence supporters of un-suspension such as Lula) and full acceptance by Cuba of the offer to be a full member. I do not think that at the moment Cuba wants to be a full member of the OAS.

4) Recall that the United States actually sponsored the OAS resolution in 1975 (which passed) ending the OAS embargo against Cuba -- and the US voted for it. That was in response to Latin American pressure, especially from Argentina.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Reuters Report on Uncertain Progress

ANALYSIS-No bloom yet in US-Cuba ties after April overtures
05.17.09, 11:17 AM ET

United States -

* Overtures in April raised hopes of rapprochement

* Conditionality debate suggests breakthrough not near

* Eye on bills in Congress to further ease trade embargo

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - The United States and Cuba offered a glimmer of hope last month that they might be ready to end years of hostility, but neither side has moved much since then to widen that window of opportunity.

In mid-April, President Barack Obama pledged a "new beginning" with Cuba after slightly easing the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the communist-ruled Caribbean island that reflects decades of Cold War enmity.

But Obama quickly made clear that further moves toward normalization hinged on Cuba freeing political prisoners and showing progress on human rights.

From his side, Cuban President Raul Castro made what some called a groundbreaking public offer to hold talks with Washington about everything, including political prisoners.

But Havana swiftly clarified this by insisting it had no intention of making concessions to satisfy the Americans.

Despite news from the U.S. State Department that informal talks were subsequently held with the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, many observers fear the good vibes of April may be fading as both sides fall back on old positions.

"There is no process, nothing under way. The story now is of deflated expectations," said Washington attorney Robert Muse, who specializes in Cuba issues.

Obama has said he wants to "recast" U.S.-Cuba ties. On April 13, he ended Bush era restrictions on Cuban Americans' right to travel and send remittances to their homeland. He also removed curbs on U.S. telecommunications firms who want to operate on the island 90 miles from Florida.

But while Obama has moved away from the aggressive hard line of President George W. Bush, who openly urged the overthrow of Cuba's government, the insistence that further steps depend on Cuban concessions has disappointed groups pushing for normalization of relations.

Critics say this same conditionality was pursued unsuccessfully by most of the preceding 10 U.S. presidents who served since Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution.

"I don't see that the Obama administration has really done anything to change the policy, the atmosphere," said Wayne Smith, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana who is now with the Center for International Policy in Washington.


"We need to make it clear that our policy is no longer as it was under Bush -- to bring down the Cuban government. Our policy is to have dialogue and begin to resolve problems and disagreements between us," he said in a recent trip to Cuba.

While anti-embargo groups voice frustration with Obama, they generally assume his current position is not fixed in stone and is more likely a product of political bargaining or perhaps inexperience, than a reflection of his true beliefs.

Some say he may be trying to aid the passage of bills pending in the U.S. Congress that would lift the ban on travel to Cuba for all Americans.

"I suspect it has to do with bills in Congress he wants to get through and he's receiving signals that if he goes too far, they (opponents) will try to block the measures," said Smith.

Cuba, which presents itself as the aggrieved victim in U.S.-Cuba relations, has done little to encourage Obama.

Fidel Castro, now 82, who was replaced as Cuba's president by his younger brother, Raul, last year, said Raul's offer of talks was misinterpreted by the Obama administration.

Since then, Cuban leaders have struck a consistently negative tone by deriding Obama's embargo-easing steps as minimal, maintaining their harsh rhetoric against the U.S. and offering nothing concrete to get negotiations started.

"We have to do absolutely nothing, except take note of and recognize the corrective steps when they take them," Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's parliament, told CNN last week.

Raul Castro had already said in a January television interview: "We are not in any hurry. We are not desperate."

On the key U.S. issues of political prisoners and human rights, Cuba has said these are sovereign domestic matters.

The European Union, which has restarted talks with Cuba after years of strained relations, got a taste of what may lie ahead for the United States at a meeting last week in Brussels with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

He described EU concerns about human rights in Cuba as "obsolete" and "an obstacle to the process of normalization".

The Cuban side argued there were "no political prisoners" in Cuba, said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout.

Human rights groups estimate Cuba has 200 political prisoners. Raul Castro has offered to send some to the United States in exchange for five Cuban agents imprisoned there.

Supporters of a changed U.S. Cuba policy say they hope Obama will move ahead without concessions from Havana because the wait for compromise could be a long one, especially since there is broad world support for an end to the U.S. embargo. (Editing by Pascal Fletcher)


My comment:

What Raul said was all political prisoners not some. Also the Cubans have made it pretty clear that they are prepared to talk about prisoners if the US shows mutual respect i.e. listens to their concern about prisoners arrested and convicted for political reasons in the US, the five.

Someone should ask the Cubans whether they would allow the released prisoners to stay in Cuba if USINT functioned under normal Vienna Convention diplomatic protocol rather than as a sponsor of dissidents.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lou Perez Op Ed (excellent summary)

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Posted on Sat, May. 02, 2009

Commentary: Welcome change in U.S.-Cuba policy, but not far enough
Louis A. Perez Jr. | The Progressive Media Project

May 01, 2009 02:33:25 PM

We are witnessing a welcome change in U.S.-Cuba relations, but it does not go far enough.

President Obama has rescinded most restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has acknowledged the old, unbending and hostile policy toward Cuba has failed.

At the Summit of the Americas, the president talked of "a new beginning with Cuba," adding he was "prepared to have (his) administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues."

And Congress is now preparing legislation to end travel restrictions to Cuba.

The impetus for change is gathering momentum, and originates from some of the most unlikely sources.

No less a person than Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban-American National Foundation, bemoaned the persistence of a "static, reactive" policy that "does not advance or promote the best interests of the United States or of the Cuban people."

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, insisted on the need to "re-evaluate a complex relationship marked by misunderstanding, suspicion and open hostility."

The disavowal of an untenable policy, however, does not necessarily mean the renunciation of the unrealized purpose, which has always been about toppling the Cuban government, or in Lugar's words – the more common euphemism – about "bringing democracy to the Cuban people."

Policy approaches often change, to be sure, but assumptions rarely do, and with Cuba they never do.

Obama's "new beginning" possesses a wearisome familiarity: the United States as self-appointed arbiter professing to act in behalf of the well-being of the Cuban people, to bestow upon the Cubans the liberty they are apparently unable to achieve for themselves.

In a recent interview with CNN, Obama demanded "changes in how Cuba operates that assures that political prisoners are released, that people can speak their minds freely, that they can travel, that they can write and attend church and do the things that people throughout the hemisphere can do and take for granted."

These remarks could just as easily have been uttered by William McKinley, Dwight Eisenhower and George W. Bush.

There is a pathology at work here, of course, one profoundly inscribed in the assumption that Americans have a moral entitlement to determine Cuban needs.

With its announcement of new family travel regulations, the White House proclaimed the "promotion of democracy and human rights in Cuba is in the national interest of the United States."

Only in Cuba?

Why is it not in the national interest of the United States to promote democracy and human rights as a condition of relations with Vietnam?

Or Saudi Arabia?

Or China?

For the United States to keep using the embargo to insert itself in Cuban internal affairs makes a mockery of the very position Obama adopted at the recent Summit: "The United States' policy should not be interference in other countries."

A policy of enlightened self-interest would seek to eliminate the perception of the United States as a threat to Cuban sovereignty, thereby denying to those in Cuba who would use U.S. hostility as pretext to limit public debate and restrict political dissent.

A policy of enlightened self-interest would engage Cuba in normal political and economic interactions, and thereby contribute to the creation of space in which Cubans themselves could proceed to address their most pressing issues, on their terms, within the logic of their own history, and act accordingly.

Most importantly, a policy of enlightened self-interest would show respect for the Cuban people by acting on the premise that Cubans themselves know what is in their best interest.


Louis A. Perez Jr. is the J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History and director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His most recent book is "Cuba in the American Imagination" (UNC Press, 2008). He can be reached at

© 2009, Louis A. Perez Jr.