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.


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