Friday, June 5, 2009

Guardian story on OAS Assembly

Organisation of American States decides to readmit Cuba
Pan-regional body rebuffed the US and revoked 47-year-old cold war measure

Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent
Wednesday 3 June 2009 23.08 BST

The Organisation of American States tonight lifted Cuba's half-century-old
suspension in a dramatic decision to bring Havana back into Latin America's
diplomatic fold.

The pan-regional body rebuffed the United States, which lobbied against the
move, and revoked a 1962 cold war measure which had marked the communist
island as a pariah.

"The cold war has ended this day in San Pedro Sula," said Manuel Zelaya, the
president of Honduras, who hosted the 34-member organisation in Honduras's
second city.

Dozens of foreign ministers from the Caribbean as well as central and South
America stood to applaud when the announcement was made at the end of the
two-day summit. "This is a moment of rejoicing for all of Latin America,"
Ecuador's foreign minister, Fander Falconi, told reporters.

Cuba said it had no interest in rejoining the OAS, which Fidel Castro this
week called a "Trojan horse" for US interests, but the opening of the door
was a diplomatic victory for Havana and exposed Washington's isolation.

Much of Latin America once considered Castro an anachronistic despot but
since the 1990s the "maximum commandante" has won respect as an elder
statesman and symbol of Latin American nationalism. Only the US still lacks
diplomatic relations with the island.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said Havana should not be
readmitted until it made concessions on democracy and human rights, a line
echoed by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch which said political
prisoners and repression continued under President Raul Castro.

Those arguments were swept away by largely leftist governments who thought
the organisation had been beholden to Washington for too long. "The vote to
readmit Cuba to the OAS represents an unprecedented assertion of Latin
American power in a hemispheric institution long dominated by the US," said
Daniel Erikson, an analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue thinktank and
author of The Cuba Wars.

Washington recently softened its economic embargo against Cuba - a
controversial policy enshrined the same year the OAS suspended the fledgling
Castro government - but that was not enough to appease Latin leaders
demanding bolder steps.

"The vote sends a powerful signal to the Obama administration that the path
of moderate, incremental change in US policy towards Cuba is depleting
America's political capital in the region at an alarming rate," said

Latin leaders gave Obama a rapturous reception at an April summit in
Trinidad and Tobago, his regional debut, but today's decision showed a
steely resolve to stand up to the "gringo" superpower which is considered to
have bullied the region for over a century.

The US had hoped to engineer a compromise which would hinge Cuba's entry on
the condition it met OAS democratic requirements. Instead, isolated and
outnumbered, the US was cornered into a consensus agreement which said Cuba
could rejoin after a "process of dialogue" in line with OAS "practices,
proposals and principles".

A US state department spokesman put a brave face on the outcome and said the
US had dissuaded other members from automatically readmitting Cuba. "The
historic action taken today eliminates a distraction from the past and
allows us to focus on the realities of today."

In contrast to its diplomatic shine, Cuba's economy darkened this week.
Government austerity measures cut fuel and food rations in response to
tumbling government revenues.