By Thelma Mejía
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, Jun 3 (IPS) - After heated debate, the 39th General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS) decided Wednesday to lift its 47-year suspension of Cuba, without conditions.
At its meeting in Honduras, the OAS sought to "fix an historic error" committed when socialist Cuba was expelled in 1962 from the main forum for political cooperation in the hemisphere as a result of pressure from the United States.
The OAS resolution adopted Wednesday by consensus revoked the Jan. 31, 1962 decision to suspend Cuba on the grounds that its "adherence...to Marxism-Leninism is incompatible with the inter-American system."
Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas, one of the main architects of Wednesday´s resolution, said that "as of now, Cuba´s participation in the OAS will be reinstated by means of dialogue on Cuba´s request and in the framework of the democratic practices that govern the OAS."
"(A)s the host country for this assembly, we are pleased with the amends made to the island nation. We have begun to build a new history in our relations, of tolerance, respect, solidarity, the self-determination of nations and the right to organise ourselves," said Rodas.
After the resolution was read out, the ministers and other officials at the assembly gave a standing ovation.
The leaders taking part in the conference included Nicaraguan and Paraguayan Presidents Daniel Ortega and Fernando Lugo, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who left the assembly early to join President Barack Obama in Egypt.
The tense debate on readmitting Cuba completely overshadowed the main theme of the general assembly, "Toward a Culture of Non-Violence", while protests were held outside the convention centre where the two-day meeting took place in the northwestern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula
The demonstrators included anti-Castro Cubans led by dissident Huber Matos, a former ally of Fidel Castro, as well as supporters of the government of Raúl Castro belonging to social movements from Honduras and Nicaragua.
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said Wednesday that "dialogue has prevailed and we are observing an historic event - the coming together again of the countries of the Americas, of which we are proud.
"I want to tell Cuban comandante (and former president) Fidel Castro that today history has done him justice, today the world has been given a lesson in international law, and we can proudly say that the Cold War is over in the Americas," added the centre-left leader.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon said "We removed an historical impediment to Cuba's participation in the OAS, but also established a process of engagement with Cuba, a pathway forward based on the principles, purposes, values and practices of the OAS and the inter-American system." After stating that the United States had reaffirmed its commitment to building good relations with its neighbours based on respect, dialogue and cooperation, he said the focus is now on the future, "rather than on having a stale 47-year debate." He hailed the decision as an important step for the future of the OAS because it will strengthen the hemispheric body, and said the United States worked hard to achieve a resolution backed by a broad consensus.
In a speech that received a one-minute ovation from the conference, he added that Obama had called for a new start to relations with Cuba, that the administration was gradually moving in that direction, and that he hoped negotiations would begin soon.
He also said that while the Obama administration had given out signals for change with Cuba, it would not stop defending democratic principles and respect for human rights.
Clinton said in a statement that "This outcome is in keeping with our forward-looking, principled approach to relations with Cuba and our hemisphere.
"We must now build on this success by meeting our goals with actions that move us beyond rhetoric to results, and advance the mission which each of our nations have pledged to pursue," she added.
Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Fender Falconí said the most significant aspect of the resolution was that it was adopted "without conditions of any kind, which is a good sign, because an historic error has been corrected."
Falconí told reporters that the consensus was reached "at the last minute after two days of continuous deliberations, when at least three different texts were discussed, until we found the right one...to keep the meeting from becoming a failure."
The representatives of Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica highlighted the vote by acclamation and the role played by the delegations of the United States, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and Argentina which, along with their counterparts from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Honduras, made every effort to hammer out a consensus agreement.
Several foreign ministers said it is now up to Cuba to decide whether it will join the OAS under the "democratic principles" outlined in the hemispheric body´s charter.
Cuba has often stated that it is not interested in joining the OAS, which Raúl Castro said in April "should disappear."
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said last week that "the OAS is totally anachronistic. It serves other interests.''
In 1962, 14 countries voted in favour of suspending Cuba, and there were six abstentions - Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico - and only one vote against, cast by Cuba.
Later resolutions slapping OAS sanctions on Cuba only received two-thirds support.
"The people of the Americas are celebrating that this blotch against Cuba has been wiped away and that justice was done to Fidel Castro and the Cuban people," Honduran trade union leader Carlos Reyes told IPS.
In an opinion column published Wednesday in the Cuban state press, before the OAS resolution was announced, Fidel Castro praised the signs of "rebelliousness" by the countries that advocated Cuba´s full return to the hemispheric body. (END/2009)