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OAS lifts Cuba suspension after 47 years

May 29, 2009

In an act of belabored consensus, the Organization of American States (OAS) agreed Wednesday to allow Cuba to rejoin the hemispheric organization, reversing a 1962 policy that barred the island nation from the OAS.

The decision marks the “end of the Cold War,” according to Honduran President Mel Zelaya, whose country hosted the OAS summit. Zelaya called the decision a “wise rectification” on the part of the OAS and a historic recognition of the 1959 Cuban Revolution and “all those who have fought for transformation.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon called the decision “historic” and an important step toward strengthening the OAS and its “capacity to work toward consensus.”

In a conference call Wednesday, Shannon said the decision to invite Cuba to rejoin the OAS was not a slight to the U.S. government and its position that Cuba should demonstrate progress in the areas of human rights and democratic rule before being allowed to renew its membership.

“The lifting of the 1962 suspension does not mark the automatic return of Cuba to the organization,” Shannon said. “…The resolution makes very clear that the process requires …that (Cuba) must be in accordance with the practices, purposes and principles of the OAS (which include democracy, self-determination, non-interference, human rights, development and security).”

As late as Tuesday evening, the possibility of reaching consensus on the issue of Cuba´s readmission appeared distant. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton left the meeting Tuesday evening, and at a U.S. press briefing shortly before the OAS announcement Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley said, “ the effort to reach consensus was blocked last night by a small number of countries, principally Venezuela, Nicaragua and Honduras.” 

He added, “it appears that the assembly lacks the critical mass of foreign ministers necessary to proceed on this question.”

No sooner did Crowley finish his press briefing than the OAS announced its new policy toward Cuba.

Several country delegates at the OAS General Assembly attributed the move to a new spirit of dialogue between the United States and its fiercest critic in the region, the Venezuelan-inspired Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a club made up of Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Speaking on behalf of ALBA, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, one of the only presidents to attend Wednesday´s ministerial-level meeting, said, “We are satisfied with the results and hope the next step will be to suspend the (U.S.) embargo on Cuba.”

Ortega called the historic decision a “vindication” of the OAS and a “small light” of hope for change ahead. On Tuesday, before the resolution, Ortega repeated his criticism of the OAS, calling it an instrument of the United States.

See the June 5 print or PDF edition of The Tico Times for more on this story.

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