Signs that Cuba’s neighbors in the hemisphere are beginning to mend a relationship that soured a half-century ago during the cold war era have begun to surface in all sizes and forms.
In March, El Salvador and Costa Rica, the last remaining Central American countries without diplomatic ties to the island announced a “renewed relationship” with Cuba and expressed an interest in forging stronger ties. The United States followed on the heels of this news with a pledge to enhance communications and travel between the two countries.
But diplomatic relations took a significant lurch forward this week when the Organization of American States (OAS), which professes a commitment to democracy in its mission statement, voted to invite the long-excluded country to join its ranks.
Some called the decision a slight against the United States government, as the U.S. key negotiator – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – left the General Assembly of the OAS for Egypt when it seemedthat achieving a consensus on the issue had reached a stalemate
Less than 24 hours after Clinton left, the general assembly voted to invite Cuba to join the OAS.
Although the conference theme was to have been violence in the region, discussion about Cuba dominated the three-day General Assembly meeting that began on Monday in Honduras.
Honduran President Mel Zelaya nevertheless appeared pleased with the turn of events and spoke at length on the importance of Cuba’s inclusion.
The decision marks the “end of the cold war,” Zelaya said. He called the vote 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.”
Setback or Success for theU.S.?
A few days before the assembly, Venezuela and Ecuador threatened to leave the OAS and forge a new organization with Cuba if the United States did not agree to lift the 47-year ban on the island’s membership.
Chavez said Wednesday’s decision “demonstrates that we are not colonies of the United States.”
“We are no longer those people who were dragged and bulldozed by the U.S. empire,” he said, adding the lifting of the suspension represents “the starting point of a new era.”
But rather than taking the vote as an insult or a challenge, the United States is proclaiming victory.
Under the agreement reached Wednesday, Cuba must decide whether it is willing to meet the OAS’s requisites for joining, which may challenge its principles and organization as a state.
“(Cuba) has to be in accord with the basic principles, purposes and practices of the OAS…That includes democracy, selfdetermination, non-interference, human rights, development and security,” said Dan Restrepo, senior director for western hemisphere affairs at The National Security Council, during a conference call on Wednesday. “For Cuba to return to the organization, the (OAS) has to agree that Cuba is abiding by the same rules as everyone else is abiding by.”
Response From the U.S. Home
The decision to invite Cuba back into the OAS angered some lawmakers in the United States and provoked them to call for an immediate withholding of U.S. funds for the organization.
“This weak resolution undermines the OAS’s foundation by only paying lip service to the principles upon which the Democratic Charter stands,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in a statement, indicating that the United States provides 60 percent of the funding of OAS (roughly $55.8 million in 2009 according to the Congressional Quarterly.)
InCentral America, however, the decision garnered praise.
Noting Costa Rica’s move to reestablish diplomatic relations in March, Arias said, “The time has come for direct and open dialogue, for normal and official relations, that will allow us to address our similarities and differences forthrightly and honestly … If March 18 was the time to reestablish relations between Costa Rica and Cuba, today is the time to initiate the process of reincorporating Cuba into the OAS, something that many Latin Americans have been waiting for.”
Speaking on behalf of ALBA, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, one of the only presidents to attend Wednesday’s ministerial-level meeting, called the historic decision a “vindication” of the OAS and a “small light” of hope for change ahead.
Yet, Ortega also said that the decision to allow Cuba’s reintegration into the OAS represents only the “cleansing of one stain” in the spotty history of U.S.-Cuban relations.
“This is no favor to Cuba,” Ortega said. “Cuba didn’t ask for this.” Regardless, he added, the decision is “one more victory for the heroic people of Cuba.”
Tim Rogers contributed to this report.