Thursday, June 4, 2009

"The Cold War has Ended" at the OAS

That's how the President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, summed it up. Yesterday, members at the OAS took a good step forward towards a new era of dialogue. All members of the General Assembly, including the U.S., were able to agree on a resolution that rescinded an old 1962 decision that suspended Cuba's membership from the organization. (Three months ago, Secretary General of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza, originated the idea of annulling this resolution by calling it "obsolete.")

[Original 1962 resolution available in PDF, bottom of page 12.]

While U.S. Secretary of State Clinton was not present yesterday, she had worked with other OAS members on the draft resolution before she left, and approved of the final vote. According to the New York Times (which provides a PDF link to the draft resolution), OAS members and the U.S. had agreed on a "list of conditions" that would follow annulment of the '62 resolution. But, oddly, the NYT does not describe the contents of the "list of conditions."

Instead, the conditions that were agreed upon seem to be general guidelines for the OAS and Cuba, if Cuba decides at some point to initiate its return into the OAS. The guidelines operate as a three-part voluntary process: Cuba must initiate interest in joining the OAS, must agree to a "process of dialogue" with members of the OAS, and adhere to the "practices, proposals and principles" of the OAS. Political analysts believe that pressure from other OAS members made the U.S. drop the explicit preconditions of improving human rights, and releasing political prisoners in Cuba. Also, it is expected that there will be political conflict when members attempt to redefine the "practices, proposals and principles" of the OAS in order to allow Cuba's possible return.

President of the OAS General Assembly, Patricia Rodas, called yesterday's vote "historic" and something that "would not have been possible during the Bush administration." [Video of Rodas' remarks.]

President Zelaya of Honduras called the vote a "wise and honorable rectification," and stressed that the consensus reached by all members provided "an example, that in order to make changes and transformation in the world you don't need weapons, you need the help of conscience and dignity." Zelaya also said that the OAS was "starting a new era of fraternity and tolerance." A more controversial comment followed as Pres. Zelaya claimed the new era at the OAS has shown the people of Cuba that "history has absolved [Fidel Castro]."[Video of Zelaya's full speech.]

Representing the U.S. yesterday was Thomas A. Shannon Jr., Assistant Secretary to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. He told the OAS General Assembly:

"Today’s resolution was an act of statesmanship. Today we addressed and bridged an historic divide in the Americas, while reaffirming our profound commitment to democracy and the fundamental human rights of our peoples. Today we removed an historical impediment to Cuba’s participation in the OAS, but we also established a process of engagement with Cuba based on the core practices, principles, and purposes of the OAS and the Inter-American system.

"It will also be understood as an action that affirms our commitment to build relationships in the Americas based on dialogue and collaboration, and as an agreement that strengthens the OAS as an institution.

"We are not interested in fighting old battles or living in the past. We are committed to building a better future for all of the Americas, by listening, learning, and forging partnerships based on mutual respect. At the same time, we will always defend the timeless principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law that animate our societies and serve as a beacon for those around the world who are oppressed, silenced, and subjugated." [Video of full speech, copy of prepared speech.]

These are hopeful words from Sec. Shannon, but only the future will prove if these intentions are honest. Yesterday's vote at the OAS will only motivate members to confront another obstacle from the Cold War, namely the U.S. embargo towards Cuba, and this effort will certainly test the merit of America's new attitude towards its neighbors. It should be noted that the majority of countries in the Latin Region are totally opposed to the U.S. embargo, and that this policy will be the next logical target for the OAS concerning Cuba.

According to a Bloomberg report, "Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the lifting of the embargo is inevitable." "There’s no explanation today, nowhere in the world, for the embargo to Cuba," said the Brazilian President.

You might call it "obsolete."

[Full video speeches by members of the OAS General Assembly concerning the vote on Cuba.]

[Additional commentary by Phil Peters at the Cuban Triangle blog.]

[Getty Images Photo: U.S. Sec. Hillary Clinton with Pres. Manuel Zelaya of Honduras.]

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