Friday, June 5, 2009

OAS Votes to Readmit Cuba After 47 Years

OAS votes to readmit Cuba after 47 years

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The Organization of American States voted Wednesday to revoke the 1962 measure suspending communist Cuba, overturning a landmark of the Cold War in the hemisphere.

"The Cold War has ended this day in San Pedro Sula," said Honduran President Manuel Zelaya immediately following the announcement. "We begin a new era of fraternity and tolerance."

The action doesn't mean Cuba will return to the 34-member body that helps coordinate policies and mediates disputes throughout the Americas.

Cuban officials have repeatedly insisted they have no interest in returning to an organization they consider a tool of the United States.

If Cuba changes its mind, the agreement calls for "a process of dialogue" in line with the OAS' "practices, proposals and principles" — a veiled allusion to agreements on human rights and democracy.

"This is a moment of rejoicing for all of Latin America," Ecuador's Foreign Minister Fander Falconi told reporters after the session.

The decision was taken by consensus, meaning the United States accepted it, though Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had lobbied personally for requiring Cuba to make democratic reforms and improve respect for human rights.

The decision seemed to catch State Department officials in Washington off guard.

Spokesman P.J. Crowley, briefing reporters before the vote, said an agreement Wednesday was unlikely and he called that "a clear sign of how the president's approach to relations in the Americas is paying dividends."

He said the main support from Cuba's return came from "countries like Nicaragua and Venezuela; they're the ones who have been trapped in the past" while the United States was celebrating "that the OAS is, in fact, a community of democracies."

Clinton herself left the meeting before the final vote, saying that the organization had been unable to reach consensus on Cuba.

The meetings dragged on so long Tuesday night that she did not even have time to deliver a prepared speech of 1,500 words before flying out of Honduras to join U.S. President Barack Obama in Egypt.

The U.S. won Cuba's suspension from the hemispheric body in 1962 as Fidel Castro's government veered into the Soviet bloc at a moment of intense global tension.

But in recent years, with the Cold War fading and left-of-center governments spreading in the Americas, Cuba's isolation melted away. Every country in the hemisphere except for the United States has re-established relations with Cuba and the U.S. embargo of Cuba is deeply unpopular throughout the region.

Membership in the OAS gives a country a voice in hemispheric agreements on major issues. The OAS has often tried to mediate solutions to political conflicts and it has offshoots that coordinate health policies and protect human rights.

Cuba's government, has repeatedly said it has no interest in returning to the 34-member organization, which it calls a tool of the United States.

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro wrote in state newspapers on Wednesday that OAS should not exist and historically has "opened the doors to the Trojan horse" — the U.S. — to wreak havoc in Latin America.

The Obama administration has hoped its recent overtures to the Cuban government would overcome widespread resentment in the Americas over Washington's long history of isolating Havana.

U.S. officials have lifted restrictions on money transfers and travel to the island by Americans with family there and are resuming long-stalled immigration and postal service talks.

In her prepared statement for Tuesday's closed session, Clinton acknowledged that "in the past, the U.S. has sometimes taken a counterproductive approach to domestic affairs within the hemisphere that created mistrust and suspicion," according to a copy given to reporters.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said the United States is continuing to use the OAS as "an instrument of domination" and that Cuba's suspension was due to the support of former conservative Latin American dictators who were "used by the Yankees."

At a news conference the Sandinista leader accused the Obama administration of being no different from previous administrations. "The president has changed, but not American policy," Ortega said.

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