The 34-country Organization of American States’ historic decision to lift its 1962 suspension of Cuba was the easy part. Now comes the real challenge: getting the OAS to demand that Cuba’s dictatorship abide by the group’s democracy clauses before the island can rejoin the organization.
That won’t happen anytime soon, and you and I know it.
Unless Cuba’s military regime decides to allow free elections, or the Obama administration decides to shelve its stated commitment to democracy in the Americas, the OAS decision at its General Assembly last week amounts to postponing the debate on Cuba’s readmission.
According to the consensus agreement that was celebrated by all member countries — including the United States — as a “historic” achievement, the OAS lifted the more-than-four-decade-old suspension of Cuba, rooted in the Cold War, and started a process of inviting Cuba to rejoin the group based on the “practices, purposes and principles” of the OAS.
But while last week’s decision gave a propaganda victory to Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and other admirers of Cuba’s military regime, and while the Obama administration gave significant ground from its earlier effort to set conditions to lift Cuba’s suspension, the devil may be in the details of the consensus document.
The resolution, in addition to lifting Cuba’s suspension, states that “Cuba’s participation in the OAS will result from a process of dialogue started at the request of Cuba’s government and according to the practices, purposes and principles of the OAS,” the organization said in a statement.
U.S. officials said this means that to take the next step and become a full OAS member, Cuba would have to honor the group’s 1966 Democratic Charter, which requires that member states abide by “essential elements of representative democracy.”
The OAS Charter is pretty specific. Article 3 says that these “essential elements” include “respect for human rights,” holding “periodic, free and fair elections based on secret balloting,” and having a “pluralistic system of political parties.”
Cuban President Gen. Raul Castro and his brother Fidel, who still commands significant power, have repeatedly said they will not allow political parties, free elections or freedom of speech. To protect themselves from such pressures, they have said they don’t want to be part of the OAS, claiming that the group is a “puppet of U.S. imperialism.”
But Latin American countries may interpret Wednesday’s agreement differently, and say that Cuba already abides by the OAS’ overall principles, and that its deviations from some OAS rules are no worse than Washington’s trade embargo on Cuba. Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he is optimistic that OAS member countries will find a way to readmit Cuba to the organization “within months.”
Virtually all Latin American and Caribbean countries hailed the OAS decision as a milestone.
“Today is a historic day, a day of rejoicing for all the people of the Americas,” Argentina Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana told the OAS meeting. “We have put an end to an anachronism.”
But human rights and pro-democracy groups point out that the real anachronism is Cuba’s refusal to allow people access to the Internet, express themselves freely, and belong to independent unions or political parties, let alone elect their government.
My opinion: As I stated in a May 24 column, nearly two weeks before the vote, I’m not opposed to lifting Cuba’s suspension from the OAS. But that decision should be used by the Obama administration to mount a major diplomatic offensive to put pressure on Cuba’s military regime to open up its political system.
If Obama does not take advantage of his popularity in Latin America to do that and Cuba is readmitted as it is to the OAS, his Republican critics will be right in saying that he has relinquished his May 23, 2008, campaign promise to “never, ever compromise the cause of liberty” in Cuba. I hope Obama proves them wrong.