CNN Foreign Affairs Editor
Forty-seven years after Cuba was suspended from the Organization of American States, the 34-member organization has decided to revoke that decision and allow Cuba to rejoin.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who represented the United States at the meeting, called the decision a “consensus that focuses on the future instead of the past.”
The move by the OAS to lift the Cold-War-era suspension does not mean that Cuba immediately regains its seat; it can return to the OAS if the OAS decides that the island nation’s participation is in line with the purposes and principles of the organization, especially in its protection of democracy and human rights. Secretary Clinton said Cuba’s rejoining the OAS was “down the road – if it ever chooses to seek reentry.”
Cuban officials have depicted the organization as a tool of the U.S. government. Clinton said “If and when the day comes to make that determination” on Cuba’s membership, the U.S. would continue to insist on “fundamental tenets of the organization” which she said include “strengthening good governance, democratic institutions, an unwavering commitment to fundamental human rights and freedoms, and the rule of law.”
The OAS decision was a compromise. Some member countries, demonstrating their growing sense of influence in a Western Hemisphere traditionally dominated by the U.S., were pushing to lift the suspension and allow Cuba to re-join immediately without preconditions. The United States, involved in a delicate process of improving relations with Cuba, wanted to avoid conflict with OAS members over the issue and kick the can down the road – putting off any final determination of whether Cuba could rejoin.
Briefing reporters on the decision, the National Security Council’s Dan Restrepo, who also is Special Assistant to the President, touted the decision as “testament to the hard work of multilateral diplomacy” and said “this outcome is in keeping with our forward-looking, principled approach to relations with Cuba and our hemisphere.”
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas A. Shannon said that president Barack Obama “want(s) a new relationship that is a forward-looking relationship, and one that is based on the future of the Cuban people, the well-being of the Cuban people. So in this regard, I think we accomplished our core goal, which, again, was not to defend a resolution that is 47 years old, but instead to recognize that as we try to construct a new relationship with Cuba, we have to help the rest of the region construct a new relationship.”
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lambasted the OAS decision: “Rather than upholding democratic principles and fundamental freedoms,” she said, “OAS member-states, led by the OAS Secretary General, could not move quickly enough to appease their tyrannical idols in Cuba. Today’s decision by the OAS is an affront to the Cuban people and all who struggle for freedom, democracy, and fundamental human rights.”
Assistant Secretary of State Shannon countered that stalwart diplomacy by the U.S. won out. The OAS, he said, was “on the verge of a four-line resolution that simply lifted the 1962 suspension and extended open arms to a government that does not abide by the basic principles that are at the core of our values and the values of the system.” When the U.S. “made very clear that our commitment to the core principles of the OAS was not up for negotiation,” countries who wanted to allow Cuba back in with no preconditions “realized they had to find a way to work with us in a fashion that protected those principles.”
The U.S., Shannon said, is pursuing a “two-track approach on Cuba”. “One is to enhance people-to-people contact and ensure that we are looking ways for improve the well-being of the Cuban people and increase their capacity to have a meaningful voice in determining their national destiny.”
The other, he said, is government-to-government: “to see whether or not we can have a dialogue with Cuba across areas of mutual benefit and interests.” This past Sunday, the U.S. revealed that Cuba has told the Obama administration that it is ready to resume talks on migration issues and opening direct postal service with the U.S., as well as cooperating on hurricane relief, and fighting terrorism and drug trafficking.
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