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OAS Lifts Ban On Cuba After 47 Years

(AP Photo/Javier Galeano)
Despite decades of harshly criticizing the Organization of American States as a puppet of Washington, Cuban TV welcomed today's scrapping by OAS Foreign Ministers of the 1962 resolution excluding the island from active membership.

For 47 years, the Cuban flag has been displayed along with those of the other member countries but its seat has remained empty, barred as an "undemocratic" state. However, with the exception of the United States, all the rest of the countries in the Western Hemisphere now maintain normal diplomatic and trade relations with the Castro Government. And as the OAS debated what to do about Cuba, the President of Paraguay began an official visit to the island.

The state-sponsored Mesa Redonda, an early evening political talk show, broadcast the adoption by consensus, described by the Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas as "the beginning of a new history" for the regional organization.

Cuban Government journalists particularly stressed the declaration of Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya, host of the assembly, who said that "Today the Cold War is ended." Referring to former President Fidel Castro's famous 1953 saying "history will absolve me," Zelaya said, "today he is absolved." The remarks are sure to raise hackles among hard-line anti-Castro exile circles.

There has been no other official reaction to the decision made in San Pedro Sula, Honduras but the Mesa Redonda (Round Table) is used by the Cuban government to voice authorized opinions.

TV anchor Randy Alonso read a statement by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez welcoming the decision but saying that Cuba doesn't have to make any concessions to belong to the organization but rather should be part of a regional organization that exists without the participation of the United States.

These remarks contrast sharply with statements by Joe Garcia, a director of the Miami-based exile group the Cuban American National Foundation.

"The United States has been able to pull off a brilliant diplomatic maneuver. Cuba has to comply with the requirements of the OAS including human rights and democracy," Garcia said, according to Reuters.
Unlike some other organizations, CANF has supported moves by President Obama intended to open a new page in U.S. Cuban relations.

Cuba has repeatedly said the OAS will end up "in the garbage dump of history." Along these lines, the local media last week quoted Cuba's Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, rejecting the idea of rejoining the OAS. "One way or another, the OAS is totally anachronistic," said Rodriguez. "It serves other interests and we feel that our past, Cuba's past, is one of Latin American and Caribbean integration, without a presence from outside the continent."

Former president Fidel Castro has written a number of blog entries recently criticizing Washington's "manipulation" of the OAS to isolate Cuba and to promote U.S. interests over those of the region on a variety of issues.

However, in a blog entitled "The Trojan Horse," written Tuesday evening when the OAS was still debating various versions of resolutions on Cuba, Castro applauds the Latin American unity and what he sees as its "rebellion" against the long entrenched U.S. policy toward the island. Clearly unsure which way the debate was going to end, Castro writes: "Never had so much rebellion been seen. It is certainly a tough battle … Having waged this battle is in itself a heroic deed of those who are the most rebellious. The date of June 2, 2009 will be remembered by future generations." He characterizes the OAS as an organization without reason to exist that has historically "opened the doors to the Trojan horse," - the U.S. - to the detriment of Latin America. It's very likely that he is currently penning another blog commenting on Wednesday's outcome.

Observers say Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came under a lot of pressure on Tuesday from Latin American leaders to drop her insistence that Cuba embrace democratic principles and clean up its human rights record before being allowed back in the organization.

In a diplomatic compromise, the group said Cuba's re-entry would be "the result of a process of dialogue begun at the request of the Cuban government and in line with the practices, purposes and principles of the OAS." Presumably that's a reference to the OAS's stated purpose of defending democracy in the Americas.

Many of the 34 member countries openly pushed to allow Cuba to rejoin without any preconditions.

"We removed an historical impediment to Cuba's participation in the OAS, but also established a process of engagement with Cuba," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon as reported by the Associated Press.

Following eight years of extremely hostile U.S.-Cuba relations under former President Bush, the new Obama Administration has taken steps towards a more relaxed relationship with the island, dumping the tight restrictions that made it difficult for Cuban Americans to visit or send aid to relatives back home.

Not surprisingly, the Mesa Redonda was very upbeat at the overwhelming support Cuba received at the OAS Assembly, characterizing it as a "victory over the United States" but at the same time participants -journalists from the State-run press and a professor from the Foreign Ministry's School of International Relations - refrained from criticizing Clinton and Obama. Last weekend, Havana accepted Washington's offer to resume the twice-yearly migration talks scuttled by the Bush Administration in 2003. Both countries have characterized these talks as in the interests of their mutual national security.