Cuba readmitted after 47 years

2009-06-04 08:22

Honduras - The Organisation of American States voted by acclamation on 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 co-ordinate policies and mediates disputes throughout the Americas.

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

And if Cuba changes its mind, the agreement calls for "a process of dialogue" in line with 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.

Historic action

"The historic action taken today eliminates a distraction from the past and allows us to focus on the realities of today," State Department Deputy spokesperson Robert Wood said in Washington.

He said it would let officials "continue with the president's efforts to support the desire of the Cuban people to freely determine Cuba's future consistent with our core principles and those of the Americas".

Wood also portrayed the resolution's reference to OAS principles as a victory for US diplomacy, noting that most countries had favoured automatically readmitting Cuba.

"The United States worked tirelessly," he said, to ensure "that the return of Cuba to participation in the OAS will be done consistent with the principles and purposes of the democracy and human rights".

Only hours earlier, State Department spokesperson told reporters that failure to reach an agreement was "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. The meetings dragged on so long on 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 US President Barack Obama in Egypt.

A renewed spirit of dialogue

The US won Cuba's suspension from the hemispheric body in January 1962. It was just nine months after Fidel Castro first publicly described Cuba's system as socialist and after a disastrous US-backed exile invasion of the country flopped at the Bay of Pigs.

The OAS found that Cuba's "adherence ... to Marxism-Leninism is incompatible with the inter-American system".

But in recent years, with the Cold War fading and left-of-centre 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 US 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 co-ordinate health policies and protect human rights.

Cuba's government, has repeatedly said it has no interest in returning to the 34-member organisation, 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 US - 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.

US 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.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana credited Obama for making the decision possible.

"This resolution should be understood as a renewed spirit of dialogue," Taiana said. "We have finished with an injustice with discrimination and everything that came from the past, from the Cold War."