Español The Organization of American States (OAS) summit due to be held in Panama on April 10 will mark Cuba’s return after a 53-year-old absence in the Pan-American organization. For 47 years Cuba has been banned from participating in the meetings of the regional body, and for six more it refused to take up its seat.
“Cuba can come back into the OAS in the future if the OAS decides that its participation meets the purposes and principles of the organization, including democracy and human rights,” said then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009, when Cuba’s exclusion from the OAS was lifted.
However, the communist regime kept refusing to take part “in a disgraceful institution that has only humiliated the honor of Latin-American nations,” as former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro put it in 2005.
Six years later, the ban was lifted, and Cuba is looking forward the OAS summit. The status quo has changed: the United States and Cuba are no longer Cold War enemies, they’ve been negotiating since last December to restore diplomatic relations and kick off a new era of political and economic ties.
It seems Washington has since forgotten its “democracy and human rights” caveat. Despite the change in attitude of the US government, human-rights abuses are an ongoing characteristic of Cuba’s unelected leaders. By engaging in talks without securing concessions from Havana, the United States has only given them legitimacy.
Consider what democratic opposition leader and coordinator of the Estado de Stats project Antonio G. Rodiles wrote in an open letter for current Cuban dictator Raúl Castro, published on Monday, March 17:
Your speech in the extraordinary summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) confirms once again that you and your group will try to remain in power at any cost. It doesn’t mind that the Cuban people is sinking in misery and desperation; it doesn’t mind if your sons continue escaping, you aspire to remain in power and raze everything to the ground.
You claim that Cuban “civil society” will unmask the mercenaries and its bosses. I remind you again that you, your brother, and your group: you are the greatest traitors and anti-Cubans, and your spokesmen and henchmen are the real mercenaries.
Rodiles goes on to make a crucial point that unveils still further the undemocratic, authoritarian nature of the Cuban regime. According to the opposition leader, Castro has prevented members of the so-called Group of 75 — a group of journalists, librarians, human-rights activists and other dissidents arrested in a crackdown in 2003 — from traveling to Panama to partake in the OAS summit.
Cuba’s return to the OAS will not imply hope for the region — as outgoing OAS Secretary General Miguel Insulza suggested — but a confirmation of the hypocrisy that prevails in regional relations. Just as in the 1962 OAS summit, when Washington lifted sanctions on Haiti in exchange for a vote against Cuba, aligning itself with Haitian dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. The White House’s Caribbean policy is still little more than quid pro quo.
US President Barack Obama has accepted the unelected Cuban government as valid representatives of the Cuban people, forgetting its stance on democracy and human rights in 2009. Meanwhile, those Cubans opposed to authoritarian rule are still silenced and mistreated by those claiming to care about their future.
“I come not to manage any crisis, but to facilitate and work for renewal,” said newly-elected OAS Secretary General and former Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro. But if he doesn’t work for renewal in Cuba and speak out against the island’s 56-year-old regime, then Almagro’s words are just as empty as those of Clinton in 2009.
Some may say this is how diplomacy works: bluster and rhetoric, scoring points and making concessions. But if US foreign policy, and regional organizations, are to have any moral authority over repressive regimes in the region, it surely consists of taking a principled stand — and sticking to it. The hopes of those living in the island prison of Cuba have been dashed too many times already.
Edited by Laurie Blair.