EDITORIAL - Wise decision by OAS; Cuba must respond appropriately

Published: Friday | June 5, 2009

We, too, feel that something momentous happened at San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Wednesday - this decision by the Organisation of American States (OAS) to rescind the expulsion of Cuba, 47 years ago, from the hemispheric body.

The action was, perhaps, as the Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, suggested, the clearest indication yet that the Cold War has really ended and, according to the characterisation by Jamaica's foreign minister, Ken Baugh, "a victory for the pluralistic, democratic leadership of the member states of the OAS".

Maybe! Time will tell. But there is more to be done, including by the leadership in Havana, if the decision at San Pedro Sula is to translate into this "new era of fraternity and tolerance" envisioned by President Zelaya.

Clearly, Cuba's exclusion from the OAS was an anachronism that, like America's trade embargo on the Caribbean country, defied the logic of the times as well as the evolution of the world since the days of its division into two ideologically hostile camps. Its continuance diminished the OAS and gave some credence to the notion, as Havana was wont to claim, that the organisation was essentially the mutt of Washington.

Potentially liberating effect

San Pedro Sula, on that regard, represents a potentially liberating effect on the OAS that was possible because of a coincidence of circumstances in the hemisphere. The countries of the Caribbean Community, including Jamaica, have long felt that keeping Cuba out was morally and tactically wrong - and saw America's insistence on its maintenance as duplicitous and hypocritical. Washington coexisted in other multilateral organisations with countries, with which, like with Cuba, it had ideological and philosophical differences.

Caricom has been bolstered by the emergence in Latin America of countries confident enough in their democracy and/or having enough political and economic capital to insist that the OAS ought to be a forum where all shades of views can contend. Then, there is the Obama administration, unfettered by the power of the anti-Castro Cubans in the United States, and having new visions of America's relationship with the world. America's support for the decision of San Pedro Sula, tentative though it was, is to be read as one with President Obama's softening, at the edges, of the trade embargo on Cuba.

How will Havana respond?

The issue now is how will Havana respond? Cuba's leadership ought to be cognisant of a number of facts, not least being the political investment of small, weak states like those in Caricom in promoting the normalisation of relations and Cuba's full return to the hemispheric family. The Cuban government, in respecting these efforts, ought to, as a goodwill signal, begin the release of political prisoners.

Havana, in its own self-interest, should widen the economic and political space in Cuba, for which it should be rewarded with an acceleration by the Obama administration of the disassembling of the embargo.

We, however, suspect that there are the old hardliners in Cuba who will continue to insist that there is no reason to return to the OAS and spurn the San Pedro Sula resolution calling on Havana to engage in a "process of dialogue" in accordance with the "practices, proposals and principals" of the OAS. That would be wrong and unnecessarily condemning the Cuban people to a prolongation of their economic hardships.

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