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Inter Press Service

OAS Opens Doors to Cuba Without Conditions

Thelma Mejía

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras - After
heated debate, the 39th General Assembly of the Organisation of
American States (OAS) decided Wednesday to lift its 47-year suspension
of Cuba, without conditions.

At its meeting in Honduras, the
OAS sought to "fix an historic error" committed when socialist Cuba was
expelled in 1962 from the main forum for political cooperation in the
hemisphere as a result of pressure from the United States.

The OAS resolution adopted Wednesday by consensus revoked the
Jan. 31, 1962 decision to suspend Cuba on the grounds that its
" Marxism-Leninism is incompatible with the
inter-American system."

Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas, one of the main
architects of Wednesday’s resolution, said that "as of now, Cuba’s
participation in the OAS will be reinstated by means of dialogue on
Cuba’s request and in the framework of the democratic practices that
govern the OAS."

"(A)s the host country for this assembly, we are pleased with
the amends made to the island nation. We have begun to build a new
history in our relations, of tolerance, respect, solidarity, the
self-determination of nations and the right to organise ourselves,"
said Rodas.

After the resolution was read out, the ministers and other officials at the assembly gave a standing ovation.

The leaders taking part in the conference included Nicaraguan
and Paraguayan Presidents Daniel Ortega and Fernando Lugo, and U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who left the assembly early
to join President Barack Obama in Egypt.

The tense debate on readmitting Cuba completely overshadowed
the main theme of the general assembly, "Toward a Culture of
Non-Violence", while protests were held outside the convention centre
where the two-day meeting took place in the northwestern Honduran city
of San Pedro Sula

The demonstrators included anti-Castro Cubans led by dissident
Huber Matos, a former ally of Fidel Castro, as well as supporters of
the government of Raúl Castro belonging to social movements from
Honduras and Nicaragua.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said Wednesday that "dialogue
has prevailed and we are observing an historic event – the coming
together again of the countries of the Americas, of which we are proud.

"I want to tell Cuban comandante (and former president) Fidel
Castro that today history has done him justice, today the world has
been given a lesson in international law, and we can proudly say that
the Cold War is over in the Americas," added the centre-left leader.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere
Affairs Thomas Shannon said "We removed an historical impediment to
Cuba's participation in the OAS, but also established a process of
engagement with Cuba, a pathway forward based on the principles,
purposes, values and practices of the OAS and the inter-American
After stating that the United States had reaffirmed its commitment to
building good relations with its neighbours based on respect, dialogue
and cooperation, he said the focus is now on the future, "rather than
on having a stale 47-year debate."
He hailed the decision as an important step for the future of the OAS
because it will strengthen the hemispheric body, and said the United
States worked hard to achieve a resolution backed by a broad consensus.

In a speech that received a one-minute ovation from the
conference, he added that Obama had called for a new start to relations
with Cuba, that the administration was gradually moving in that
direction, and that he hoped negotiations would begin soon.

He also said that while the Obama administration had given out
signals for change with Cuba, it would not stop defending democratic
principles and respect for human rights.

Clinton said in a statement that "This outcome is in keeping
with our forward-looking, principled approach to relations with Cuba
and our hemisphere.

"We must now build on this success by meeting our goals with
actions that move us beyond rhetoric to results, and advance the
mission which each of our nations have pledged to pursue," she added.

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Fender Falconí said the most
significant aspect of the resolution was that it was adopted "without
conditions of any kind, which is a good sign, because an historic error
has been corrected."

Falconí told reporters that the consensus was reached "at the
last minute after two days of continuous deliberations, when at least
three different texts were discussed, until we found the right one…to
keep the meeting from becoming a failure."

The representatives of Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica
highlighted the vote by acclamation and the role played by the
delegations of the United States, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and Argentina
which, along with their counterparts from Venezuela, Nicaragua and
Honduras, made every effort to hammer out a consensus agreement.

Several foreign ministers said it is now up to Cuba to decide
whether it will join the OAS under the "democratic principles" outlined
in the hemispheric body’s charter.

Cuba has often stated that it is not interested in joining the OAS, which Raúl Castro said in April "should disappear."

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said last week that "the OAS is totally anachronistic. It serves other interests.''

In 1962, 14 countries voted in favour of suspending Cuba, and
there were six abstentions - Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador
and Mexico – and only one vote against, cast by Cuba.

Later resolutions slapping OAS sanctions on Cuba only received two-thirds support.

"The people of the Americas are celebrating that this blotch
against Cuba has been wiped away and that justice was done to Fidel
Castro and the Cuban people," Honduran trade union leader Carlos Reyes
told IPS.

In an opinion column published Wednesday in the Cuban state
press, before the OAS resolution was announced, Fidel Castro praised
the signs of "rebelliousness" by the countries that advocated Cuba’s
full return to the hemispheric body.

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