WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
4 Jun 2009 | News

WOLA Applauds OAS Agreement on Cuba

In a historic agreement, foreign ministers meeting yesterday at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, agreed by consensus to end Cuba’s suspension from the body, imposed in 1962 at the height of the Cold War.  The U.S. agreed to the language, which ends the suspension and proposes a mechanism for discussion with Cuba if it requests re-admission.  

“It used to be that the United States set the terms for OAS debates.   That has clearly changed.  In this OAS session, Latin American countries put Cuba’s status on the agenda, and pursued it, despite U.S. opposition,” said Geoff Thale, Program Director at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).   The United States opposed re-admitting Cuba to the OAS, arguing that the OAS Democratic Charter set pre-conditions for membership that Cuba had to meet.    But most other governments have normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, engage with Cuba in other multi-lateral bodies, and address concerns about human rights in the context of ongoing dialogue.  In the face of U.S. opposition, other governments continued to press for Cuba’s reinstatement.   

Several different draft resolutions were circulated in the last few days.  The U.S. was reluctant to ease its position on pre-conditions.  As late as last night, when Secretary of State Hilary Clinton left Honduras to join President Obama in Egypt it looked like there might be no agreement.   But final wording was agreed on today. “These were tough negotiations,” said Thale,   “governments on both sides took strong positions, and held on till the last minute.”  In the end, though, an agreement was reached.  The United States responded to the issues raised by other countries, and displayed some flexibility.  The final statement sets no preconditions, while proposing a mechanism for dialogue with Cuba about the OAS’s principles and practices.  “President Obama and Secretary Clinton have both spoken about the need for the United States to listen to Latin America.  Their approach to the hemisphere acknowledges the changing dynamics of the region.  To their credit, they ultimately did listen here, and responded by showing some flexibility in the negotiations on the Cuba issue,” said Thale.  

Cuba will continue to be an important issue in the Western Hemisphere, but the debate is now likely to shift back to the bilateral U.S.-Cuban relationship.  “In some ways, the outcome of this debate suggests how the U.S. ought to engage with Cuba.  The United States has long-standing concerns about human rights and democracy in Cuba.  Rather than setting pre-conditions, we ought to be moving , in the bilateral relationship, toward lifting the travel ban, engaging in dialogue about mutual interests, and then raising our concerns in the context of normal relations,” said Thale.


Geoff Thale
Program Director
Washington Office on Latin America
202 797 2171