Latin American Nations Rallying Behind Cuba's Bid

to Join Organization of American States

 

Cuba's regional allies want the U.S. to change their policy and allow the communist nation to join the organization

 

Jessica Rettig , US News & World Report

 

CARTAGENA, Colombia — President Obama's scheduled appearance at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Colombia is sure to raise the forum's global profile, but the planned absence of at least two other hemispheric heads of state—Cuban President Raúl Castro and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa—is already setting the tone.

 

The Organization of American States, which is sponsoring the summit in Cartagena on April 14 and 15, has historically excluded Cuba's totalitarian regime from its ranks for falling short of the group's democratic principles. As the Obama administration holds fast to this exclusion, other Latin American nations are rallying—or in the case of Ecuador, boycotting—on Cuba's behalf, possibly forcing Havana's tense relationship with Washington to the forefront of next week's discussions.

 

"[The summit] will be a chance for some states to put pressure on the United States to fix their relations with Cuba," says Ted Piccone, deputy director for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. "There's a fairly unified feeling within Latin America that the United States needs to change its policy."

 

Cuba's regional allies, such as Venezuela's notoriously outspoken president, Hugo Chávez, breached Cuba's status issue at the last OAS summit in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009. In recent months, the same voices have renewed their calls for Cuba's inclusion.

 

However, following a visit to Cuba last month, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the summit's official host, confirmed that due to lack of consensus among current members, Raúl Castro would again have to watch from the sidelines.

 

In a move of protest Monday, Correa sent a letter to Santos declining his invitation to attend the summit. He cited the "incomprehensible exclusion" of Cuba as the reason.

 

While most countries in Latin America have grown increasingly sympathetic toward Cuba, the United States, which maintains its embargo against the Castro regime after more than 50 years, remains the leading voice against its joining the OAS.

 

The Communist nation has made significant economic policy changes in recent years, but is still far from meeting the political criteria set forth by regional leaders at a previous summit in Quebec in 2001. As a result, according to Piccone, further efforts to push for Cuba's inclusion in the OAS—without the appropriate political changes from the country itself—could be detrimental the idea of democracy in the hemisphere.

 

"They're willing to push for Cuba's integration at the cost of abandoning democratic principles of the region," he says. "They have to make the case that Cuba qualifies, which means an erosion or twisting of the democratic criteria."

 

Piccone adds that the greater regional problem is that certain Latin American leaders don't want the democratic conditionality at all, whether it is for Cuba or for themselves. "That's a dangerous trend," he says.

 

In recent years, leftist nations have increasingly rejected the influence of United States in Latin America and have framed the region's newer multilateral groupings, such as UNASUR, CELAC, or the more politically charged ALBA—all of which exclude the United States, while the latter two include Cuba—as alternatives to the OAS.

 

The widespread disapproval of current U.S. policy on Cuba has only made prospects for hemispheric cooperation more difficult.

 

And just as the Obama administration faces criticism from other countries, right-leaning critics at home argue, by contrast, that he has not been firm enough in condemning Cuba's human rights violations or encouraging a stronger pivot toward democracy in the nation.

 

During his presidency, Obama has lessened previous restrictions on travel to Cuba and now allows Cuban-Americans to visit freely and send remittances to their families there.

 

Now, unless he or the summit's host manages to tone down talk of Cuba in order to focus on other major agenda items, like security and economic development, the region's leaders won't likely be easy on Obama as they urge him to address how the United States plans to deal with Cuba in the future.

 

 

 

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