Confrontation at the airport photo by Gustavo Amador / European Pressphoto Agency
Diverting momentarily from Cuba, but not really changing the topic of this blog...
No one authoritative has commented on it, but I wonder whether, ironically, the OAS Summit sounded the death knell of democracy in Honduras. President Mel Zelaya and Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas were very visible players in the historic decision to end Cuba's suspension. No doubt this infuriated old guard Havana haters from the Bush Administration.
Certainly the extremists who dominated the first Bush term, Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, rushed to the defense of the coup makers, just as they had with the failed putsch in Venezuela. Is that simply a reflection of their obsession to roll back pro-Cuba governments or were they involved with the plotters as some have charged? Could they have been seeking a fait acompli to box in the Obama Administration?
This is the conspiratorial version by Venezuelan journalist Jose Vicente Rangel:
"In Honduras two distinct lines of North American politics revealed
themselves, one coming from the White House and the other through the
machinery put in place by the administration of George W. Bush at the
military base of Palmarola", he said.
Rangel explained that this became apparent on the morning of June 28,
when two important functionaries of the State Department, James
Steimberg and Tom Shannon, contacted the US embassy in Tegucigalpa
and the military base in Palmarola to discuss the coup d'etat and to
impede any intention to support it.
More surprising are functionaries from the Clinton Administration aligning with the coup. As reported in the New York Times:
Mr. Micheletti has embarked on a public relations offensive, with his supporters hiring high-profile lawyers with strong Washington connections to lobby against such sanctions. One powerful Latin American business council hired Lanny J. Davis, who has served as President ClintonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s personal lawyer and who campaigned for Mrs. Clinton for president.
And last week, Mr. Micheletti brought the adviser from another firm with Clinton ties to the talks in Costa Rica. The adviser, Bennett Ratcliff of San Diego, refused to give details about his role at the talks.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Every proposal that MichelettiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s group presented was written or approved by the American,Ã¢â‚¬Â said another official close to the talks, referring to Mr. Ratcliff....
Mr. MichelettiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s supporters are pushing back in part by paying hundreds of dollars an hour to well-connected Washington lawyers who have initiated a charm offensive from Washington. On Friday, Mr. Davis was testifying on Capitol Hill in support of Mr. MichelettiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s de facto government.
And on Saturday, Mr. Davis called reporters close to midnight to notify them that Mr. Micheletti had fired Enrique Ortez, whom he had appointed as his foreign minister, for having outraged American officials by referring in a television interview to President Obama as Ã¢â‚¬Å“that little black guy who doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even know where Tegucigalpa is located.Ã¢â‚¬Â
I wonder whether Davis bothered to mention that Enrique Ortez was only moved from Foreign Minister to Minister of Justice and Government and had been the source of drug trafficking allegations against Zelaya.
The actions of Davis and Ratcliff raise questions about how links from Bill Clinton's era may complicate the foreign policy of the Obama Administration.
Their high profile pro-coup activities merit investigation. Providing paid testimony to Congress and shaping Roberto Micheletti's hard line stance in mediation talks should require both to register as foreign agents.
Who recruited and paid Davis and Ratcliff? Did they directly or indirectly use their former Clinton relationship to try to influence the Secretary of State? If so, does this compromise her role as an honest broker, and her nomination of President Arias as mediator?
Is it significant that both those above and below the Secretary (President Obama and the State Department spokesperson) have been clearer than she that Zelaya himself must return to power to restore democracy?
Not least is the problem of appearances. If President Zelaya and his government are not quickly restored to power, skeptics in Latin America will conclude that Micheletti and the coup makers are the allies if not the creatures of US interests. The real goal of mediation will be seen as running out the clock to keep the betrayers of democracy in control during an accelerated election campaign.
More people in Honduras opposed than backed the coup (46 to 41%), a figure that was hidden in many press reports. Zelaya has set a deadline of this weekend for mediation to restore his position. Venezuela leaning governments in bordering Nicaragua and El Salvador will certainly be concerned that allowing the status quo to prevail in Honduras might induce right wingers within their armies to believe they too can get away with a coup.
Reich and Noriega may have expected that these events would lead Cuba and the US to fall into old patterns, denounce each other vociferously, and be forced to turn away from gradually improving the bilateral atmosphere. In fact key leaders in the two countries may have discovered a common interest in the peaceful return of Zelaya and democracy to Honduras.
"Showdown in Tegucigolpe", a progressive overview from Foreign Policy in Focus
"Honduras Had a New Kind of Coup" in the Los Angeles Times
"U.S. can repair democracy, not settle scores", Op ed by John Kerry in Miami Herald
"In Deeply Split Honduran Society, a Potentially Combustible Situation" from the Washington Post
"Washington & the Coup in Honduras: Here is the Evidence", blog by Venezuelan-American attorney Eva Gollinger
Demonstration against Supreme Court inaction on the Cuban 5 at USINT in Havana
Two recent events have demonstrated that key leaders in Cuba and the US are determined to create a new more rational relationship where differences are accepted if not approved (as with other nations that have non-American values and systems of government).
At the same time, both countries contain powerful forces that are psychologically and politically committed to the status quo. Whether they are fearful of losing the current and potential power the present impasse affords them or of giving opportunities to still hostile adversaries, they must be patiently listened to and then ignored for relations to improve.
Most recently, the President of CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, expressed profound disappointment that the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the Cuban 5 (spies to us, national heroes to them) but made clear this would not derail efforts to improve bilateral relations.
in Havana, the head of Cuba's parliament said the Supreme Court's decision won't jeopardize negotiations with Washington, even though the Cuban government considers the denied appeal ``a great insult.''
Similarly US officials have confirmed that the case of alleged espionage by Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers will not short-circuit diplomatic progress, despite predictable exploitation of the incident by opponents of change.
''I'm surprised State is still pushing for a hasty reinstatement of the talks,'' Florida Sen. Mel Martinez said. ``There are legitimate concerns about the extent of the recent espionage uncovered by the FBI. What's the rush to conduct talks with the Cuban regime when we still don't have a full damage assessment of the regime's covert efforts?''
However, I must admit to personal frustration with the overcautious approach on both sides to available practical and substantive steps forward.
The US has liberalized considerably its policy of granting visas for Cubans to come here for academic, cultural and professional reasons but oddly still refuses to remove Bush era bureaucratic obstacles to similar trips by Americans to Cuba.
Cuba readily issues visas to Americans for tourism through travel agents and at airport counters but not for more meaningful Ã¢â‚¬Å“officialÃ¢â‚¬Â encounters. (The latter visa is virtually indispensable for meetings with persons in the state sector, including professors, professional counterparts and government administrators.)
Cuba could also afford to be a bit more generous with exit visas, especially for students admitted to non-political US educational programs. (Hopefully when Congress with Presidential support ends all travel restrictions for Americans, Cuba will respond by terminating the requirement of a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœwhite cardÃ¢â‚¬Â for departing Cubans.)
Most amenable to influence by the American people is the Obama administrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s postponement of granting licenses for unrestricted travel for educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, sports and other people-to-people visits.
It has been more than two months since the President reaped overwhelming domestic and international approval by ordering unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban Americans. Yet the implementation regulations have still not been issued by OFAC. Nor have we seen the educational travel that key foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough embraced on behalf of candidate Obama at the NAFSA conference in Washington a year ago, foreclosing summer and fall programs.
A growing number of Americans are voting with their feet and ignoring illegitimate and unenforceable travel restrictions. Pastors for Peace, the Venceremos Brigade and the US/Cuba Labor Exchange will return from Cuba in early August, having once again undertaken public civil disobedience for humanitarian or solidarity reasons. These are important symbolic actions, but are a drop in the bucket of unlicensed travel which is estimated to be around 40,000 persons a year.
The Obama administration finally needs to decide whether it or Senator Bob Menendez is in charge of Cuba policy. Menendez channels on Cuba the reactionary Republican Jesse Helms, rather than the progressive Democrat he is on other issues. He notoriously held up the supplemental appropriations bill for days, a politically costly tantrum that alienated Senate colleagues and the Administration, because of minor Cuba family and agricultural export provisions.
Menendez is also reported to have blocked educational and other non-tourist provisions from the announcement of family remittances and travel. His threat to cut US funding to the OAS pushed the Secretary of State into a potentially embarrassing misinterpretation of the OAS Cuba resolution. He held up confirmation of two key science advisers and apparently is against the appointment of Cuban American Carlos Pascual to be ambassador to Mexico. (PascualÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sin was co-chairing a Brookings Institution project that proposed a creative road map for relations with Cuba.)
A certain amount of impatience is now deserved, especially from Obama supporters, who expected far more than they have gotten to date on change with Cuba.
Tens of thousand of people have signed the Orbitz travel petition to the President and Congress. It takes less than a minute here
The Office of Public Engagement needs to receive messages on its web site from lots more of us that the President must allow non-tourist travel without further delay and support legislation to end all restrictions.
A travel flyer can be downloaded here for local printing and distribution.
Secretary of State Clinton and Honduras President Zelaya at OAS Assembly
OAS SECRETARY GENERAL LAUDS Ã¢â‚¬Å“DIFFICULT DECISIONÃ¢â‚¬Â ON CUBA TAKEN BY MEMBER STATES AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY
June 24, 2009
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), JosÃƒÂ© Miguel Insulza, expressed his satisfaction on the political willpower shown by Member States during the 39th General Assembly in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, which ended the suspension of Cuba from the institution.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a difficult decision,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mr. Insulza acknowledged at a conference organized by the Inter-American Dialogue, a well-known Ã¢â‚¬Å“think tankÃ¢â‚¬Â in Washington, DC.
Mr. Insulza reminded the audience that at the OAS Ã¢â‚¬Å“all countries participate with the same rights and the same duties.Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“From the point of view of this principle, Cuba is a member of the OAS as long as it is willing to have the same rights and the same obligations as the other countriesÃ¢â‚¬Â, he added, and explained it with a graphic example: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The lock is off, the door is not open. The resolution says how you open the door, and there is only one doorÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Representatives from all 34 Member States in attendance at the General Assembly unanimously agreed on revoking the resolution adopted on January 31, 1962, at the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, which excluded the Government of Cuba from its participation in the Inter-American system.
The 34 Heads of Delegation also decided in the same document that Ã¢â‚¬Å“the participation of the Republic of Cuba in the OAS will be the result of a process of dialogue initiated at the request of the Government of Cuba, and in accordance with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Secretary General Insulza stressed that Ã¢â‚¬Å“how historic the resolution will be, it will depend on what Cuba is willing to do and what the other countries are willing to accept.Ã¢â‚¬Â He also highlighted that the aforementioned rights and obligations are Ã¢â‚¬Å“not a new condition, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not like somebody invented a new gadget to keep Cuba out.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In fact, everybody knows that the return of Cuba would take a few weeks if they were willing clearly to say that they are willing to abide by the same obligations and the same responsibilities,Ã¢â‚¬Â he added, and mentioned specifically the OAS Charter.
The maximum representative of the OAS also called for calm regarding new developments, because the process will be slow. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Fortunately things have quieted down since the days of the assembly, because at the beginning everybody wanted to know what was going to happen that week. Nothing is going to happen this week, next week or the next one,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think we will have any new movement in the case of Cuba until the Cuban government decides to makes some move,Ã¢â‚¬Â he added.
Analyzing what happened in San Pedro Sula, the Secretary General emphasized the role played by the United States under the administration of President Barack Obama. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What the US did at that meeting is exactly what the President said that they were going to do from now on: engage Latin America, do policy all together.Ã¢â‚¬Â
--OAS press release here
When the full speech is available on line, I'll post a link. Note that the OAS Charter is not the same as the Democratic Charter of the Americas. Most importantly Insulza's remarks reflect what actually took place in Honduras, not the post OAS Assembly provocative spin by US officials that made it sound like Cuba had to eat humble pie and change its system of government in order to take its unsuspended seat. My own analysis posted at the time can be read here.
Eduardo Verdugo, AP
"SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, Jun 3 (IPS) - After heated debate, the 39th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) decided Wednesday to lift its 47-year suspension of Cuba, without conditions...
Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas, one of the main architects of WednesdayÃ‚Â´s resolution, said that "as of now, CubaÃ‚Â´s participation in the OAS will be reinstated by means of dialogue on CubaÃ‚Â´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 organize ourselves," said Rodas. "
When Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon addressed the OAS Assembly on Wednesday afternoon after it had adopted by acclamation its historic resolution to end Cuba's suspension (text here), he received the longest and warmest applause for a government representative's comment, 30 seconds. That happened because his words were those of a statesman and a partner.
However, subsequent expressions by US officials threaten to undo his breakthrough in US-Latin American relations.
The OAS was faced with very different approaches going into the Assembly. The US was willing to see Cuba's 1962 suspension an ed but only on the condition that to resume participation Cuba be obligated to meet US goals for democracy and political prisoners. Virtually all other member countries simply wanted to let Cuba resume its active membership without creating new and unprecedented conditions.
The diplomatic compromise was to end completely the 1962 suspension and leave ambiguous what would happen if Cuba decided it wanted to come back.
Having watched on streaming video the extraordinary excitement and satisfaction of the Assembly delegations, I was startled by the official statement from the Secretary of State:
"I am pleased that everyone came to agree that Cuba cannot simply take its seat and that we must put CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s participation to a determination down the road Ã¢â‚¬â€œ if it ever chooses to seek reentry."
US media coverage also seemed to have missed the substance and spirit of what took place. The likely source was a telephone press briefing held on short notice by Shannon and National Security Council official Dan Restrepo.
Washington's new position seemed to be not only trying to put the best face on a compromise upsetting to Cuban American hardliners, but also to frame the decision in such a way as to make it less likely that Cuba would respond favorably. While that may make sense in the hermetic kingdom of the Beltway, it gave Havana an opportunity to celebrate the undoing of an historic wrong and take a pass at least initially on re-engagement, as Ricardo Alarcon quickly did.
In the briefing Restrepo goaded Cuba that the Assembly had made it a supplicant and spun a bizarre rewrite of history:
"The process begins with what is a difficult decision for a Cuban Government that has spent 40 years railing against an institution because of its defense of democracy and individual human rights. They would have to swallow that to ask to get into the organization."
Shannon took the same position in more diplomatic terms:
"the resolution makes very clear that the process by which Cuba must follow in order to reenter the OAS, requires first that Cuba request permission. Secondly, that it enter into a dialogue with the relevant organs of the OAS, and that that dialogue and the decision rendered by the OAS must be in accord with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS. And the resolution makes very clear that the fundamental instruments and documents in the OAS, like the Inter-American Democratic Charter, will be the guiding documents as the OAS engages with Cuba."
However their words are alien to the spirit of the Assembly as expressed in speeches after the vote of acclamation. Nor are their interpretations justified by the actual text as read by the chair of the Assembly, Foreign Minister of Honduras Patricia Rodas:
"the General Assembly... resolves
1) that resolution 6 adopted on January 31st 1962, at the 8th meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs which excluded the government of Cuba from its participation in the Inter-American system hereby ceases to have effect in the Organization of American States. (55 seconds of standing ovation)
2) that the participation of the Republic of Cuba in the OAS will be the result of a process of dialogue initiated at the request of the government of Cuba and in accordance with the practices and purposes and principles of the OAS" (15 seconds of applause)
The content of clause 1 clearly means that Cuba is no longer suspended. Logically, since it never lost its membership, it is now legally entitled to resume it. The content of clause 2 simply describes the mechanics of how that will happen. Cuba first has to decide it wants to resume its seat and say so, i.e. no one is forcing it to reenter the organization. The process of actually retaking its seat will then be discussed. A dialogue is not an application. No further decision or vote is mentioned. Being in accord with "practices and purposes and principles" is not a list of preconditions.
The US seems to be relying on this paragraph in the preamble,
"The General Assembly, recognizing the shared interest in the full participation of all the member states, guided by the purposes and principles of the OAS, embodied in the Charter of the organization and its other fundamental instruments related to security, democracy, self-determination, non-intervention, human rights and development"
Note that language does not set conditions. It makes "full participation" the primary goal. The list of "purposes and principles" are characterized as "guides", i.e. values. Similarly, security, self-determination and non-intervention could be guides advanced by Cuba and the rest of the membership of the OAS against the US embargo and prolonged strategy of regime change. Cuba's less than ideal approach to democracy and human rights would not be inherently disqualifying unless the US was similarly judged in reference to the other guides.
Restrepo waxed self-righteous
"for Cuba to return to the organization, the organization has to agree that Cuba is abiding by the same rules that everybody else is abiding by".
Cuba's practice of harsh imprisonment without sufficient objective legal due process is hardly unique on an island that includes the Guantanamo prison camp. And if the US can choose which parts to abide by of even the primary constitutional Charter, Cuba certainly has the right to do the same with the content of a secondary instrument, the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
The point is not to make a lawyer's argument for Cuba's eligibility. This is a political decision. Every other member of the OAS wants to return to the status quo before the despised 1962 suspension, to bring Cuba back in as a full functioning member without posing political obstacles which they know it will refuse. The US tried to use OAS participation as one more vehicle for pressuring Cuba to make changes. Many other countries favor those same changes and have no problem with their inclusion as goals in principle, but no one else agrees to imposing them, knowing that is a tired and ineffective strategy.
Washington ducked the bullet of either facing a vote, where it would have been completely isolated, or of alienating the Hemisphere by blocking a consensus. However, underlying sentiments remain the same. If and when Cuba decides it wants to take its legitimate seat at the OAS, there is no reason to believe Washington will be able to force or win a vote to stop it. Note that Minister Rodas spoke of, "the framework of the democratic practices that govern the OAS" not the domestic political systems of its members.
Bloomberg.com offered an unusual regional insight that may be predictive:
Cuba will rejoin the Organization of American States after Ã¢â‚¬Å“a lot of emotionÃ¢â‚¬Â passes, said Ruben Blades, tourism minister in Panama, a member of the Washington- based group.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is a lot of emotion right now in the world,Ã¢â‚¬Â Blades, also a six-time Grammy Award winning singer, said in an interview in New York. Ã¢â‚¬Å“So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a matter of processing. Eventually we will see a different scenario in Cuba as we have seen everywhere else.Ã¢â‚¬Â
CNN reported that Miami's extremist wing was not appeased by the US spin of the OAS compromise:
"Today we witnessed an example of the Obama administration's absolute diplomatic incompetence and its unrestricted appeasement of the enemies of the United States," Cuban-American U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, said in a joint statement. "The OAS is a putrid embarrassment."
Dan Erickson of the Inter-American Dialogue summed up the situation well for the Guardian,
"The vote sends a powerful signal to the Obama administration that the path of moderate, incremental change in US policy towards Cuba is depleting America's political capital in the region at an alarming rate."
Articles giving a non-US spin to the OAS, the text of the OAS resolution and the US draft, the text of Clinton, Shannon and Restrepo statements are posted here
To see streaming videos of the plenary session that dealt with the Cuba resolution, go here or here (This is the original feed, so most of the speeches are in Spanish. On request to email@example.com, I can send a download of part of the English feed which included translations.}
The lobbyist in Washington for Cuban American hard liners, Mauricio Claver-Carone, comes to a similar conclusion that the OAS resolution effectively allows Cuba to resume membership whenever it wishes.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in San Salvador (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
In 1962, President KennedyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ambassador to the OAS, DeLesseps Morrison, a rabid anti-communist, pushed a resolution through the organization suspending CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s membership in the Western HemisphereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most important regional institution. Given the lack of overwhelming regional backing for such a move against Cuba at the time, this was no easy task. In fact, in order to convince Haitian President Francois Ã¢â‚¬Å“Papa DocÃ¢â‚¬Â Duvalier to support the U.S. initiative to bar Cuba from the OAS, Ambassador Morrison had to bribe the reprehensible Haitian dictator by promising to fund the construction of a new airport in HaitiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Haiti was thus won over to provide the last of the necessary fourteen votes to suspend Cuba from the organization. (In enlisting the assistance of one dictatorship to expel another, Washington demonstrated its selective indignation at authoritarianism.)
From Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ostracism or Reconciliation? Cuba, the U.S. and the Organization of American StatesÃ¢â‚¬Â prepared by Council on Hemispheric Affairs Research Associates Arienna Grody and Lily Fesler (full text here)
Much reporting on the coming OAS meeting has incorporated the spin emerging from official US sources. Some correctives:
1) Cuba is still a member of the OAS. It was suspended, not expelled, in 1962 as the result of an intense and still-resented campaign by a US government more dominant than today. Justifications for suspension did not include internal democracy or human rights and are now moot.
2) Virtually all OAS members support ending CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s suspension without conditions, not only more left-leaning governments.
3) Nothing in the OAS Charter, or subsequent documents, including the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) precludes Cuba taking up full and active membership. The IADC is quite explicit about measures to be taken in the face of Ã¢â‚¬Ëœunconstitutional interruption of the democratic order of a member stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, i.e. a military coup. It incorporates aspirations that all members be representative democracies with respect for human rights but does not address restoring the status of an existing member with a different political orientation.
4) The US embargo and forced transition agenda with Cuba seriously violate the OAS Charter, which is quite explicit that Ã¢â‚¬ËœNo State...has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference...against its political, economic, and cultural elements.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢" (Article 19, see also Articles 3e and 20)
Diplomats tell TIME that major Latin broker countries like Brazil are stepping in now to help hammer out a deal palatable to both Washington and Havana Ã¢â‚¬â€ one that would probably demand a lesser gesture of democratic commitment on Cuba's part, like the release of political prisoners. But they also suggest that the General Assembly may end up deciding to simply hold a yearlong "dialogue" on the matter, to allow the U.S. and Cuba to ease into a compromise that would be unveiled in 2010. Ã¢â‚¬â€œTim Padgett, Time Magazine
Not good enough. Placing special conditions on CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s membership or ducking the issue brands the organization as still too compliant with US domestic political agendas and sustains Fidel CastroÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s anti-OAS argument. An extended dialogue about reentry is likely given CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s oft repeated denunciation of the OAS, but such a very useful process can only begin if the 1962 suspension is repealed and it is only up to Cuba to decide if and when it retakes its seat.
As with the rest of Administration Cuba policy to date, trying to maintain leverage by incremental change is living in denial and counterproductive. Secretary Clinton should simply abstain if the OAS votes on ending Cuba's suspension without conditions. In that way she demonstrates we are listening and serious about a new collaborative role, even if the Administration is not able politically to join the affirmative vote.
Most of all, the Administration cannot let it seem as though Sen. Menendez (D, NJ) controls US foreign policy with bluster and threats to cut off OAS funding.
Senator Robert Menendez, photo by Mike Derer -- Associated Press
The Washington Post today recognized the mess the Administration is getting itself into by overincrementalizing change with Cuba and trying to placate bitter-end exile politics in Congress:
The U.S. government is fighting an effort to allow Cuba to return to the Organization of American States after a 47-year suspension. But the resistance is putting it at odds with much of Latin America as the Obama administration is trying to improve relations in the hemisphere.
Reuters reported that the US has submitted a resolution for the OAS Assembly. It sounds like a holding action. However,
The OAS council appointed a task force to evaluate the U.S. proposal and two others that could more directly lead to reinstatement of Cuba, suspended from the OAS in 1962
If stronger language emerges than the AdministrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, it will face a test of just how prepared it is to really listen to our neighbors rather than to bluster and extreme threats to cut off OAS funding from Sen. Menendez.
Reuters cites the text of the US resolution
"Some of the circumstances since Cuba's suspension from full participation in the Organization of American States may have changed," the U.S. resolution said, noting a "frank and open dialogue" was a hallmark of multilateral relationsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
The U.S. resolution instructs the OAS council "to initiate a dialogue with the present government of Cuba regarding its eventual reintegration into the inter-American system consistent with the principles of sovereignty, independence, non-intervention, democracy."
Hector Morales, the U.S. representative to the group, said Cuba's re-entry into the OAS required a deliberate and well-considered process. "It must and will depend more on what Cuba is prepared to do than on what concessions we as an organization are prepared to make," Morales said.
Condescension and conditionality seem wired into US rhetoric about Cuba, even from the Obama Administration, and we will see next Tuesday how much longer OAS members will tolerate it.
A Cuban journalist, Jorge GÃƒÂ³mez Barata, writing for theprogressoweekly.com challenges US self-righteousness by citing the actual text of the OAS Charter (its legal constitution, not the more recent and inconclusive Democratic Charter of the Americas).
"ARTICLE 3(e): Every State has the right to choose, without external interference, its political, economic, and social system and to organize itself in the way best suited to it ..."
"ARTICLE 19: No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements."
"ARTICLE 20: No State may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another State and obtain from it advantages of any kind."
In general the tone of the article is quite different than Fidel CastroÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Reflection (quoted two blog entries back). While GÃƒÂ³mez says that Cuba will not take its seat, his words suggest greater openness might be in play.
We are curious to see what happens when ... Hillary Clinton sees all hands rise in favor of repairing a historical injustice and the United States is left all alone. Cuba will not return to the OAS, but Latin America will win a great battle and create a precedent. From then on, nothing will be the same.
Based on the text of the OAS Charter, the US itself and our unilateral travel and trade embargo might find rigorous implementation problematic.
Logo for the 39th OAS General Assembly (web page)
WASHINGTON (AP) Ã‚Â Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says Cuba won't be allowed to rejoin the Organization of American States until it makes political reforms, releases political prisoners and respects human rights.
Clinton said Wednesday that the grouping of Western Hemisphere nations requires its members to adhere to democratic standards that the communist government of Cuba does not yet meet. She made the comments to lawmakers ahead of the organization's annual meeting.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been very vocal in saying that we must repeal Resolution VI of 1962. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an old resolution, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not valid anymore, and it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t condemn Cuba for not being democratic. It condemns it for being a member of the Sino-Soviet axis and says that this axis is aggressive against the United States. But it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t exist anymore. The Sino-Soviet axis disappeared about four or five years after CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s suspension. The Soviet Union disappeared almost 20 years ago and the Chinese are even friends with the United States today, so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really crazy. It is a piece of the Cold War that was left in a corner and we must get rid of it.
--JosÃƒÂ© Miguel Insulza, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS)
During the General Assembly, some may advocate to allow Cuba to participate in the OAS, without having made any progress on the fundamental tenants of democracy and human rights...as the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign assistance, I would expect the U.S. Congress to ask, "Should we continue to pay 60 percent of the budget of an institution that just discarded democratic principles as a fundamental part of its Charter?
--Sen. Robert Menendez
Governments can change but the instruments they used to turn us into a colony are still the same...The OAS was the instrument for those crimes...Cuba respects the opinions of the governments of sister nations in Latin America and the Caribbean who think in a different manner, but it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wish to be part of that institution.
--Fidel Castro, Reflections, May 10
An oft-repeated refrain at the Summit of the Americas was that Cuba should no longer be excluded from the Organization of American States. The issue will come to a head when the General Assembly of the OAS meets June 2-3 in Honduras. If Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela and others insist on a vote, US isolation in the Hemisphere could be embarrassingly illustrated.
Secretary Clinton is ill advised legally and politically. This is another instance of the US listening without hearing, when conventional inside-the-beltway wisdom imposes the dead hand of the past over real US interests. As the Secretary acknowledged at a town hall meeting for Foreign Affairs Day at the State Department May 1st:
weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re facing an almost united front against the United States regarding Cuba. Every country, even those with whom we are closest, is just saying youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to change, you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t keep doing what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing.
Had Cuba been suspended from the OAS because of its lack of multi-party democracy, other members then and subsequently would have faced the same fate. The goal of the Inter-American Democratic Charter was to discourage military coups by excluding a regime that overthrew an elected government, i.e. moved the democratic process backward in its country.
Article 19...an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order or an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state, constitutes, while it persists, an insurmountable obstacle to its governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s participation in sessions of the General Assembly, the Meeting of Consultation, the Councils of the Organization, the specialized conferences, the commissions, working groups, and other bodies of the Organization. (full text)
While the Charter is unambiguous that "member states are responsible for organizing, conducting, and ensuring free and fair electoral processes", an accompanying OAS explanatory document demonstrates that the means of dealing with elections that are "divisive" or "controversial" are missions and dialogue not suspension. Cuba's unorthodox form of democracy can be challenged the next time it holds elections, but is not grounds for exclusion.
Is there any contemporaneous documentation that sustains a view that adoption of the Charter in 2001 was seen as an obstacle to Cuba's return unless it changed the form of its existing sovereign government?
Moreover, the Charter is not written to be retroactive. It is not reasonable to apply criteria for membership ex post facto to a country suspended only because of intense political and economic pressure by a disproportionately powerful member for no longer applicable reasons.
A specialist involved in OAS preparatory discussions wrote me that, "It is immensely complicated, and it is not clear how it will come out." Thus it is especially unfortunate if the US takes a hard line ideological stance responsive to special interests and tries once more to impose its will on the Hemisphere, reminiscent of 1962.
My analogy from Indochina is that the US originally opposed Vietnam joining ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), but the independent action by the region to incorporate it and Laos and Cambodia helped Clinton to normalize. Ironically, the US in the Bush era urged still communist Vietnam to take a leading role in ASEAN according to a high level friend from the Foreign Ministry.
When Hillary Clinton, Bob Menendez and Fidel Castro agree that Cuba should not reenter the OAS, it suggests this is just the kind of decisive timely move by the region that is needed to break the logjam of inertia and distrust. By proving itself independent of US domestic agendas, the OAS will strengthen itself--and not only in Cuban eyes.
Two opinions more expert than my own from Professors William LeoGrande and Philip Brenner of American University, in response to questions I posed, can be read here
President Bush at the White House, "Cuban Independence Day" 2008
photo Charles Dharapak / AP
The Bush Administration made much of "Cuban Independence Day", May 20th. It often used the anniversary as a platform to launch rhetorical volleys and harsh policies directed against Havana, Cuban Americans, and any normal relationship between our peoples.
It is a date that means one thing to the 10% of Cubans who've migrated to the US and just the opposite to the 90% for whom the island is home. To most Cubans the revolution that took power in 1959 was a rejection of the compromised political and economic sovereignty forced on them by the US in 1902, regardless of how they feel about their country's economy and government today.
How should the Obama Administration balance shoring up its ethnic support in Florida with reaching out to the people of Cuba and their leaders? Can it avoid choosing which version of history to endorse? Should it depoliticize the anniversary by ignoring it, or by using it for a counter-intuitive initiative that rises above old divisions?
A logical step is to employ the date and any related event to announce that the President will finish the job of non-tourist travel, reaching beyond Cuban Americans to enable unlimited visits for educational, religious, cultural, humanitarian and other people to people purposes. According to a May 5 story in The Hill newspaper, the only reason why many Americans can't go to Cuba legally now is Senator Robert Menendez' apparent ability to still intimidate a conflicted administration.
Some Cuba policy watchers suspected that Menendez may have had a behind-the-scenes impact on Obama's decision not to also allow U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for cultural, academic and humanitarian purposes. This would have marked a return to the policies in effect at the end of the Clinton administration.
Menendez spoke to Denis McDonough, director of strategic communications at the National Security Council, shortly before Obama announced his Cuba order. McDonough advises the president on Cuba policy.
A contact in Havana who is often critical of government policy has written an essay on what May 20th means to most Cubans which can be read here
For a longer analysis, read one of the excellent histories of Cuba by Lou Perez of the University of North Carolina, his indispensable "Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution" and most recently "Cuba in the American Imagination". Lou has also written a compelling op ed for McClatchey about the challenge facing the Administration to go far enough to make a difference which can be seen here.
Peter Yarrow, John McAuliff and then Prime Minister Phan Van Khai
On April 30, 1975, I arrived in Hanoi for the first of over fifty visits. Literally as the last US ambassador closed one door in South Vietnam, I and four other American peace activists opened another in the soon to be reunified country.
The experience of the next two weeks in northern Vietnam, and a first visit to Ho Chi Minh City three years later, both made on behalf of the Quaker led American Friends Service Committee, focused my next twenty years on overcoming the legacies of the war.
I discovered that for southern and central Vietnamese, peace was liberation for many, occupation for some. The immense human cost of war was replaced by the lesser but still real suffering of reeducation camps, dispossession and exile.
Both countries wasted precious opportunities to quickly heal the physical and psychic wounds of war. Vietnam rebuffed an early Carter Administration effort through the Woodcock Commission to normalize relations and end our embargo because its leaders felt the US was obliged to fulfill its Paris Peace Agreement commitment of reconstruction aid. Later the Carter Administration rebuffed VietnamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s readiness to normalize because it interfered with the strategy to align with China against the Soviet Union.
Although there were positive initiatives during the Reagan and Bush I administrations, the primary result was a lost decade and a half. Bill Clinton, with the help of Vietnam veteran Senators Kerry and McCain, rapidly transformed the bilateral relationship. (A tragic byproduct of the delay was a decade of civil war in Cambodia in which the US and China sided with the remnants of the Khmer Rouge to try to unseat the government and undermine the economic infrastructure that were being rebuilt with Vietnamese and Soviet assistance.)
As I worked with US educational institutions, foundations and non-governmental organizations to lay the private groundwork for bilateral official reconciliation, I witnessed (and may have assisted at the edges) Vietnam to transform itself economically and socially. Experimental steps in provision of land to those who farmed it and a family-based economy of manufacturing and trade, enabled the country to evolve from near famine and rationed poverty into food exporter, and one of the most robust economies and stable societies of Southeast Asia. The process of economic reform accelerated dramatically when the US embargo ended. Today we are VietnamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest trading partner, a leading foreign investor, and the biggest source of tourists after adjacent China.
Strategically we have found common interests. Unlike other countries in the region, Vietnam faces no problem of religiously based extremism or terrorism and shares with us a preoccupation about the growing power of China. The US does not agree with VietnamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s political system, state controlled media and repression of political dissidents. However this is the subject of normal diplomatic dialogue not of moralizing lectures and sanctions. The growth of personal freedoms and civil society and the increasingly active and independent National Assembly argue for the value of domestically defined democratic renovation, despite the historical dominance of a single Communist party ruling through semi-controlled elections.
Today I spend most of my time seeking a similar path to reconciliation between the US and Cuba. My touchstone is Ho Chi MinhÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s slogan that, Ã¢â‚¬Å“nothing is more precious than independence and freedom.Ã¢â‚¬Â Ho was speaking of national not individual freedom, and failure to appreciate that perspective is the perennial failing of large powerful countries toward neighbors, not least the US.
In his opening remarks at the Summit of the Americas, President Barack Obama made a rare if not unprecedented official pledge, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He also spoke, as he had in Europe and Turkey and in that weekÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s radio address, of new international relationships based on Ã¢â‚¬Å“mutual respectÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Yet even Obama does not fully escape the prevailing assumption that the US is entitled, even obliged, to force Cuba to accommodate US views on democracy and human rights. We still would have an embargo and no relations with Vietnam, and for that matter with China, had such requirements for internal political change been conditions for normalization, or had US policy depended on agreement from political leaders in the exile community.
The US vainly appeals for regional support in its crusade to maintain a standard of democracy in the Hemisphere through leveraging Cuba, blithely ignoring that these same countries have made clear that the first step towards encouraging a more democratic Cuba must be the unconditional end of an interventionist US embargo.
Even the most sophisticated US leaders and media seem tone deaf to, if not dismissive of, regional voices. Our neighbors see US rhetoric about democracy as the persistent justification for decades of aggression, not to mention a large amount of hypocrisy. Many believe real American motives lie in our economic and strategic interests and unconscious assumption of hegemony. Cuba in particular sees US preaching about democracy within the context of a century of conflict over political and economic self-determination.
President Obama has taken a very admirable humanitarian step by ending all restrictions on remittances and travel by Cuban Americans. However he should not expect undue gratitude from Havana or the Hemisphere for terminating a peculiar policy that subjugated normal family relationships to political ends.
Obama should now use the same authority to allow equally unlimited travel by Americans for educational, religious, humanitarian and cultural purposes. This additional step would more substantively increase understanding and trust in both countries and, as with Vietnam, contribute to the process of healing and normalization.
The President should also urge Congress to adopt pending legislation to end restrictions on travel to Cuba by all Americans. Setting the example of restoring an important human right to our own people provides the moral basis for urging Cuba to make a comparable gesture for freedom of travel by abolishing exit visas that restrict the freedom to travel of its people.
The author is founder and executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, a non-governmental organization based in Dobbs Ferry, NY
I well remember when those two small, unarmed planes doing nothing more than dropping pamphlets were shot down by the Castro regime. And I believed then, and I think you said it well today, it was done to prevent us opening. But it was also an act of such aggression and violence that you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let it go unanswered, either. So this is a difficult calculation. Our goal is for a free, independent democracy that gives the people of Cuba a chance to have the same opportunities that their sisters and brothers and cousins and my sister-in-law, who came to this country from Cuba, that they have in our country.
--Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in testimony at the House Foreign Affairs Committee
The burden of Secretary Clinton's testimony, beyond the obligatory negative rhetoric about Cuba, was actually helpful, as I will explore in another post. However, since the above statement has become one of the unquestioned verities of US political discourse about Cuba, I wanted to share a response by Leonard Weinglass that he sent to Jane Franklin.
Personally I think shooting down the planes was a terrible act by Cuba, a disproportionate response to unquestionably illegal activity. I don't know whether there was an alternative of forcing down the the planes, as I assume would be the US action in such a circumstance, and what the result would have been over open water.
However, my concern is the lesson being drawn from a debatable interpretation of events and motives. I do not buy the argument that Cuba acted to prevent an opening by the Clinton Administration. Rather, I believe the Cubans fell into a deliberately provocative trap set by Miami hard liners. Havana responding forcefully to repeated violations of national sovereignty would undermine pro-normalization opinion in the Administration and facilitate passage of Helms-Burton which was designed to block Executive flexibility toward Cuba. I don't imagine that the leaders and sponsors of Brothers to the Rescue intended such a tragic end to their adventurism, but they did achieve their goal in Washington and certainly bear some of the responsibility.
While one can appreciate the short term domestic political utility of the theme that we will end travel restrictions and the embargo because those evil Castros really don't want us to, it is risky to base policy on an illusion.
Weinglass offers (below the break) a lawyer's brief in a clever fashion. A contemporary article from Time magazine provides some perspective on the Brothers saga and reveals the problematic role of Secretary Clinton's sister-in-law.
Leonard Weinglass, Attorney:
The appropriate question for Hillary Clinton is the following:
What would the US do if the following were the undisputed facts?
1. The lead plane of the three aircraft involved (two were shot down) was piloted by a man who had previously committed acts of treachery and violence against the US and had been trained by a hostile foreign government in explosives and ordinance;and
2. that same pilot, according to US intelligence, had recently been training in dropping, not leaflets, but hand made explosive devices onto a field to test their effectiveness;and
3. that he had publicly stated on the radio in his home country two days earlier that the flight of the three planes was "on a mission" that day to destabilize the government of the United States; and
4. that the plane he and the others were flying was modeled after, and had the same characteristics, as a military aircraft that was used during the Vietnam war to drop small bombs against an opposing country and was actually navy surplus aircraft that had been recently used for that very purpose; and
5. that just prior to the shootdown the U.S. FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] had spoken to the lead pilot by radio and warned him that he was entering a militarily protected zone and should turn back, but the warning was disregarded as the aircraft continued on a course heading directly toward the US Capital; and
6. that the thee planes then overflew a designated area of open water that the US had closed due to military exercises, and in accordance with international rules and regulations, warning all aircraft not to enter; and
7. that the three pilots belonged to a group of former residents of the US and who had publicly advocated the overthrow of the US Government by force; and
8. that the leaflets that had been earlier dropped by this group of pilots had called on Americans to rise up against their government; and
9. that after 25 overflights of Washington by this group of pilots in the previous 20 months, all of which were protested by the US to the country that provided them a home base, and that prior to arming its interceptor aircraft, the US called in a high-ranking military officer from that country and warned him that henceforth the US would protect its airspace militarily if need be and urged him to return home and encourage the appropriate agencies to put a halt to those flights; and
10. He did just that but despite all the warnings the flights continued until they were shot down.
Under such circumstances was the US justified in downing the aircraft?