Cuba and the Inter-American System: From the San Pedro Sula Resolution to the VI Summit of the Americas.

In 2009, in San Pedro Sula, the OAS General Assembly demonstrated a shift in the balance of power among the countries of the hemisphere in regards to Cuba by repealing the sixth resolution of 1962 meeting in Punta del Este. The OAS recognized that it was anachronistic to exclude Cuba from the OAS for being "Marxist" or for its relations with an alleged "Sino-Soviet axis" when the Soviet Union does not exist and the People’s Republic of China is an associate member of the Inter-American Development Bank. The resolution was in consonance with the expressed unanimous rejection by the American countries of the US embargo against Cuba, which was declared only six days after the Punta del Este resolution.

By linking the end of Cuba's exclusion to the OAS democratic requirement of membership in the same resolution, the 2009 compromise separated the repeal of the 1962 resolution from the process of Cuba's reinstatement to the inter-American system, which now depends on a dialogue between the OAS and Cuba, at the request of the latter. However, the inertia of the status quo in Havana and Washington has halted any progress and has placed a time bomb at the door of the VI Summit of the Americas to be held in Cartagena de Indias.

The crisis exploded during the XI ALBA Summit, held in Caracas to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the February 1992 coup attempt. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa threatened that ALBA members would collectively boycott the Americas Summit if Cuba was not invited. In response, the Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Holguin proposed a compromise: to invite Cuba to the summit in an ad hoc status. This constructive effort by the Santos administration would initiate Cuban interaction with the hemispheric system without sacrificing the inter-American norm of democratic governance.

A different OAS

The change in treatment of Cuba approved in San Pedro Sula in 2009 showed that today's OAS is significantly different from that which suspended the island in 1962, with the complicity of Somoza and Duvalier. In 2001, the OAS codified the norm of democratic governance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter following a mandate from the declaration of the III Summit of the Americas in Quebec. Since 1991, the OAS has opposed every coup in the Americas. Governments, whether Marxist or not, are legitimate on the continent if they respect representative democracy. Today ideological pluralism is a principle of the Inter-American system.

The absence of any relationship between the Cuban government and the OAS is not optimal for either side. There are options for Cuba, other than full membership, that are more useful to both actors than the island total exclusion from the inter-American system. Even assuming the permanence of a one-party system, Cuban diplomacy should not be hostage to historical confrontations and maximize Cuba’s interests according to the current circumstances. Cuba can apply for membership or unilaterally sign conventions in order to be a part of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, or the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission.

 It is in the best interest of Cuba and the Inter-American institutions to build formal links that promote academic exchanges, as well as common protection against diseases, and energy cooperation. The outright rejection of Cuba's participation in the inter-American system, either by Havana or Washington, beyond Cuba’s current membership in the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), is not the best policy for promoting multilateral dialogue in the Western Hemisphere or North-South development cooperation.

Unsustainable status quo

In the context of the VI Summit of the Americas, the ALBA leaders are using the issue of Cuba’s exclusion from the Inter-American system to undermine democratic monitoring by the OAS in their countries. Rulers like Daniel Ortega, twice violator of the Nicaraguan constitutional clause against reelection, are using the OAS inaction with respect to the embargo against Cuba to discredit international bodies that hinder their attempts to hold on power in perpetuity. The ALBA countries manipulatively combine a criticism of the US embargo against Cuba with a rigid rejection of what is a legitimate objection to Cuba's full integration into the inter-American system: the Cuban government has declared that it has no intention, with or without the US blockade, to adopt representative democracy or to return to the OAS.

The US State Department's declarations, unilaterally squelching any possible compromise between Cuba’s full attendance and exclusion, fit perfectly into the ALBA's narrative of Cuba being a victim. Faced with the US ridged opposition to any Cuban participation in the Summit, partly due to internal election-year politics, the ALBA Political Council gathered in Havana and relaxed Correa's proposal. Instead of declaring a boycott, it called on Colombia, the host country, to devise an acceptable way to invite Cuba.

Given how unpopular the US policy of isolating Cuba is throughout the hemisphere, the status quo of totally excluding Cuba from the inter-American system is unsustainable and seriously detracts from the credibility of OAS. To "Cubanize" the summit would divert attention from areas of cooperation between the US and Latin America and would provide pretexts for members of ALBA to challenge the OAS, particularly its monitoring efforts by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and election observation missions.

From the San Pedro Sula Resolution to a Colombian invitation

 Jean Michel Arrighi, OAS director of legal affairs, renounced the responsibilities of the continental organization by declaring that it is solely up to the Colombian government whether or not to invite Cuba and under what terms. OAS leadership must craft a flexible approach to the VI Summit without legitimizing Cuba's one-party system as a representative democracy. It must understand that more interaction between hemispheric entities and the Cuban government and civil society is positive to promoting political liberalization in Cuba and coordinating regional efforts to fight drug trafficking, terrorism, and other threats.

Minister Holguin's suggestion of granting Cuba observer status at the summit is a step in the right direction. The goal should be to:
1) Open the inter-American system to Cuban participation in noble issues such as poverty alleviation and combating terrorism, and organized crime, thus undermining the US policy of absolute exclusion based on the Helms-Burton Act, which is counterproductive to the promotion human rights and incompatible with the principles of the 1948 Bogota Charter.
2) Present the invitation to Cuba as a continuation of the 2009 decision and as part of a process of rapprochement between Cuba and the inter-American system, withholding full participation until the Cuban government respects its citizens' right to representative democracy, which is recognized not only by the OAS, but also by UNASUR, the Andean Community, SICA, and even the Rio Group (predecessor of CELAC), as well as by the constitutions of most countries in the hemisphere.

Cuba should evaluate with clarity the differences between the fifth and sixth America's summits. The former occurred in Trinidad at the beginning of the Obama Administration, but the latter will be held six months before a difficult election that is now forecast to be a brawl. The summit has symbolic importance, but in the balance of Cuban interests, it is infinitely less important than a second Democratic presidential term, during which major dismantling of the embargo is probable.

The Obama Administration must understand that the Cartagena summit follows Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba, with his anticipated appeals to Cuba to continue opening up and to the world to react to Raul Castro's reform processes with more engagement and goodwill. If Cuba asks to participate in some areas of the inter-American system, such as counter narcotics or counter terrorism, for example, President Obama's electoral campaign could justify engaging the island in terms of  Washington's multilateral interests in the region.

The VI Summit of the Americas should build on the 2009 resolution of the OAS General Assembly, starting a political dialogue with Cuba by including it in specific areas of regional cooperation but without undermining the hemispheric regime of democratic governance.  Attending as an observer Cuba would not vote on the final declaration or serve as a member of the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG). The Colombian proposal, as the hosting country, to invite Cuba, under these stipulations, deserves unprejudiced examination.

Dawn Gable contributted to this article.