From the June 9, 2009 Weekly Standard Online
June 9, 2009
by Jaime Daremblum
In all my years as an observer of international affairs, I have seldom seen the Organization of American States (OAS) so energized by a single issue. If only that issue were the humanitarian tragedy of Haiti, or the defense of democracy in those member countries where it is under siege--such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. Instead, the OAS has been hell-bent on extending membership to Communist Cuba, which, until last week, had been suspended from the regional group since 1962.
In a consensus vote on June 3, OAS members endorsed Cuba's right to rejoin the organization. But Fidel Castro wants no part of that. He blasted the OAS as an "an accomplice in all the crimes committed against Cuba." Cuban National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcón announced that, regardless of the decision to end Cuba's formal suspension, the Communist regime had no desire to be an OAS member.
For its part, the United States supported the pro-Cuba resolution but insisted that it include a provision that Havana's reentry into the organization must account for OAS "practices, proposals and principles." In other words, Cuba's return will not be automatic; the process will entail a dialogue initiated by Havana and will require Cuba's compliance with various stipulations. "Membership in the OAS must come with responsibilities," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "and we owe it to each other to uphold our standards of democracy and governance that have brought so much progress to our hemisphere."
Most Latin American and Caribbean countries--led by Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, the radical Sandinista leader--argue that Cuba's readmittance into the OAS should be unconditional. As an AP story put it, "The United States is largely isolated within the OAS in demanding conditions." It is troubling that so many Latin governments are eager to let a totalitarian regime join a club of democracies without asking that regime to make any commitments on human rights. The 1962 OAS resolution that expelled Cuba was quite clear: "The present Government of Cuba, which has officially identified itself as a Marxist-Leninist government, is incompatible with the principles and objectives of the inter-American system." Cuba remains a Communist government that crushes dissent and jails democracy activists. Its political system is no more compatible with OAS "principles and objectives" in 2009 than it was in 1962.
All 34 OAS members are now bound by the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which was adopted in 2001. Its language is equally clear: "Member states are responsible for organizing, conducting, and ensuring free and fair electoral processes." In addition: "Member states reaffirm their intention to strengthen the inter-American system for the protection of human rights for the consolidation of democracy in the Hemisphere."
Bringing a totalitarian dictatorship into the OAS would make a mockery of those words. Yet Havana's non-participation in the OAS has become a cause célèbre throughout the region. The push to let Cuba rejoin the OAS is part of a larger Latin American effort to end Cuba's isolation in the Western Hemisphere. Some Latin nations are even lobbying intensely for the United States to repeal its embargo against the Communist island. They would have more credibility in arguing this position if they showed greater concern over Cuba's severe human rights violations. Unfortunately, while Latin governments tend to get loud and boisterous when it comes to denouncing the U.S. embargo, they are generally quiet and meek in their criticism of Cuban repression.
For that matter, these same governments have also been remarkably quiet about Hugo Chávez's depredations in Venezuela and the antidemocratic maneuvers of his cronies in Nicaragua (Ortega) and Bolivia (Evo Morales). Chávez has been steadily consolidating an authoritarian regime without hearing much disapproval from his fellow OAS members. Indeed, by and large, Latin American and Caribbean nations have failed to stand up for Venezuelan democracy while Chávez has been demolishing it. (The Venezuelan strongman is now harassing his country's last remaining independent television station.)
The abandonment of Venezuela's anti-Chávez opposition has not been Latin America's finest hour. Some of the region's current leaders--including Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet--were once pro-democracy dissidents fighting against dictatorial regimes. At the time, they received support from Venezuelan democrats. Today, as Venezuelan democracy crumbles under the boot of an autocrat, they are mostly silent.
The political transformation of Latin America was one of the great democratic success stories of the late 20th century. But now, with Haiti falling deeper into its tragedy, and democracy under attack in Venezuela and elsewhere, some regional officials have decided that embracing a Stalinist dictatorship is more important than aiding a poor nation and defending freedom. They should be ashamed.
Ambassador Jaime Daremblum is a Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and directs the Center for Latin American Studies.
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