The OAS Should Reconsider Its 1962 Expulsion of Cuba

THE 34 heads of government of nations that are members of the Organization of American States plan to meet in Miami in December, and already they are drawing up an agenda of things to talk about.

Here's a suggestion that will probably not be welcome: Cuba.

In January 1962, participants of an OAS meeting - foreign ministers, not presidents - voted to throw Cuba out of the organization. The rationale was that Cuba had adopted the principles of Marxism-Leninism, that these were incompatible with the inter-American system, and that Cuba had thereby excluded itself from the OAS.

The Castro regime was indeed an irritant to the inter-American system at that time and for some years thereafter. Cuban fingerprints were found in revolutionary movements in Central America and elsewhere, but in no case did these movements succeed.

Cuba became a considerable burden to its chief patron, the Soviet Union. At one time, Soviet subsidies to the Castro regime amounted to perhaps $5 billion a year. This is a great deal of money, even by the standards of the United States foreign-aid program. Subsidies ended as the Soviet Union fell on hard times in its waning days; with the end of the subsidies, Cuba sank into grim depression.

Castro's devotion to the principles of Marxism-Leninism has not wavered. He repeats it at every opportunity, but it has become irrelevant. The circumstances that led the OAS foreign ministers to exclude Cuba from their organization in 1962 no longer exist. It is therefore appropriate to reconsider that earlier action.

Among the new circumstances is a drift by Castro, under the pressure of hard economic necessity, to create something of a dual economy. The tourist industry, which deals only in hard currency, exists separately from the rest of the country. It does not affect Americans, who are forbidden to travel to Cuba or to spend US dollars there if they do go. The governments of Cuba and the US make an exception for Cuban emigres in the US who return to visit relatives in Cuba. The emigres can spend up to $100 a day; they can also take to their relatives various American goods (blue jeans, instant coffee, cigarettes, pantyhose, you name it). The value of this to the Cuban economy may be as much as $400 million a year. That doesn't make up for lost Soviet aid, but it's still a good deal of money.

Even in 1962, we had no clear notion of what we expected from the decision to exclude Cuba. Some thought (or hoped) it would lead to the overthrow or collapse of the Castro regime. It has not. Some thought (or hoped) it would moderate Cuba's international behavior. Cuba's behavior has moderated, but it took a long time, and OAS influence in bringing it about is debatable. If anybody in 1962 thought the policy would lead to democratization in Cuba, we see how misguided such an expectation was.

Yet the failure to democratize is the argument being made by Clinton administration officials to stick with the old policy left over from the days of John Kennedy. Since then, we have had Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush. Cuba still has Castro.

If we are really interested in promoting democracy in Cuba, we might look for other means to do it. In a strict sense, democracy is a political system; but for purposes of foreign policy, it should be viewed as a way of life transcending politics. It comes about gradually in a process that can be influenced from abroad but rarely prescribed.

For the OAS to say it will have nothing to do with Cuba until Cuba meets certain unspecified democratic norms is changing the rules. That standard was not applied to any other OAS member. It's good that so many of them are now democratic, but they don't need to be so self-righteous about it.

The OAS need not embrace Cuba or say to Castro, ``Come home; all is forgiven.'' All it needs to do is repeal the foreign ministers' resolution of 1962. That would restore the status quo ante. It would be in character for Castro to refuse to recognize the action. But it would then be Castro who was refusing to associate with the OAS, not the other way around.

If repeal of the 1962 action were coupled with relaxation of the US trade embargo, the pressures for political as well as economic change in Cuba would surely mount. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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