OAS welcomes Cuba back after nearly 50 years

Latin American leftist leaders are hailing the Organization of American States' move Wednesday as a symbolic 'end to the cold war.'

Eduardo Verdugo/AP
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared a laugh with Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya during the 39th General Assembly of the Organization of American States in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on Tuesday.

MANAGUA, NICARAGUA – In a unexpected decision that’s being hailed by Latin American leftists as the symbolic “end to the cold war,” the Organization of American States (OAS) reached a belabored consensus yesterday to allow the reintegration of Cuba, after being banned from the hemispheric body since 1962.

Washington had argued that Cuba was not ready to be allowed back into the OAS until it made progress on democratic governance and human rights. But the Obama administration compromised by allowing the island nation back in as a reward for the Cuban government’s new apparent willingness to dialogue and reform.

The resolution was announced at the OAS meeting Wednesday afternoon in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, after a tense session of dialogue that pitted the United States against the left-leaning nations of ALBA, the Venezuelan-inspired socialist club of five Latin nations. Honduran President Mel Zelaya, whose country is the newest member of ALBA, called the decision a “wise rectification” on the part of the regional body and an important historic recognition of the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Fidel Castro said history will absolve me, and today history has absolved him,” Mr. Zelaya said, referring to the Cuban leader’s famous 1953 speech.

Nicaraguan counterpart Daniel Ortega, an historic foe of the United States and leading defender of Cuba, called the decision a “positive gesture” by the Obama administration, but said the US needs to take the next step by lifting the 47-year-old embargo on Cuba.

“There is one country that is isolated from the concert of the Americas, and that is the United States, which hasn’t normalized relations with Cuba and maintains an economic embargo,” Mr. Ortega said.

Analysts are also calling the decision historic, not only because of the outcome, but because of the process, too.

“The vote today marks the dawn of a new era in the OAS in which Latin America insists that the organization be responsive to majority rule, not just to the wishes of Washington,” said William M. LeoGrande, dean of American University’s School of Public Affairs.

The OAS’s decision could lead to fresh momentum of the apparent thaw in US-Cuban relations.

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