Economy & Trade, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

AMERICAS: Mexico, US Face Off over Cuba and Operation White House

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, Jun 2 1998 (IPS) - Mexico and the U.S. faced off over the question of renewed ties with Cuba and Operation White House – an undercover probe into money laundering – at the 28th General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Venezuela.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission, meanwhile, which released its annual report in Caracas Tuesday, highlighted impunity, the use of military courts to protect human rights violators, disrespect for the assumption of innocence and the dismal situation in prisons as the chief human rights problems pending in the Americas.

The OAS is based on democracies, a condition that Cuba does not meet, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told a press conference Tuesday evening.

On Monday, the first day of the three-day General Assembly – in which 34 foreign ministers from throughout the Americas are participating – Mexican Secretary of Foreign Relations Rosario Green suggested that a special group be set up to discuss Cuba’s reincorporation into the OAS, from which it was expelled in 1962.

Albright reached Caracas Tuesday with the aim of blocking any attempt to formally address the Cuban issue within the regional organisation.

As soon as Albright arrived, she met at length – and in private – with Green. But according to the Mexican official, the question of Cuba did not come up, because the positions of the two countries “are well-known and have already been taken.”

However, Green once again told Albright that her country planned to try the U.S. agents who participated in Operation White House in Mexican territory, on charges that they broke a number of domestic laws.

“We have our laws, and Mexico has its own,” was Albright’s response to reporters, with respect to Green’s announcement.

The secrecy surrounding the undercover operation aimed at rooting out Mexican bankers involved in or willing to launder drug money, and the action of U.S. agents in Mexican territory have been the subject of a formal protest sent to Washington by the government of Ernesto Zedillo.

Albright said there was clearly a need for stepped-up coordination, which was a top priority for both countries. But she added that what was crucial in U.S.-Mexican relations was to “look towards the future.”

She announced that the two governments would hold a special meeting in Washington to review bilateral cooperation in drug enforcement efforts.

Albright insisted that relations between Mexico and the United States were “very good,” and said she and Green were “close friends.”

Green had told reporters earlier that it was time to “repair the damage that Operation White House has caused to anti-drug cooperation between the two countries.” Some 200 joint drug enforcement projects would be reviewed at the Washington meeting, she added.

With respect to her proposal for the creation of an OAS Group of Friends to address mechanisms designed to end Cuba’s isolation, Green said she was only seeking an understanding of the collective view towards the burning issue.

Mexico had always opposed the expulsion of Cuba, due to its policy that “inclusions rather than exclusions” must be used to resolve problems, she remarked.

“Ignoring the issue will not make it disappear,” said Green, in an allusion to Albright’s failure to mention Cuba in her short address to the plenary session of the General Assembly.

The issue was brought up by OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria in his opening speech to the General Assembly Monday. The former Colombian president said there was a new climate in the Americas in favour of constructive rapprochement, and that many in the region would like “formulas of diplomacy, negotiations and a gradual approach” to Havana’s return to the OAS, which was backed by Pope John Paul II’s call for the world “to open up to Cuba.”

The foreign ministers of Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela were among those who specifically referred to the need to move towards Cuba’s reintegration into the “family of the Americas.” But unlike Green, they said it was not yet time to take any formal steps in that direction, while stressing that Havana had not even expressed interest in rejoining the OAS.

Meanwhile, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission’s 1,185- page report, released in Caracas, cited more than 100 decisions on specific cases, as well as reports on situations in Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti and Peru.

Among the problems plaguing the continent, Commission chairman Carlos Ayala also mentioned discrimination against women and girls and harassment of human rights activists.

Ayala said, however, that the extension of democracy in the continent had boosted awareness on the need for governments to protect human rights and for victims of abuses to file charges.

But the Venezuelan jurist added that the Commission was still concerned over the lack of investigation of abuses and punishment of human rights violators, one aspect of the serious dysfunctionality of justice in the continent.

Although Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1962, Ayala stressed that it was not let off the hook regarding its obligations with respect to the Inter-American Human Rights Convention, which has been in effect for 50 years.

One element Ayala highlighted was that the police had displaced the military at the top of the list of human rights violators today. He added, however, that the armed forces continued to be protected by special courts in cases of rights violations. Under no circumstances “can military jurisdiction be extended to crimes against human rights,” he stressed.

Ayala added that an average of 70 percent of inmates throughout the Americas were still awaiting sentencing, a violation of the assumption of innocence. And not only are prisoners packed into hopelessly overcrowded prisons, their basic rights – starting with the right to life – are not respected, he underlined.

The Commission is planning special visits to Guatemala and Peru this year.

 
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