Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

AMERICAS: The Ball Is Now in Cuba’s Court, Says OAS

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, Jun 4 1998 (IPS) - The 28th General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS) concluded in Caracas with a plan for a new, modernised system of inter-American institutions, suited to the needs of the 21st century.

And with respect to the possibility of Cuba’s return to the organisation, “the ball is now in Cuba’s court,” according to the chairman of the General Assembly, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Burelli.

Burelli said the modernisation of the OAS, innovation in the field of cooperation, the commitment to overhaul legal systems and the debate on Cuba’s return were the core issues discussed by the foreign ministers Monday through Wednesday.

Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1962, and in Caracas the United States blocked all attempts to formally debate its reincorporation, such as Mexico’s proposal for a task force to study mechanisms towards a solution to Cuba’s isolation.

The General Assembly did not feel ready to tackle the question of Cuba’s reincorporation, said Burelli, because the socialist government of Fidel Castro itself “has not expressed a desire to return.”

Cuban President Fidel Castro, speaking in Havana Wednesday, alluded to the issue, declaring that “exclusive groups” fear the freedom of the Cuban revolution “when it comes to speaking the truth,” and that Cuba was left out because “the empire” (the United States) feared its presence.

“From a moral standpoint, whereever Cuba is they cannot be, or at least they don’t feel comfortable,” he said.

Castro maintained that Cuba was “the voice of the oppressed” and “the freest country in the world,” because it never hesitated to “denounce the abuses committed by imperialism – and especially its principal exponent, the United States – against the rights of the entire world.”

The General Assembly of the OAS did reach a number of other decisions in Caracas, however, adopting some 60 resolutions, including a staunch condemnation by the 34 governments represented in the OAS of the recent nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan.

The question of modernising the OAS – in which all the countries of the Americas coexist, with the exception of Cuba – was left in the hands of a special joint task force of the OAS permanent board in Washington, comprised of accredited representatives of OAS member nations.

The only duties left to the secretariat of the OAS were to support the task force and adopt the measures decided on for renovating the continent-wide body.

The Secretary-General of the OAS, former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria, did not pronounce himself on the weak role he was assigned in implementing his initiative towards a new, efficacious OAS and the renovation of the inter-American system, which responds to the new era opened by the hemispheric summits, the second of which took place in April in Santiago, Chile.

But Gaviria called this week’s gathering “the first of the next 50 years of the OAS,” which turned 50 in April. “Caracas is the starting-point for OAS efforts to have a closer grasp on the issues that grieve our people,” he stressed.

The plan for overhauling the OAS and the entire inter-American system is based on an initiative put forth by Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela and Peru, whose foreign minister offered to chair the special task force.

In the wake of the Cold War and the spread of democracy throughout the continent, the governments of Canada, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean agree that their new agenda must focus on development, education and the environment, and fighting poverty, drug trafficking and corruption.

Human rights, democracy, the generation of a culture of peace, non-violence, special attention to women and indigenous peoples, and the promotion of trade were also confirmed as new OAS issues in a final document signed in Caracas.

At this week’s Assembly, the host country attempted to establish a new style, concentrating on a “deeper search for solutions to the problems that burden us.” But the effort met with only partial success, due to the reluctance of several foreign ministers to abandon their taste for grandiloquence.

Another new problem that came up was the coexistence of a permanent forum like the OAS with the clout of the summits of heads of state and government, now to be held on a regular basis.

While the summits have assigned the OAS around 30 specific tasks, they have also reduced the organisation’s political weight, because the governments will now directly oversee a number of hemispheric objectives, including the project for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

The countries set up their own group to fulfill “the promise of Santiago,” and the foreign ministers of the “troika” – the United States, Chile and Canada – heading the talks until the next summit in Canada met in Caracas to discuss the role of the OAS in relation to the summits.

The troika announced that within the next three weeks it would come up with precise guidelines by which the OAS and the rest of the entities of the inter-American system are to participate in implementing the action plan that came out of Santiago, and to clearly leave the guidance of the process in the hands of the governments, a U.S. delegate commented to IPS.

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