Host Manuel Zelaya, President of Honduras, greeted foreign ministers attending the 39th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS): “[W]e should not leave this assembly without abolishing the decree of that eighth meeting which sanctioned an entire people for having proclaimed its socialist ideas and principles.”

His reference was to OAS expulsion of Cuba in 1962 with the approval of 14 nations and six abstentions. On June 3, 34 OAS nations did invite Cuba to rejoin the fold.

Once El Salvador extended diplomatic relations to Cuba after Mauricio Funes became president on June 1, Cuba savored victory: relations were in place with all Western Hemisphere nations except the United States. With the OAS action, Cuba savored another victory in its campaign to shed U.S.-engineered isolation. “The cold war has ended today here in San Pedro Sula,” said President Zelaya.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had proposed to condition readmission on Cuba’s willingness to release prisoners and recognize a political opposition. ALBA members Bolivia, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua and Dominica resisted, along with other nations. The result was a “consensus” to accept Cuba without conditions, except that Cuba would ask for admission and enter into discussions on OAS “practices, purposes, and principles.”

ALBA is Spanish shorthand for the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, created in 2004 on the initiative of Venezuela and Cuba.

The delegates decided the resolution introduced by Honduran Foreign minister Patricia Rodas would be approved by acclamation, thereby sparing U.S. representatives the discomfort of casting the sole negative vote. Afterwards Rodas told cheering delegates, “We have begun to build a new history in our relations, of tolerance, respect, solidarity, the self-determination of nations and the right to organize ourselves.”

New Latin American leadership at the OAS meeting exemplified by ALBA represented for Atilio Boron, writing on rebelion.org, a “sign of the great changes that have occurred in the sociopolitical panorama of Latin America and the Caribbean,” especially “the persistent erosion of North American hegemony in the region.” ALBA nations induced the Rio Group of nations to welcome Cuba at a summit meeting in March 2008. They inserted Cuba into discussions at the 5th Summit of the Americas held in April.

As a next step, Presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Rafael Correa of Ecuador identified the formation of an Organization of Latin American States “without the presence of countries foreign to the region,” according to Ortega. OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza and Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo called for renewed efforts to abolish the U.S. blockade of Cuba.

Before the OAS decision, Washington had lavished praise upon the OAS as an instrument of democracy. Secretary of State Clinton extolled OAS “purposes and principles” that barred Cuba’s readmission or, when that became inevitable, would regulate Cuban behavior as a member.

That opened up the door to condemnation of the OAS role in recent Latin American history, especially, according to Fidel Castro, as “an accomplice to all the crimes committed against Cuba.” Cuba’s Granma newspaper featured a three-part series on “The Shameful History of the OAS.”

The OAS was allegedly complicit with: U.S. invasions of Guatemala in 1954, Cuba in 1961, the Dominican Republic in 1965, Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. Enforcing Cuban isolation in Latin America, it tolerated removal of Haitian President Aristide in 1992, and coups in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. To atrocities there carried out under Operation Condor, the OAS was “blind, deaf, and silent,” charged Boron, an Argentinean. The OAS supported dictators: Somoza in Nicaragua, Duvalier in Haiti, Pinochet in Chile and Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.

Cuba has emphasized it would never rejoin the OAS.

“We removed an historical impediment to Cuba’s participation in the OAS” and “established a process of engagement with Cuba,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon told delegates. He preferred to focus on the future, “rather than on having a stale 47-year debate.” They applauded him for a full minute.

In Miami, rightwing Cuban American Congressperson Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had a different take. “Instead of preserving the democratic principles and fundamental liberties of the OAS,” said her press release, “member countries, led by their Secretary-General, could not move fast enough to mollify their idols in the Cuban tyranny.”

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