By Alana Yu-lan Price and Jessica Leight | [url=http://www.sunspot.net]http://www.sunspot.net[/url]
WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told his hemispheric counterparts at the Organization of American States meeting last week that the OAS must work to “hasten the inevitable democratic transition in Cuba,” a statement that represented only the most recent episode in the U.S. quest to bring “regime change” to Havana.
What was not apparent at the meeting in Santiago, Chile, was that U.S. policymakers have for decades used such calls for democratization to justify Washington’s hostile stance toward the Cuban government.
Instead of asking the OAS to line up behind Washington’s antagonistic policy toward Havana, Mr. Powell should have affirmed the organization’s potential role as an impartial mediator between the United States and Cuba - the only strategy likely to bring an end to this bitter and long-lasting confrontation across the Florida straits.
Mr. Powell’s remarks to the OAS illustrate a familiar dynamic in U.S.-Cuban relations in which each government provokes the other and then seizes upon the resulting actions as a pretext to achieve its own goals.
When the secretary of state used the recent imprisonment of 75 Cuban dissidents to justify his call for OAS action against the Cuban government, he failed to note that a series of Washington-orchestrated provocations had greatly contributed to the increased tensions in Cuba.
In fact, James Cason and his colleagues in the U.S. Interests Section in Havana have been actively supporting Cuban dissidents since Mr. Cason’s arrival in September - actions that no self-respecting government should be expected to tolerate, especially when initiated by a hostile superpower only 90 miles away.
Thus Fidel Castro’s subsequent decision to jail the dissidents, however indefensible, reflects a justifiable fear that Mr. Cason’s liaisons with dissidents indicated an intensification of U.S. aggression toward Cuba.
In Santiago, Mr. Powell’s denunciations of Cuban repression met with little support. The OAS rejected his comments as an attempt to distort the context of the crackdown and thus rally support for U.S. efforts to oust Mr. Castro.
When Washington previously used its economic clout to try to force a hemisphere-wide anti-Castro consensus, the majority of Latin American nations rejected U.S. strategy as counterproductive.
The resulting disagreements were so fundamental that Cuba-related issues were taken off the agenda of subsequent OAS meetings in order to avoid further divisive debates.
Washington’s hope that Mr. Castro’s “crackdown” would make possible the reopening of OAS discussions about Cuba at this meeting proved to be misplaced. Mr. Powell’s latest attempt to rally support for the U.S. policy concerning Havana was doomed to the same fate as previous efforts simply because the rest of Latin America remains opposed to the unilateral U.S. embargo against Cuba and the interventionist attitude it exemplifies.
A resolution to condemn the Cuban arrests that was submitted to the OAS in May received the support of less than half of the members. When the issue was raised again in Santiago, major hemispheric players, including Brazil and Mexico, persisted in their defense of Cuba. As a result, no consensus on the subject was reached.
So Mr. Powell returned home once again lacking hemispheric support for Washington’s internationally discredited Cuba policy. In their refusal to issue a formal rebuke to Cuba, other American states have reaffirmed their desire for the OAS to respond to the concerns of all member countries and thus retain the organization’s potential to act as an impartial mediator.
So long as the United States seeks to force its unilateral Cuba policy on the OAS, Washington can expect little support from the rest of Latin America.
Alana Yu-lan Price and Jessica Leight are research associates at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.