By MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY | Wall Street Journal
The Organization of American States claims to be “the region’s principal multilateral forum for strengthening democracy, promoting human rights, and confronting shared problems such as poverty, terrorism, illegal drugs and corruption.”
Now OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza wants the group to be able to add a new goal to the list: legitimizing the Cuban military dictatorship by making it a member.
How he intends to do it and why I’ll get to in a moment. But first let’s review how Cuba got the OAS boot in the first place. Contrary to Mr. Insulza’s assertions, Cuba has not changed since its 1962 expulsion, and renewing its membership now will undermine OAS credibility. It will also be a gut punch to the island’s dissidents who, according to the Center of Human Rights Rapporteurs in Cuba, are being brutalized daily by Raúl Castro’s thugs.
Dissidents also can’t be too happy with the news that the Obama team has been holding meetings with the regime to see if it can, according to one official quoted in the New York Times, have a “serious, civil, open relationship” with the owners of the Cuban slave plantation. Still, Tom Shannon, the State Department’s assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, suggests that, at least within the OAS, the U.S. is planning to stand up for the long-suffering Cuban people. “Giving Cuba a pass on the OAS’s democracy and human rights requirements would be bad for the OAS and bad for Cuba,” he says.
Since its founding in 1948, the OAS has professed a belief that the “historic mission of America is to offer to man a land of liberty and a favorable environment for the development of his personality and the realization of his just aspirations.”
The Cuban regime is at odds with these ideals and in January 1962 the OAS expelled it, resolving: “That adherence by any member of the Organization of American states to Marxism-Leninism is incompatible with the inter-American system and the alignment of such a government with the communist bloc breaks the unity and solidarity of the hemisphere.”
In other words, because the Castro government had murdered and imprisoned dissidents, done away with free elections and economic and civil liberties, and allied itself with communism, Cuba was deemed unfit for OAS membership.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the OAS strengthened its commitment to democracy and free elections by adopting the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
All OAS members signed onto the charter, signaling that political liberty and to a lesser extent economic liberty might be finally taking hold in Latin America. But Cuba was still supporting violence and terror in the region. Worse yet, one of Fidel Castro’s disciples, Hugo Chávez, had won the presidential election in Venezuela and was militarizing the government. Over the next seven years he would slowly strip the population of civil and economic rights and use his oil wealth to spread Bolivarian revolution to neighboring states.
He has also bought allegiances at the OAS. Today, it is Mr. Chávez along with Brazil’s President Lula da Silva (another Fidel ally) who call the shots at the OAS, not Mr. Insulza (though as a Chilean Socialist, he is no doubt sympathetic to their views). What the fidelistas want is international legitimacy for Cuba. “Step one,” as Mr. Insulza has referred to his proposal, is to lift the 1962 resolution. Then, he told me by telephone last week, “countries” can decide whether the dictatorship should be allowed back into the OAS.
His reasoning? The 1962 resolution is “not valid anymore,” he told the Americas Society in an interview last week, “and it doesn’t condemn Cuba for not being democratic. It condemns it for being a member of the Sino-Soviet axis and says that this axis is aggressive against the United States. But it doesn’t exist anymore. . . it’s really crazy. It is a piece of the Cold War that was left in a corner and we must get rid of it.”
This so betrays both the letter and the spirit of the resolution that it is hard to interpret it as anything other than a sop to the dictator and his friends. Yes, the Cold War is over. But the Cuban military today has close bilateral ties with North Korea and Iran, two points on a new axis of evil that threaten world peace and stability. Cuba is also a safe haven and medical outpost for Colombian narcotrafficking guerrillas. Moreover, the regime still pledges its loyalty to Marxist-Leninist ideology, which is directly at odds with human liberty.
Mr. Shannon says that the Democratic Charter was a “hard-won accomplishment, and it would be a big mistake for the OAS to step away from it.” But Mr. Insulza seems to have another take. He told me that he would like to see all countries be democracies. Yet when I asked him how the Castro dictatorship could possibly comply with the charter, he told me that the charter is a resolution of the general assembly but it is not necessary for all countries to sign it. One wonders what other dictatorships in Latin history the secretary-general would have lobbied for.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com