Brewing storm over Cuba at OAS
By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
April 27, 2003

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HAVING stood together in defence of a vital principle in international relations and the rule of law on that highly controversial issue of pre-emptive war on Iraq without endorsement of the United Nations, Caribbean Community governments are now facing up to a new diplomatic offensive at the Organisation of American States (OAS) over Cuba.

It has to do with a resolution submitted last Wednesday by Nicaragua and co-sponsored by the United States of America and Costa Rica condemnatory of Cuba's human rights record.

The brewing storm at the OAS comes against the backdrop of the recent decision by the government of President Fidel Castro to jail 75 militant dissidents, some for as long as 28 years, and the execution of three Cubans who had hijacked a ferry boat in their bid to escape into the USA across the Florida Straits.

What's of particular significance is that the resolution submitted at the OAS by Nicaragua - which, under the Sandinistas had received much help from Cuba - has followed the defeat of a Costa-Rica-initiated amendment to an original resolution at a meeting earlier this month of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Sentiments of the Costa Rica amendment, rejected by the UN Human Rights Commission by a 31-15 majority, are reflected in the co-sponsored resolution submitted to the OAS and with indication of potential support coming from Canada and Chile.

As they were in Geneva for the UN Human Rights Commission meeting, the USA, Costa Rica and Nicaragua are quite active in lobbying support at the OAS. Except that, unlike at the Commission, defeat seems assured at the OAS this week.

At Geneva, where amendments by both Costa Rica and Cuba failed, the former by a much wider majority, a resolution was approved by a 24-20 vote for Cuba to accept a previous decision of the Human Rights Commission to facilitate the visit of Christina Chanet, a magistrate of France, to assess the human rights situation in that Caribbean state.

Last year, the Commission had voted by a slender 23-21 majority for Cuba to allow such a mission to be pursued by its representative.

Cuba has consistently argued, as recalled last week by its Barbados-based ambassador, Jose Alvarez Portella, that it was opposed to "any imposition" by the Commission.

He said Cuba had facilitated requests and also extended its own invitations to very important people of the international community to freely visit and make their assessments of the human rights situation.

Ambassador Portella cited as examples, the visit some years ago by the former UN Human Rights Commissioner, Ayala Lao, ex-Foreign Minister of Ecuador, and more recently by former US President Jimmy Carter.

Cuba, he stressed, "will not submit to dictation" by the UN Human Rights Commission for the gradual erosion of its sovereign right. Especially, he said, from a body that remains "very discriminatory against us.

"The Commission has been silent on demands to check on the human rights violations in the USA itself, a country that allows its territory to be used for terrorists' attacks on Cuba", said Portella.

To judge from the signals from a procedural debate last week, perhaps the Cuban government will ride out the threatened storm at the OAS.

Those signals suggest that the Nicaragua-USA-Costa resolution is heading for a decisive defeat based on an important principle, one which not only CARICOM states but powerful and influential Latin American countries want to uphold - the right of reply.

That right does not now exist for Cuba within the 35-member OAS from which it was expelled 41 years ago.

It was done to appease Washington at the height of the Cold War and when America's gunboat diplomacy was very much in vogue in this Hemisphere while the OAS remained firmly under the control of the United States.

CARICOM countries, which are firmly committed to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, have been very influential in bringing Cuba out of the diplomatic cold imposed by Washington within three years after its 1959 revolution.

Since establishing diplomatic ties with Havana 30 years ago, in the face of Washington's 42-year-old punitive financial, trade and economic embargo, CARICOM has continued to play a significant role in Cuba's involvement in the wider Association of Caribbean States and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of nations.

Now, powerful Latin American states like Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, as well as CARICOM think there is something inappropriate and unjust about passing judgement on the human rights record against Cuba in the OAS where it enjoys no voice of its own and, by extension, no right of reply.

Further, apart from ongoing concerns over human rights issues in Haiti, the hemisphere's oldest independent nation but the poorest, CARICOM member states need no lectures from any regional or international organisations on observance of human rights and democracy.

Consequently, they had no hesitation in deciding on the CARICOM - Cuba Havana Declaration of December 10, 2002 that marked the 30 years of relationship between Cuba and the Community.

But those who have contributed to the formulation of the co-sponsored OAS anti-Cuba resolution have apparently figured they could entrap CARICOM into supporting the general debate or even voting for the resolution by "recalling" a specific provision of that Havana Declaration.

It is the section that states that the parties to the Declaration acknowledged "the importance of transparent and accountable governance, and the protection of human, social, political and economic rights".

There is the suspicion in some ministerial and diplomatic circles that the behind-the-scenes collaborators for the resolution could very well include the bitter Cuban emigre, Otto Reich, who currently functions as President George Bush's personal envoy to the Western Hemisphere and, therefore, closely follows the business of the OAS. Certainly on anything involving Cuba.

Reich has had his own quarrel with CARICOM over the Community's stand on the war on Iraq, only to find that he could not escape rebukes, in and out of the region, for wanting to deny the very right he seeks for himself - the right to freedom of expression.

That right, which Cuba has wrongly denied to its dissidents at home, is also now to be denied to Cuba as a sovereign state in the OAS. If, that is, the troika of co-sponsors of the anti-Cuba resolution should succeed in having their way.

Right now, the co-sponsors are working to promote a general debate without a vote, if necessary, since it seems more than likely they do not have the majority.

The problem in a general debate is that the sponsors of the resolution will face from the representatives of various member states demands for an end to the US embargo against Cuba as well as engagement with the Castro government on the issue of restoration of Cuba's membership in the OAS.

In this era of the new George Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war and a unilateralist approach in international affairs, more than just small and poor states like those of our Community need to be on alert against being entrapped by resolutions like that now before the OAS.

We await the outcome of the move by the USA and two of its Central American allies to sanction Cuba in a body in which it has long been expelled and at a time when there is increasing evidence of erosion of civil liberties of Americans at home.

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