Bashing the Organization of American States was in vogue last week when the hemispheric group lifted its 47-year suspension of Cuba. And the criticism came from divergent interests. “The OAS is a putrid embarrassment,” said fiercely anti-Castro U.S. congressmen (and brothers) Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, while the Cuban government called the OAS a “pestilent corpse.”
Why such rancour? Since Jan. 31, 1962, Cuba’s seat at the OAS has been empty as punishment for its Communist ideology. Now, to the anger of U.S. hard-liners, the island nation—the only non-democratic country in the hemisphere—is free to reapply for membership. But its human rights and democratic standards must be “in accordance with the practices, purposes and principles of the OAS”—a stricture that does not sit well with Havana.
The resolution is a compromise between the U.S., which broke off ties a half-century ago and imposed a strict trade embargo, and the rest of the OAS, which all have diplomatic relations with Cuba. Whether Cuba will actually try to get its membership back is doubtful. Fidel Castro has repeatedly said that the American-dominated OAS would end up “in the garbage dump of history.” Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla rejected the OAS gesture, calling the organization “totally anachronistic.” Still, revoking the ban is the latest in a series of moves aimed at warming relations between the United States and its southern neighbour. President Barack Obama lifted all restrictions in April on Cuban-Americans visiting their relatives back home, letting tens of thousands return for long-delayed family reunions. And Cuba said it would restart talks on migration between the two countries.
Yet for the OAS, which gets nearly two-thirds of its funding from Washington, the future could be less positive. Unhappy with the resolution, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez issued a thinly veiled threat: “A lack of commitment to democracy and human rights at the OAS will bring a debate into the U.S. Congress about how much we are willing to support the OAS as an institution.”