Cuba and Inter-American Relations
Cuba and Inter-American Relations
By Sybil Rhodes
For The Herald
US President Barack Obama made the choice, announced to great fanfare
last month, to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba in order to cement
his historic legacy, lay the groundwork for further change under his
successor (likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton
favours lifting the economic embargo) and improve foreign relations,
especially in the Western hemisphere.
Latin American countries have long opposed Washington’s policy of
isolating Cuba. In particular, Obama did not want to risk having
regional leaders carry out their threatened boycott of the Summit of the
Americas scheduled to be held in Panama City in April 2015. From the
point of view of better relations with other countries the decision was
clearly the correct one.
From the point of view of universal values of democracy and human
rights the picture is more mixed. An eventual elimination of the
economic embargo against Cuba (for which Obama would require
congressional support that will be difficult to obtain) would likely be
a force for openness. But however hypocritical US policy toward Cuba has
often been, to Cubans who have been systematically deprived of their
basic rights and freedoms, it has represented a symbolic commitment to
universal values of democracy and human rights.
The US should no longer treat Cuba like a pariah, but the island country
is clearly still in violation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
The US will likely not support the formal admission of Cuba into the
Organization of American States until there has been a more complete
transition to democracy, including free elections and the respect of
basic political and civil rights. US citizens of Cuban descent and
Republican legislators will pressure Obama to deliver a strong criticism
of the treatment of political prisoners and the lack of press freedom at
the Panama summit.
The leaders of other states should join him, even as they celebrate
Cuban participation at the meeting and call for the US to lift economic
sanctions. No country is morally pure, but overall the Western
hemisphere is a democratic one, whose leaders have substantial
credibility to talk about human rights and basic political liberties.
The threat of direct US interference in Cuba to promote abrupt regime
change is nearly exhausted as an excuse for the Cuban regime and its
defenders (it is doubtful that even a Republican president would reverse
the direction of policy). In making the agreement with Raúl Castro,
Obama has acknowledged that the US will not press for abrupt regime
change but rather for a managed transition.
This is excellent news for all countries in the region, because a
disorderly transition or even civil war in Cuba would be problematic for
all. Avoiding such an outcome is still not guaranteed, however. Castro
is undoubtedly surrounded by hardliners who are opposed to the deal with
the US, and who may be willing to take drastic measures to prevent
change. It may be that the interest in an orderly transition will cause
US, Cuban and other international leaders to promote a gradual approach
toward political liberalization so that regime hardliners do not become
Other countries in the region that have experienced successful cases of
gradual transitions from authoritarian rule, such as Brazil, Chile, and
Mexico, should be able to provide helpful policy advice. Leaders should
also reflect upon how European integration was highly significant for
deepening political liberalization in Spain and Portugal in the 1970s
and Eastern Europe in the 1990s.
These Latin American and European experiences will provide some good
models for Cuba. Alternative paths away from Communism, such as those
followed by Russia, China, or Vietnam, may seem to have attractive
economic benefits in the short run, but they are incompatible with the
basic democratic values professed by all countries in this hemisphere.
Political leaders across the hemisphere should not lose sight of those
basic values; nor should they forget the victims of repression in Cuba.
Having convinced the US to permit Cuba to participate at the Summit of
the Americas, regional leaders should speak in favour of Cubans’ right
to free expression and association. In the months ahead, civil society
organizations, universities, and the media should insist that they have
a fundamental obligation to do so.
*Sybil Rhodes is the director of the MA in International Studies at the
Universidad del Cema.
Source: Cuba and Inter-American Relations – BuenosAiresHerald.com –