Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Will the OAS cross the yellow line of shame?

Today the OAS is opening a meeting that risks transforming its irrelevance into opprobrium.

The OAS has long ceased to be a useful institution. Its last glimmer of utility came when it wrote the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) and used it against Fujimori. Since then times have changed and the OAS has closed its eyes to human rights abuses in Venezuela, and questionable practices of the governments of Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Now in San Pedro de Sula we might be on the verge of seeing the IADC gutted of any signification as there is strong talk of accepting Cuba back into the OAS.

In English I can provide you with three links of general info. First, the editorial of the Washington Post which takes no punches on underlying how grave it would be to allow Cuba again, without conditions, into the OAS. As for the meeting opening, the challenges faced by Hillary Clinton as she lands in San Pedro de Sula. And from the Hill how Congress is starting to get concerned.

I agree with the Washington Post that the handshake of Obama with Chavez followed by nothing did embolden most Latin leaders to forge ahead and speed up the return of Cuba. Yet, the momentum gained is rather amazing. Is it a reflection on how the new US administration is seen as toothless as of the world crisis and its engagement in Iraq? Or, more charitably, is it because Latin leaders think that an evolving Cuba will reach the democratic shores faster from within the OAS?

To understand this it is important to know that most if not all Latin American leaders have a secret or even sub conscious admiration for Castro. Not for his regime necessarily but for the man since in our "tradition" of strong men he represents the epitome of success, the guy who has managed to remain in control of a country for the longest of times, possibly ensuring his transition long enough to see, so to speak, mausoleums build to his glory. In short, Fidel Castro has succeeded better than some notorious dictators such as Gomez, Francia or Porfirio Diaz. When you see Uribe scheming for what would be a disastrous third term for Colombia, you know that I might not be exaggerating at all.

As such friendly relations with Cuba have always been used by any Latin American government to protect itself somehow from its political left flank while allowing for a cheap point against the US as needed. This was very handy at times of economic troubles where attention on difficult negotiations with, say, the IMF, could be dissimulated by inviting Fidel to visit or protesting loudly the US embargo. As such since the 70ies Latin America has been the great enabler of Fidel, including Venezuela who renewed long ago relations with Cuba even though it was Venezuela's Betancourt that engineered the expulsion of Cuba in 1962.

Today, after the oil prices storm, the subsequent crash and the ability of Chavez to pervert democracy not only in Venezuela but in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and possibly a couple more of countries in the next 2-3 years, defense of democracy is simply not as sexy as it used to be. Not that it was that hot ever, by the way, even from the US who started defending democratic values above everything only since Carter (even though this one was prompt in supporting Chavez later in life).

Today as the going threatens to get rough for a few countries we have a general support for the Castros who would have never wished such luck and who in addition have the luxury to say that they do not want to get into the OAS, but if they want Cuba in they would not be rude enough to refuse. Of course they want back in the OAS as it is a key condition to get money from the BID for example, now that Chavez checks are not as reliable.

Thus we have nostalgic fools of the left such as Lula or Bachelet supporting the return of Cuba, together with crass leftists like Chavez or Ortega, but also joined by people that should know better like Calderon, all under the now grotesque role of OAS secretary Insulza who booted out of a political future in Chile is trying to retain his OAS seat even if gutting the OAS of any value is the price to pay.

This is leaving the US to scramble for 12 out of 34 possible votes to avoid a return of Cuba. Who could be those responsible countries? Few, as Canada is not even to be relied on when Cuba is the talk. If the US decided to tighten the democratic screws it could line up at best Canada, Colombia, Peru, Trinidad, maybe an Island or two, maybe one Central American country.

I have no advice to give President Obama and Secretary Clinton, but at this stage they should cut their losses and walk away of the OAS who is not going to be of any help whatsoever in solving the real problems of the US, namely North Korea, Iran, Iraq, the crisis.

Just like Port of Spain was, San Pedro de Sula is yet another trap for the young administration. Obama did not fall into the trap in Trinidad though later inaction made this irrelevant. However in Honduras falling into the trap could be better for the long term interests of the US. The United States should not be afraid to ask for a vote on Cuba admission and lose it. But doing it, the United States should explain clearly why it votes against the return of Cuba and why the OAS is failing in its mission to preserve and promote democracy. And thus the US will confront the weak like Lula and Bachelet and even Calderon to the fact that they will publicly support a dictatorship. That is the best the US can do right now to stir the democratic feeling in Latin America, to create a revulsion among the complacent elites so that they react before it is too late and help elect worthy leaders.

No matter what the US does in Honduras it will hold the losing end. Might as well make the best of it and think long term. If things get ugly the US can even stop funding more than half the budget of the OAS and let Chavez pick up the tab. Let's see how that will work out for the OAS...

-The end-

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