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Cuban influence strong at OAS summit

Published Apr 22, 2009 12:26 PM

The Obama administration has begun to roll out its strategy toward Cuba and its allies in Latin America.

On April 13, President Barack Obama announced he was lifting restrictions on travel and cash remittances to Cuba, but only for Cuban-Americans. Although touted by the administration as a major change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, worthy of some grave concession by the Cuban government in exchange, the leaders in Havana responded to the shift as a very minor, although welcome, dent in the illegal U.S. blockade of the socialist island.

Cuba provides comprehensive early childhood
education “to achieve the greatest development
for a child.” –Sen. Wilbert Keon, chair Senate
Subcommittee on Population Health, Canada,
Feb. 3.

The day after Obama announced this change, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, retired from his posts but still very active, published a statement in which he recounted the devastating humanitarian impact of the almost half-century-old U.S. blockade of Cuba. Castro acknowledged that President Obama was not personally responsible for the past crimes perpetrated by the U.S. against Cuba and that, indeed, he had “waged a very hard battle in order to be elected, despite centennial prejudices.” Castro then restated the consistent position of the Cuban people, which is that “Cuba has resisted and will resist. ... It will continue advancing with its head held high.”

In fact, it was Cuba’s growing strength and influence in the region that became evident as Obama traveled to Mexico to meet with President Felipe Calderón and then later attended a summit in Trinidad-Tobago called by the Organization of American States. Calderón urged Obama to lift the blockade against Cuba, which he referred to as “useless” during their private exchange.

In fact, every nation at the OAS summit expressed its disapproval of the blockade and urged that Cuba be readmitted as a member. These open expressions of disdain for the U.S. policy toward Cuba were further signs of Washington’s weakening influence in Latin America and the growing resurgence of the left.

Cuban President Raúl Castro spoke about the historical role of the OAS as a tool of U.S. imperialism during his remarks at an ALBA summit in Venezuela. The trade bloc of Latin American countries held its meeting just prior to the OAS summit. He explained how Cuba was kicked out of the OAS in 1962 after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, when Cuba crushed an army of CIA mercenaries that had been sent by Washington to install a puppet government there. President Castro remarked that this action by the U.S. was one of the causes of the Cuban missile crisis.

Given the history of the OAS, which President Castro referred to as an organization that “oozed blood from all parts,” Cuba expressed no pressing interest in rejoining its ranks.

However, several of the remarks made at the OAS summit were sharply critical of the U.S. and its role in Latin America. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez gave Obama a book—“Open Veins of Latin America” by Eduardo Galeano—that details many of the crimes of U.S. imperialism against the people of that region. In a 50-minute speech, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega directly confronted Obama on the U.S. role in the criminal war against Nicaragua. He also demanded freedom and independence for the people of Puerto Rico. During an individual encounter with Obama, Bolivian President Evo Morales also directly accused the U.S. of plotting his assassination.

Despite the historical character of the OAS as a tool of U.S. imperialism, the U.S. president received an earful at the summit from the growing left coalition of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Obama is now being taken to task by the right-wing in the U.S. for not responding strongly enough to the sentiments expressed at the summit. He is even being attacked for shaking hands with Chávez.

Blockade is a dead-end for U.S.

Cuban leaders see these events as representative of a shift that has been taking place in Latin America and the Caribbean for some time. The U.S. policy against Cuba has been thoroughly discredited and no one is afraid to say it out loud.

Indeed, many have noted that the U.S.’s economic influence, although still tremendous and dominant, is declining in the region because of its economic crisis and the opportunities for trade and development with countries such as China. Some countries may be starting to feel less completely dependent on the U.S. and may act accordingly. The U.S. is of course aware of this.

In Cuba, Obama’s actions are being interpreted in the context of a shift in conditions that has been happening for some time and that makes the blockade virtually unsustainable.

That is not to say that Cuba no longer believes that right-wing forces within the U.S. and Latin America pose a threat. Anti-Cuba leaders were all over the mainstream media in the U.S. the week after the summit denouncing Obama for even his minor concessions. Most of the officials in the U.S. State Department dealing with Cuba worked for the Bush administration as well. Cuba has expressed no illusions about this country’s real intentions, having had 50 years of experience battling U.S. imperialism.

Although the U.S. media searched furiously for any cracks in the Cuban leadership that might signal a willingness to make some major concession to Washington, both Fidel Castro and President Raúl Castro were stalwart in their defense of the sovereignty and independence of the Cuban Revolution.

The Cuban president affirmed that any release of U.S. mercenaries now in jail would come only “if they release our five heroes imprisoned in U.S. jails.” Indeed, President Castro was clear that any negotiation with the U.S. would have to be predicated upon respect for Cuba’s sovereignty and self-determination.