President Obama, who campaigned for office promising to engage in aggressive and principled bilateral diplomacy with Cuba, must now consider whether to engage in calm and business-like multilateral diplomacy with Cuba, when the Summit of the Americas convenes in Cartagena, Colombia, April 14-15.
Hardliners in the U.S. Congress want him to boycott the whole thing.
Here’s the issue.
TheSummitof theAmericasis where periodic meetings take place among leaders from theWestern Hemispherenations so can they address common challenges and problems. The 34 nations in attendance are the members of the OAS.
Cubahas never attended theSummitof theAmericas, which has been held since 1994, because it remains suspended from the OAS. In 1962, the organization decided thatCuba’s Marxist government was not in line with its democratic objectives.
A June 3, 2009 resolution opened the door toCubarejoining the OAS. Cuba’s membership is contingent upon “a process of dialogue initiated at the request of the Government of Cuba, and in accordance with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS.”
For a variety of reasons, that process has not taken place, not the least of which is that Cubaprofesses no interest, as the BBC recently reported, in rejoining the organization.
However, at a recent meeting of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas, President Rafael Correa of Ecuadorproposed that ALBA nations boycott this year’s summit – to be hosted by Colombia – if Cuba is not invited.Cuba has indicated that it would accept an invitation to attend the summit.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wants President Obama to boycott the summit if Colombia invites Cuba. Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement that “Cuba has no right to participate in thisSummit because it is not a member of the OAS and does not meet the basic criteria to become one.”
But it is Colombia, and not the OAS, that has the ultimate say over which nations are invited. So far, Colombiahas remained neutral. That said, the possibility of Cubaattending for the first time has been brought to the table, and this is why hardliners in the U.S.are wringing their hands.
Saying the prospect of Cubaattending will turn the summit into a “hate fest,” Rep. Ros-Lehtinen argues the ALBA leaders are attempting to hijack the meeting, and that Obama should shun the event entirely and pass up the chance to engage withCuba and other summit members.
This comes as no surprise: Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and other Cold War Warriors in Congress have a track record of opposing multilateral forums in the region. Last year, she and several Floridacolleagues passed legislation in the House Foreign Affairs Committee to stop U.S.funding for the OAS, accusing the organization of being anti-American and of supporting Cuba, Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez, and former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. The U.S. gives the OAS $48.5 million annually, and President Obama’s new budget increases that amount by $1.5 million.
At the same time, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and her allies are claiming thatIran’s increasing ties toLatin Americaconstitute a looming national security threat. These allegations are largely unsubstantiated. But even if they were true it would be dangerous for theU.S.to remove itself politically from Latin America, boycotting the only body where theU.S.interacts with Latin American countries at the level of a regional organization.
What in fact is so wrong with having Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro at the same summit? There’s much to be gained if the two countries were to start talking and, compared to the status quo, nothing to lose. We’ve been waiting since 2009 for both presidents to be in the same room; getting them together in a multilateral setting is a good idea to kick-start the conversation.
We don’t really expect President Obama to heed the call for a U.S.boycott of the summit if Colombiainvites Cubato attend. But if he has any doubts, he could address them by reading the speech he delivered in April 2009 when theSummit of theAmericas was last held inTrinidad and Tobago.
To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements….Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. And we’ve heard all these arguments before, these debates that would have us make a false choice between rigid, state-run economies or unbridled and unregulated capitalism; between blame for right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents; between sticking to inflexible policies with regard to Cuba or denying the full human rights that are owed to the Cuban people.
I didn’t come here to debate the past — I came here to deal with the future.
Obviously, he should go.