Skip to comments.O.A.S. Votes Against U.S. Candidate for Human Rights Group
Posted on 06/12/2003 1:15:14 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
BUENOS AIRES, June 11 - In a symbolic rebuke to the Bush administration, the member nations of the Organization of American States have for the first time voted to exclude the United States from representation on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, considered the most prestigious human rights monitoring body in the Western Hemisphere.
The decision came at the end of the three-day annual assembly of the O.A.S., held this year in Santiago, Chile, and attended by Secretary of State Colin L. Powel. Addressing the conference on Monday, Mr. Powell condemned a recent wave of executions and imprisonments in Cuba and urged the 34-member regional group to help "hasten the inevitable democratic transition in Cuba."
Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the State Department, said today that "the United States is disappointed that our candidate was not elected to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission" but "we remain strong supporters of the commission and the inter-American human rights system in general."
Created in 1959, the commission is an arm of the O.A.S. that observes and investigates human rights conditions throughout the Western Hemisphere and has processed 12,000 complaints or petitions of specific violations in member states. It consists of seven members elected to four-year terms, who are supposed to demonstrate "recognized competence in the field of human rights."
In private, several nations were critical of what they characterized as Mr. Powell's excessive and narrow focus on Cuba at the expense of other issues. The theme of this year's assembly, which ended Tuesday, was "Democratic Governability in the Americas," which most delegations saw as an opportunity to express concern about growing social inequities and flagging economic growth in the region.
"There is a readiness among member states to talk about Cuba, but in a balanced way, and not only about human rights," a senior O.A.S. official said in a meeting with reporters Monday in Santiago. "Many states, some of Latin America and all of the Caribbean," he said, also "want to talk about the isolation of Cuba, the embargo, and all of that.
"That is the problem," the official added. The Bush administration, he said, "has a very strong position, so there really is some difficulty in dealing with the issue of Cuba only in relation to human rights."
But the negative vote also appeared to reflect widespread doubts about the qualifications of the American candidate, Rafael E. Martinez. Born in Cuba, Mr. Martinez is an Orlando, Fla., lawyer best known for his expertise in medical malpractice and health law. He is a brother of Melquiades R. Martinez, the secretary of housing and urban development and a leading fund-raiser for the presidential campaign of George W. Bush among Cuban-Americans in Florida.
"Clearly, the person they put forward, whatever his merits, did not have a very impressive background in human rights," said Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at Inter-American Dialogue, a research group in Washington. Mr. Martinez's nomination, he added "showed not just a sort of indifference to a major regional political organization on the part of the administration, but also the growing distrust on the other side about what the U.S. agenda and motives are."
Mr. Fintor, the State Department spokesman, said, "We don't want to speculate on why he wasn't elected." But he described Mr. Martinez as "a well-qualified candidate."
Castro counts his friends as EU sides with Cuban dissidents*** Cuban dissidents welcomed the European measures, announced by the Greek presidency of the EU on Thursday. "These measures are totally just and necessary," said Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Human Rights and Reconciliation Commission. "The EU has clearly shown itself on the side of the Cuban people," he added.
Vladimiro Roca -- recently released from five years in prison and the spokesman for an opposition group called "All United" -- said the EU measures "will put matters in perspective for Cuba, where the government justifies its actions in the name of a bilateral conflict with the United States." Tensions between Washington and Havana have soared since Cuba's recent jailing of the 75 political activists and executions.
In May US officials expelled 14 Cuban diplomats on espionage charges and is reportedly considering other measures. Washington has had a full sanctions regime imposed on Cuba, the only one-party communist country in the Americas, for more than four decades.***
On the surface the commentator would seem to have a point. But are the qualifications really so deficient in a meaningful sense?
Would a review of the other nominees from other countries over the years real a professionalism, a CURRICULUM VITAE tht would impress any fair observer, or would the examination reveal a series of political hacks from every land where spanish is spoken (and Portugese too)?
I suspect this comment means that the American nominee did not have the politically correct credentials demanded by the lefties in this body.
But during Tuesday's closing statements, even as regional leaders vowed to fight poverty, corruption, and respect for human rights, Cuba didn't even come up.
The on-again, off-again relationship between the US and its southern neighbors is reflected in the current debate - or lack thereof - over Cuba. Left-leaning populists now reside in the presidential palaces of some of South America's most influential nations, with a pro-Castro symbiosis that is now increasingly at odds with US regional policy.
Feeling neglected by the US since Sept. 11, 2001, South America's leaders are now asserting their independence over Cuba in what some analysts say could be a signal of waning US influence in the Americas.
"The Castro issue allows some to remain true to a fabled South American solidarity," says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington. "But it also exposes a region being divvied up between the United States, a superpower, and Brazil, a major regional power."
While many OAS members had registered their disapproval over a recent political crackdown that ended in the imprisonment of over 75 Cuban dissidents, the organization failed to pass a measure condemning Castro's government, despite Powell's appeal.
"Latin America seems to know better than the United States that Castro will be Castro whether one brandishes a stick or a carrot," says Bill Leogrande, dean of the school of public affairs at American University in Washington, and an expert in Cuban affairs. "If they felt that there was a plausible strategy to democratize Cuba, they would probably be supportive. But US policy has not been effective in the past, and Powell does not seem to be proposing anything new."
Some experts see the divergence between the US and much of South America as a sign of emerging divisions over the future of free trade.
Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, a strong critic of Washington's Cuba policy, has emerged as a leading skeptic of US-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) - a plan to expand components of the North American Free Trade Agreement to all other countries in the region, excluding Cuba.
While many South American governments were once enthusiastic proponents of FTAA, the global economic slowdown has countries like Argentina contemplating trade protection as the only way to stabilize their economies. In his address to the OAS, Powell repeated 2005 as the target date for ratifying the FTAA, but chances of reaching an agreement by then look remote with many governments in the region still expressing deep misgivings.
"An emerging entente among Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela is raising the fundamental questions about whether neoliberal economic policy is even right for the region," Mr. Birns says. "In many ways, Castro has been asking those same questions. Many respect him for that, as they respect him for standing up to Uncle Sam for more than 40 years."
Mr. da Silva may have gained an ally in Nestor Kirchner, Argentina's newly elected, populist president. Mr. Kirchner came to office in what many here see as a backlash against the previous government and its close economic ties with the US. Kirchner has expressed misgivings about US-led economic reform, though he hosted Powell in Buenos Aires on Tuesday for a brief meeting on the last leg of the secretary of State's trip through the region.
The Cuba issue strained US-Argentine relations last year when Argentina abstained from siding with the US in condemning Cuba over human rights violations. Kirchner has been reluctant to criticize Castro as the Cuban president remains a popular revolutionary figure in Argentina. At Kirchner's inauguration two weeks ago, Castro was heralded as a hero during an impromptu address to thousands on the streets of Buenos Aires.
But if Castro is heartened by the respect he still engenders around South America, that attitude has dismayed Cuba's internal critics.
"Castro has been able to create this romantic image of the liberator who overthrew colonialism and defied the United States," acknowledges Oswaldo Payá, a leading Cuban dissident. "But anyone who looks at Cuba now should see that there are over 11 million people who want their rights. That is more important than an intellectual hypothesis or an ideology of the right or left. We appeal to them. It is right that they should show their solidarity with the cause of freedom."
o Material from the wires was used in this report.