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June 3, 2009
“Left versus right” labels should be left aside in Latin America

Cuba is not a member of the Organization of American States. Photo: OAS

The wittiest of the Marxes (Groucho, not Karl) said famously, “I wouldn’t join a club that would have me as a member.” It is an often-used quote that fits well with news about Cuba coming from a meeting this week of the Organization of American States in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Hillary Rodham Clinton faced a harangue from OAS members demanding that Cuba be invited to become a member of the organization. A New York Times piece about the meeting said this:

On one level, it seems a sterile debate: Cuba has said often and loudly that it does not want to rejoin the organization. But on a deeper level, the meeting has showcased Latin America’s resurgent political left, which has seized on Cuba as an issue with which to press the United States.

How much does this involve the misapplication of those overused words, “left versus right?” It can also be argued that all of Latin America yearns for a different relationship with the United States under the new presidency of Barack Obama. Cuba has diplomatic and trade ties with something like 170 countries around the world — left, center and right.

Back in Washington, the dominant move for a change in stagnant and stymied Cuban relations comes from the offices of Republican Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, who only Rush Limbaugh might try to label as a leftist. Lugar doesn’t support OAS membership for Cuba, but he calls for rethinking U.S. relations with Cuba. 

The OAS is a sideshow compared with appeals from Lugar and others, including U.S. businesses looking to open Cuba as a lucrative new market. Meanwhile, a majority of Americans and even a majority of the Cuban-American community in the United States support an end to the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo of Cuba. 

So whether or not Cuba is invited to join the OAS, the focus is on Washington: How quickly and to what extent will the Obama administration promote the changes that appear close at hand?

– Peter Eisner

For more, watch Martin Savidge’s interview with Shannon O’Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations: Clinton outlines conditions for Cuba entry to OAS.

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A young student at Georgia Tech attended a Republican rally during the Reagan ear. She asked me, “What is the difference between the Right and the Left? I said, “Well it is like this: the Left is more into things like social service and the Right is more into things like Death Squads”. Maybe it is time to change.


I agree that the issue of Cuba’s reentry into the O.A.S. is a “sideshow” compared with the broader debate about normalizing economic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

At the same time, however, I find the entire issue of U.S.-Cuba relations to be a distraction to broader issues of economic development in Latin America and the need for international institutions and the U.S. government to help the region quickly recover from the economic crisis and resume the stellar growth (economic expansion averaged higher than 4 percent in the region for the four years before the crisis) achieved in recent years.

Peter Eisner is an editorial consultant with Worldfocus and a 30-year veteran of international news. He has been an editor and foreign correspondent at The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press. He co-authored “The Italian Letter,” which details fraudulent intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. He was founder and president of Newscom, an international online news service, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

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