The Organization of American States on Wednesday repealed its 47-year suspension of Cuba, jettisoning a legacy of the Cold War and promising to further the communist island's integration into the region.
The decision also underscored Washington's diplomatic isolation where Cuba is concerned and increased the pressure on the Obama administration to normalize relations with the government of President Raul Castro. The United States is the only nation in the hemisphere that does not have diplomatic ties with Cuba.
"The Cold War has ended this day," Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said after the resolution was adopted by the 34-nation organization.
Cuba, however, has said it is not interested in rejoining the OAS, which it sees as little more than a tool of Washington.
And the OAS resolution continues to set conditions for Cuba's full participation: The Castro government would have to request reentry, which would come as a result of a "process of dialogue" in the spirit of OAS "practices, purposes and principles."
That language, though vague, appears aimed at appeasing the U.S., which had resisted lifting Cuba's suspension and argued that Havana should be first required to make democratic reforms.
The OAS decision makes a strong statement about the importance that Latin America and the Caribbean attach to improving economic and political ties with Cuba and to ending its isolation. Many countries see Cuba as a test for President Obama's stated eagerness to improve relations with the region.
"Latin America and the Caribbean want to fully integrate Cuba into the region and end its exclusion from various regional forums; they're tired of it," said Phil Peters, Cuba analyst for the Lexington Institute, a think tank near Washington. "For eight years with [President] Bush they've felt like they were talking to a brick wall, and now with Obama they think they have a chance to speak up and get things done."
The decision came at the conclusion of the OAS's regular General Assembly meeting in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with the foreign ministers or secretaries of state from 34 countries in attendance, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton left Honduras before the final resolution was agreed upon and after what were reported to be long and fruitless negotiations to reach consensus on Cuba. In the end, the resolution was approved unanimously, with the U.S. delegation citing the conditions that it contains.
"We've lifted an historical impediment while facing up to the challenge of today, which is . . . how does the OAS, an organization committed to democracy, relate to a country that is not democratic?" Thomas Shannon, U.S. assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, said in a conference call with reporters. "And how does the OAS and the inter-American system, which is characterized by open societies and market-based economies, relate to a country that has a closed society and a closed economy?"
The OAS suspended Cuba, but did not expel it, from the regional body Jan. 31, 1962, as Fidel Castro consolidated his revolution and fortified ties with the Soviet Union.
Even as the OAS met in Honduras this week, Fidel Castro, the ailing former president, was reiterating his contempt for the organization.
"The OAS was an accomplice to all [of Washington's] crimes against Cuba," Castro wrote Wednesday in one of his periodic columns, Reflections of Companero Fidel. He scolded the OAS for opening the doors to the "Trojan horse" of neo-liberalism, narco-trafficking and U.S. military bases.
Castro's comments notwithstanding, several Latin American leaders say engaging Cuba with concrete proposals is the best way to effect change.
Obama has already made small overtures toward Cuba by lifting some restrictions on travel and the sending of remittances to the island nation. Washington and Havana have also agreed to renew negotiations over mail service and migration. But Obama is moving more slowly than advocated by many in the region as well as activists in the U.S. who want to see full diplomatic ties restored.
The OAS resolution "is a total repudiation of the nearly half-century effort by U.S. governments to isolate Cuba diplomatically," said Julia E. Sweig, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a new book, "Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know." For significant on-the-ground change in Cuba, she said, "there needs to be a much more clear road map [from the Obama administration] and then you might see Havana's ears perk up."