The Organization of American States announced on July 27 the convocation of an online meeting for July 28 of its Permanent Council for the purpose of analyzing the situation in Cuba in the wake of the July 11 disturbances on the island.
Upon the announcement of the meeting, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel characterized the initiative as reminiscent of a shameful past, in which “the discredited minister of the Yankee colonies is called to play his sad role of lackey,” making reference to the Secretary General of OAS, Luis Almagro, who earned the disparaging title of “Minister of the Yankee colonies” with his commentaries and communiques against the governments Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. Meanwhile, the Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations, Bruno Rodríguez, described the initiative as an effort to mobilize the OAS toward the fulfillment of its traditional role of “service to the interests of Washington,” in which capacity it has supported military interventions and coups d’état in the region. He further noted that in the past voices have been lifted to block such initiatives; and at the present time, Cuba has the support of many nations and organizations of the region and the world, illustrated by the strong declaration of the President de Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in defense of Cuba.
On July 18, Washington Abdala, Interim President of the Permanent Council of OAS, after receiving communications from some countries, announced the postponement of the special session. He added that he had solicited a report from the Secretary of Legal Affairs of the organization with respect to the situation in Cuba, which would be shared with the delegations when it is available. Following the announcement of the postponement, Foreign Minister Rodríguez wrote on Twitter that the anti-Cuban maneuver of the OAS was defeated, having been rejected by the majority of the member states. He thanked the countries that defended Latin American and Caribbean dignity.
The Organization of American States was founded following World War II, with the intention of institutionalizing the participation of Latin American and Caribbean governments in a U.S.-directed inter-American system. The founding of the OAS was rooted in the Pan-Americanist project of the USA, which first emerged in the 1890s.
During the presidency of Benjamin Harrison (1889-93), Secretary of State James Blaine proposed a “Pan-American system.” It was the start of a long-term strategy “to convert the Latin American governments and peoples into co-participants in the domination exercised over them,” as described by Cuban scholar Roberto Regalado. From 1889 to 1942, twelve Inter-American meetings were convened in pursuit of the objective of establishing an international Inter-American System under U.S. control.
In the Inter-American conferences of 1889 to 1942, there was considerable resistance from Latin American nations to the Pan-American project and its intentions to undermine their sovereignty, and therefore little progress was made toward its implementation. In the 1923 conference in Santiago de Chile, the Latin American governments proposed a multilateral guarantee of the independence of all of the states of the region, which the United States refused to accept. In 1928 in Havana, the Latin American nations rejected a proposal by the United States to institutionalize the right to intervention. The 1933 conference in Montevideo accepted an Argentinean proposal for a non-aggression treaty. In 1936 in Buenos Aires, the United States was unable to obtain support for a proposal to increase the powers of the Pan-American organization. And in 1938 in Lima, a US proposal for creating an Inter-American consultative committee was rejected.
With its arrival to a position of hegemonic maturity at the conclusion of World War II, the United States was able to establish the Pan-American institutionalization of U.S.-directed neocolonialism in the region. At the 1945 conference in Mexico, Latin American countries supported U.S. efforts, and the first steps were taken toward the institutionalization of the Inter-American system. In 1948, the Organization of American States (OAS) was created. In 1954, OAS declared that communist activity constitutes an intervention in the internal affairs of the Americas, such that the installation of a communist regime in any state in the Western Hemisphere would imply a threat to the region and would require the adoption of measures. In 1962, the OAS used the 1954 declaration as the basis for expelling socialist Cuba. In 1991, when the United States was in the waning moments of its hegemony, but appeared to be at the height of its power following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was able to reinforce the exclusion of Cuba from OAS, by establishing representative democracy as the only legitimate form of government, thus denying the legitimacy of the Cuban system of people’s democracy. In 2001, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, the United States was able to influence OAS to enact the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which required member nations to have representative democracy.
For the most part, however, OAS had not functioned as an instrument of U.S. domination. The United States tended to ignore the organization and to impose its imperialist policies unilaterally.
In first decade of the twenty-first century, a new political reality in Latin America and the Caribbean began to emerge, a process that was led by Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba, with the participation of Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, Uruguay and others.
The primary orientation of the nations leading the Latin American process of change was not reform of OAS, but the establishment of separate regional organizations, such as ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America) and UNASUR (Union of South American States). This culminated in the formation in 2011 of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC for its initials in Spanish), an organization that includes Cuba and excludes the United States and Canada. These regional organizations were formed under such principles as respect for the sovereignty of nations, non-intervention in the affairs of states, and mutually beneficial trade among nations, principles that are the antithesis of neocolonialism and imperialism.
The Latin American process of change soon penetrated the world of OAS. In 2009, in response to demands from Latin American governments, OAS revoked the 1962 expulsion of Cuba. However, the resolution further states that Cuban participation will be the result of a dialogue initiated at the request of the government of Cuba, and Cuba has consistently asserted that it does not intend to return to an organization dominated by U.S. and elite interests.
At the Forty-Fourth General Assembly of OAS, held in Asunción, Paraguay in 2014, representatives of various countries expressed concern with respect to an item that was not on the agenda, namely, the exclusion of Cuba from the Summit of the Americas. The first Summit of the Americas had been held in 1994, and it was intended as the launching pad of the U.S. proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Americas. By 2005, it had become clear that FTAA could not be implemented, as a result of opposition from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. At the Fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009, opposition to the exclusion of Cuba from the summits began to be expressed. Such opposition was expressed with increasing firmness at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in 2012, the Eighth Political Council of ALBA in 2012, the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of CARICOM-CUBA of 2013, and the Council of Ministers of Foreign Relations of UNASUR in 2014. The rejection of the exclusion of Cuba from the Summit of the Americas was unanimously declared at the Second Summit of CELAC in January 2014. At the Forty-Fourth General Assembly of OAS, many delegations rejected the exclusion of Cuba from the summits. Five nations (Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Argentina), stated that they would not attend the next Summit of the Americas, if Cuba remains excluded. In accordance with this demand, Cuba participated in the subsequent Summit of the Americas, welcomed with much fanfare by many Latin American representatives, and in the following Summit of 2018.
Besides rejection of U.S. policy with respect to Cuba, the 2014 Assembly of OAS passed other declarations indicating that the organization possibly could begin to function as a diplomatic voice for the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean, reversing its original function. It supported Argentina in its conflict with Britain over the status of the Malvinas Islands. It called upon the international community to not engage in pressure or sanctions with respect to Venezuela, thus criticizing U.S. support of the Venezuelan Right and an anti-government media campaign. It supported the peace talks between FARC and the government of Colombia, taking place in Cuba. It declared America as a Zone of Peace, Cooperation, and the Peaceful Solution of Conflicts. It condemned the use of torture in secret prisons in the name of national security and the struggle against terrorism, thus indirectly condemning the U.S. base at Guantanamo.
But in 2015, the United States launched an unconventional war against Latin America, designed to reverse the process of change in Latin America, by targeting and overthrowing the governments that had been leading the process of change, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba (see “The US unconventional war against Cuba,” July 16, 2021). The unconventional war includes the strategy of obtaining the support of international organizations in the discrediting of the targeted government, in order give legitimacy to economic sanctions, interference in internal affairs, and any possible military intervention. Therefore, when the USA launched an unconventional war against Latin America, it decided to use the Organization of American States to this end. Recently-elected OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro emerged as their point man in this strategy.
Almagro, who had previously been foreign minister of Uruguay under a progressive government, launched his new public persona in 2015, when he sent an eighteen-page open letter to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, in which he denounced supposed violations of human rights. This was followed up in 2016 by a 114-page report claiming a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and making several recommendations for change in the Venezuelan political and judicial system. The Secretary General published two more reports on Venezuela in 2017. In that same year, the Secretary General attempted to apply the 2001 Democratic Charter to Venezuela, ignoring the fact that Venezuela since 1999 has had highly developed and frequently practiced structures of representative democracy, much praised by international observers. But on March 28, 2017, the OAS Secretary General, in spite of U.S. support, failed to attain approval from the member nations for the activation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter against Venezuela.
On April 16, 2017, an extraordinary session of the Permanent Council of OAS approved the convoking of a meeting of ministers of foreign relations to discuss the situation in Venezuela, without establishing a date for the meeting. The convocation of the meeting was approved by 19 states, with 10 against, four abstentions, and one absence. Venezuela denounced US efforts to apply pressure on member states to support action against Venezuela, and it announced its withdrawal from the Organization of American States.
In response to the OAS effort to convoke a meeting on Venezuela, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations issued a declaration on April 27. It maintained that the convoking of the meeting to discuss the situation in Venezuela is consistent with the traditional role of OAS as “an instrument of imperialist domination in the hemisphere, with the goal of breaking the sovereignty, independence and dignity of Our America.” OAS, the Declaration asserted, consistently has turned its back on the people, acting in subordination to “oligarchical and imperialist interests.” “It has been absent when our region has been the victims of political, economic and military interventions and aggressions, or of serious violation of human rights and democracy.” OAS, the Cuban Declaration maintains, is incapable of representing the interests and values of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean. It has imposed a false democratic creed, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands and for the poverty and exclusion of millions. The OAS does not respect the equality and self-determination of states, and “it conspires against and subverts genuine and legitimate governments constituted with demonstrated popular backing.” The Declaration concludes that the despicable conduct of OAS against Venezuela confirms that, “when there is a government that is not in the interests of the circles of imperial power and their allies, it will be attacked.”
These OAS initiatives with respect to Venezuela were a dimension of the U.S. unconventional war against the vanguard nations of the region. In the case of Venezuela, the war had been initiated during the period 2014-2015, with the hording of goods and the suspension of trade by Venezuelan importers with ties to the opposition. Beginning in August 2017, the USA imposed a financial embargo, which reduced the capacity of the government to respond to the hyperinflation that resulted from the shortage of goods. Since January 2019, the United States has imposed a trade embargo, which has cost Venezuela billions of dollars in foreign exchange earnings from oil exports, necessary for the purchase of food, medicines, and other necessities. During this period, the unconventional war against Venezuela has included robbery of assets; Venezuelan bank accounts in the USA, Venezuelan gold in the Bank of England, and the Venezuelan owned CITGO gasoline distributorship in the United States have been frozen.
On January 10, 2019, Nicolás Maduro took the oath of office for his second term as president. Maduro won the elections of May 20, 2018 with more than 67% of the vote in elections that international observers as well as the opposition candidates declared to be fair. The turnout was lower than has been customary in the last twenty years of Chavist rule, as a result of calls by some sectors of the opposition to not vote, and also as a result of a decline in support for the opposition. However, in spite of the low turnout by recent Venezuelan standards, Maduro’s vote as a percentage of registered voters was higher than that of victorious candidates in recent presidential elections in Argentina, the United States, and Brazil.
In Bolivia, the unconventional war unfolded dramatically in 2019. In September, representatives of the U.S. government, the Organization of American States, and the right-wing Bolivian oligarchy agreed to a plan of not accepting the results of the upcoming October 20 presidential elections, falsely claiming electoral fraud, with the support of the corporate-controlled media. When Evo Morales won the elections with a plurality of 47% plus a ten percent margin over his nearest rival, the plan was put into operation. Fascist violent gangs attacked and burned election centers, symbols of the government, and supporters and leaders of the Movement toward Socialism (MAS). These well-armed para-military groups were joined in a second stage by the police, who attached and burned the homes of indigenous peasants and MAS supporters. Elected government officials were threatened with harm to their families if they did not resign their positions. Rather than coming to the support of the government, the Armed Forces asked the president to resign. Under these conditions, Evo Morales and Vice President Alvaro García resigned on November 10, obtaining refuge first in Mexico and then in Argentina. Following the resignation of Morales, the military engaged in violent repression of popular demonstrations against the coup d’état.
The Organization of American States played a key role in the coup in Bolivia. The OAS released the results of an audit of the 2019 elections, claiming clear manipulation and significant irregularities. However, subsequent reports from the Center for Economic and Policy Research contradicted the OAS conclusions, finding no statistical evidence for the OAS claim of election fraud. Another study, conducted by independent statisticians from the University of Pennsylvania and other institutions, also found the OAS analysis to be unsubstantiated. The results of the latter study were published in the New York Times, which initially had supported Morales' forced resignation.
The de facto government of self-proclaimed president Jeanine Áñez did not last more than a year. The coup was reversed by the elections of 2020, in which Luis Arce, who had been Minister of the Economy in the Morales government, won the presidency with an outright majority. The Movement toward Socialism retained a majority in the national assembly. The policies of the Morales government are being restored, including solidarity of Bolivia with Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Áñez and her collaborators face judicial processes.
In his tenure as Secretary-General, Almagro has not ignored Nicaragua. In December 2018, following the stalling of OAS negotiations with the government of Nicaragua concerning electoral procedures, he announced the activation of the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter with respect to Nicaragua. It is a question of seeking to impose structures of representative democracy as the only possible form of democracy, in spite of the crisis of legitimation of representative democracy in many nations of the world today.
In some respects, the saddest part of this story of American imperialism and Latin American resistance is the limited awareness of the people of the United States. The late 1960s was a time of a tremendous awakening of popular consciousness of the United States, with respect to imperialism, racial inequalities in power, conditions of poverty affecting persons of all racial and ethnic groups, and the militarization of the economy and society. The great majority of the people believed that the state must play a decisive role in addressing these social problems. Yet since that time, the defenders of these causes have been unable to prevent the turn of the nation to the right in 1980, promoting a weak state, governmental indifference to domestic social issues, a strong military, and an aggressive imperialism in foreign affairs, in spite of the fact that these causes have reason, science, and social justice on their side.
Given this historic failure, perhaps intellectuals and leaders who defend the just causes ought to rethink their strategy. Instead of focusing on single issues, like ending the blockade of Cuba, we ought to place the blockade and other issues in the context of a historical and comprehensive understanding. An alternative understanding that sees the historic project of a U.S.-directed Pan-Americanism as a dimension of U.S. imperialist projection; and that sees imperialism as no longer a sustainable foreign policy for the United States, because a world of competing imperialisms is itself unsustainable, and it is pushing humanity toward more and more conflict and chaos. The nations of the world have to cooperate with one another, on the basis of mutual respect for sovereignty and mutually beneficial trade, a necessity that has been proclaimed by the governments and movements of the Third World since 1955.
All of this and more needs to be patiently and intelligently explained to our peoples. We need to call our peoples to participation in a great international movement for a just and sustainable world, a movement that is being forged by humanity in defense of itself, in which the ending of the blockade of Cuba is understood as one step in that process. Those of us who defend the just causes ought to acknowledge our failure since the 1970s, and ask ourselves, might not a more comprehensive vision tied to the elevation of our people’s consciousness have greater results?
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