Cuba’s BackBy Jorge CastanedaMEXICO CITY – After 47 years, the Organization of American States, at its annual General Assembly, has repealed its suspension of Cuba’s membership. The so-called ALBA countries (the Spanish acronym for the so-called Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), which includes Cuba, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Dominica, and Ecuador, were able partly to outwit – and partly to “out-blackmail” – Canada, the United States, and the Latin American democracies in getting Cuba rehabilitated. The OAS did, however, lay down two conditions. Cuba must explicitly request reinstatement, and a dialogue must be initiated in accordance with the premises of the OAS Charter and other basic OAS documents, and in consonance with the principles on which those documents are based – most importantly, democracy and respect for human rights.Like many diplomatic compromises, the outcome left everyone a bit happy and a bit disappointed. Everyone could claim victory, and no one was obliged to acknowledge defeat.But those compromises are like statistics or skimpy swimsuits: what they show is less important than what they hide. Two fundamental considerations come to mind, and their ramifications in “up-for-grab” countries in Latin America, such as El Salvador, are particularly significant.The first consideration involves the ALBA countries’ conduct of foreign policy. Given that the smaller countries do not act independently of Venezuela, and that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez does not act without Cuba’s guidance on weighty matters such as these, it is now clear that the Cubans and their allies will cut US President Barack Obama no slack on Latin American issues.They could have easily let the OAS assembly go by, giving the new American president more time to prepare his Congress and public opinion for a delicate balancing act. The key issue here is how to lift the now almost fifty-year old US embargo on trade, investment, and travel to Cuba unilaterally, while portraying it as the result of a negotiation.The ALBA countries decided they would concede nothing to Obama, and attempt, instead, to back him into a corner: either the US would go along with the new OAS consensus, angering both parts of the Cuban-American lobby and the human rights community by abandoning principles and commitments, or the US would have to act alone (perhaps with Canada by its side), leaving it totally isolated in Latin America – the last thing Obama wants.The ALBA group pushed hard for a vote, or a compromise on its terms, which it could then flaunt to the world and to domestic public opinion. Obama had no choice but to go along.The second consideration is that this behavior will continue. The reason seems clear enough: Cuba needs international aid desperately, and there are not too many places where it can find it. Hopes that Brazil and China would provide cash to Cuba have been dashed by the international financial crisis and geo-politics. And Chávez, despite the recent increase in oil prices, can no longer afford to subsidize Cuba as he did during the boom years. So it seems that the Cubans are hoping to find resources elsewhere, and the only possibility, as remote as it seems, is the Inter-American Development Bank.In principle, IDB membership requires OAS membership, and therein may lie the reason why Cuba insisted so strongly on returning, and why it was ultimately disappointed in not obtaining unconditional re-admission. It will nonetheless attempt to have its allies push for some sort of association with the IDB, while at the same time radicalizing its stance elsewhere, as it is now doing in El Salvador.Indeed, the new Salvadoran president, Mauricio Funes, was elected on the ticket of the FMLN, the party that succeeded the old, hard-left guerrilla group of the 1980’s and 1990’s. He is a moderate, modern leftist who has openly identified himself with Brazilian President Lula and Barack Obama, as opposed to Chávez.But his party is as close to Cuba and Venezuela as one can get. In a showdown over the composition of the cabinet just before his inauguration on June 1, the FMLN old guard won, threatening to take the conflict to the streets. The Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans will not cut Funes any slack, either, believing that history is on their side, and that now is the time to force every issue in sight.They are probably right, up to a certain point, because the second lesson from the OAS assembly concerns the behavior of the Latin American democracies, mainly Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia. They tried to accommodate the US (it is rumored that Obama phoned Lula and asked for his help), but were nonetheless unwilling to break with Cuba and Venezuela to side openly with the US.They will not do so any time soon, on any issue that may spring up, if it means confrontation with the ALBA countries. Fidel Castro knows this, and will take advantage of the democracies’ diluted commitment to human rights and democracy. In each country where conflict is present or emerging (Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Paraguay, and Ecuador) the hard-left will push hard, the democracies will look the other way, and Obama will either give in (as at the OAS) and pay a domestic political price, or step back from Latin America, for fear of appearing isolated. A magnificent opportunity for a new start in US-Latin American relations will have been missed.