Senator Menendez Asks Tough Questions of OAS

Thursday, May 14, 2009
Speaking immediately prior to OAS Secretary General Insulza at the Council of the America's conference at the State Department, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey made the following important remarks regarding Cuba:
Next month, the OAS General Assembly is convening in ­­­­­Honduras. 
During the General Assembly, some may advocate to allow Cuba to participate in the OAS, without having made any progress on the fundamental tenants of democracy and human rights. 
If this takes place, I would expect a wide range of voices to cry foul.
First, I would expect that those who claim that the debate on Cuba is antiquated and stale, to say that this signal would take the debate back decades, to a time where we didn't even have a broad set of principles that we all agreed on.
I would expect countries that may see symbolic value in such a gesture to ask, "How would this benefit my people, and how does this advance our collective interests?" 
I would expect anyone concerned about democracy to ask, "How can we do this without fundamentally dismissing Articles 3 and 7 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter?"
And as the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign assistance, I would expect the U.S. Congress to ask, "Should we continue to pay 60 percent of the budget of an institution that just discarded democratic principles as a fundamental part of its Charter?"
I would expect the 200-plus political prisoners in Castro's jails and the 5,000 citizens serving sentences for "dangerousness," without being charged with any specific crime to ask, "Have my friends in the region abandoned me simply so they could stick a finger in the eye of the United States?"
And, I would ask, is the invitation of a country to the OAS for symbolic value more important than the Charter itself?  More important than basic human rights?  More important than the fundamental precepts of democracy, precepts for which men and women throughout the region have fought for and, in some, cases, died trying to achieve?
We all have to ask ourselves, is the Inter-American Democratic Charter something we take seriously, or is it a joke?  If we take it seriously, how can we invite a regime that repudiates it back into the organization? And furthermore, if we invite Cuba back in, in spite of their violations, what message are we sending to the rest of the hemisphere—that it's okay to move backwards away from democracy and human rights, that there will be no repercussions for such actions?
President Obama said it himself with respect to Cuba that, "Change can't be one-sided" and in his remarks at the Summit, he said that liberty and justice are bedrock values of the Inter-American charter.  I couldn't agree more.
So, it would only be wise to see how our recent overtures are reciprocated, and take it from there.  Building on what the President said in his inaugural address, we can't extend our hand if they aren't willing to unclench their iron fist.

I know most of us in this room probably agree in more ways than we disagree. Most of us have a deep connection to the work we do, have been at it for a long time and care personally about what comes of our efforts.
And I think everyone in this room shares a basic sense of hope for what kind of institutions we want to help build in this hemisphere and beyond. We want to see financial systems that empower the ambitious and protect the vulnerable, justice systems that prosecute crimes and protect basic freedoms, health systems that provide care to those who need it, and systems of education that nurture curiosity and prepare young people to succeed.
I look to those of you in this room today, to work with me to help come up with more creative ways that we can build partnerships to make these dreams a reality.
Any efforts to do so are well worth all our time. We know there's a will to do it—we just have to constantly evaluate and refine the way.
We now have an unprecedented opportunity to do that, at all levels. As we do, I hope that we will find ourselves united by the values we share, energized by the spirit of the times, and ever hopeful of a better tomorrow.