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OAS SHOWS TEETH IN 'LIFTING' OF CUBA BAN

A surprise announcement Wednesday by the Organization of American States that it revoked its 47-year-old suspension of Cuba is being widely interpreted as a historic reversal of decades of U.S. efforts to isolate the Communist island nation.

"The Cold War has ended this day," said Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.

But that's only half the story.

In reality, the announcement is a diplomatic triumph for the United States, and the new, nuanced approach the Obama administration is taking toward the region.

Washington had come under intense pressure from the more left-leaning countries in the region, led by Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, to end its resistance to Cuba's return to the 35-member body, the top hemispheric forum for debating policy and resolving conflicts.

But the United States refused to back down, insisting that Cuba first be required to meet the standards set by the OAS' "Democratic Charter," governing individual and political freedoms, such as respect for human rights and multiparty elections.

Despite the OAS' reputation as a fairly worthless talking shop, membership gives a country a voice in hemispheric agreements on major issues. The OAS has helped mediate solutions to political conflicts and coordinated health policies.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to be in a tough spot when she arrived for the OAS meeting this week in San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras. Every country in the hemisphere except for the United States has re-established relations with Cuba.

By the time she left Tuesday, no agreement had been reached. There was even talk of some countries breaking away from the 61-year-old organization, which is based in Washington.

But the craftily worded two-point resolution agreed upon Wednesday was enough to satisfy both sides - while leaving Cuba still out in the cold. Though Cuba's 1962 expulsion was lifted, Cuba must agree to OAS principles before being readmitted.

Cuba is in, but it's not.

Before the meeting, U.S. officials were worried that any resolution allowing Cuba back in would have no teeth, allowing Havana to get its seat back while thumbing its nose at the charter.

But, for all its faults, the OAS has gotten tougher since 2001, when it implemented a Democratic Charter that ended years of indulging despotic regimes.

Before the meeting, U.S. diplomats were banking that Cuba was unlikely to accept the parameters of full democratic governance as set out in the charter, such as Western-style multiparty democracy, human rights and total freedom of the press.

Furthermore, diplomatic sources say the Obama administration got assurances from key U.S. allies that Cuba's admittance would require a full "stress test" of fulfilling the charter requirements.

That's a test Cuba's Communist Party won't submit to.

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