U.S. fails to pass anti-Cuba resolution at OAS

Pablo Bachelet

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and its allies Wednesday failed to pass a resolution condemning rights abuse in Cuba in the Organization of American States but vowed to come back with a revised text soon.

Reflecting deep divisions over President Fidel Castro's Cuba within the Americas, many OAS members voiced skepticism over the resolution, including Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico.

The proposed text, presented before the OAS' Permanent Council by Nicaragua and co-sponsored by the U.S. and Costa Rica, called on Havana to "immediately free all unjustly arrested Cubans."

More than 75 dissidents have been sentenced to long prison terms in a crackdown started in March, and three men were executed for hijacking a ferry in a failed attempt to flee to the United States.

The resolution, which was also backed by Canada and Chile, will be presented again, after a round of further talks. Permanent Council resolutions must obtain consensus to pass.

Carmen Marina Gutierrez, the Nicaraguan ambassador, said countries needed more time to consider the text.

"I am requesting that the project be remitted to the General Commission next week so that delegations continue the consulting process, since I consider they need more time."

The General Commission is part of the Permanent Council, and the U.S. and its allies will try and hash out a consensual text there, before returning it to the Permanent Council.

The U.S. ambassador, Roger Noriega, said it was "essential" to move quickly on the resolution.

While most OAS ambassadors condemned the recent abuses in Cuba, objections hinged on the procedural issue of whether Cuba could be condemned by a body from which it was ejected in 1962.

Venezuelan ambassador Jorge Valero said he proposed to initiate a debate on Cuba "free of prejudice."

But some went further, questioning Washington's human rights policies and its continuing embargo against Cuba.

Valter Pecly Moreira, the Brazilian ambassador, said flatly that "Brazil cannot support this project" and spoke out against what he called a "selective" policy on human rights, in a reference to the U.S. effort to pass resolutions condemning Cuba in multilateral organizations such as the OAS and the U.N., while other rights abusers are ignored.

But Canada said "procedural issues" should not block a resolution. "Human rights, in our mind, stand alone and they are a higher priority than procedural issues," said Paul Durand, the Canadian ambassador.

Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service