Date: Tue, 16 Jun 98 01:45:25 CDT
From: Suzanne Wilson <email@example.com>
Subject: Weekly Americas News Update #436, 6/7/98
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OAS meets on its fiftieth anniversary
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Issue #436, 7 June 1998
The twenty-eighth General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) met from June 1 to 3 in Caracas, Venezuela, 50 years after the organization was first formed. Representatives of 35 countries approved a document committing themselves to the fight against drugs, promotion of human rights, protection for the rights of indigenous peoples, elimination of discrimination against the disabled, improvement of prison conditions, the rights of women, children and migrant workers, and respect for freedom of expression. They also agreed to streamline and modernize the operation and the budget of the OAS.
Mexican Foreign Minister Rosario Green and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright clashed on two fronts: Green she said her country will put US agents who participated in "Operation Casablanca" on trial for having violated a series of Mexican laws, and also proposed the reintroduction of Cuba into the OAS. Former Colombian president and current OAS head Cesar Gaviria said at the opening ceremonies, "It is clear to everyone that since the visit of His Holiness John Paul II to the island, a new climate for approaching this theme [of Cuban reintegration] in a more constructive manner has been created."
Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1962, ostensibly for supporting rebel groups in Latin America. Reintegration can only be considered if the Cuban government or a group of OAS member countries requests it. Cuba's Ambassador to Venezuela, German Sanchez Otero, had said before the start of the Assembly, "We will not request entrance into [an organization] from which we were expelled." In the end, the subject was not brought up for formal discussion during the Assembly, since the proposal by Green for the formation of a "group of friends" did not succeed, according to Venezuelan Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Burelli Rivas, who said it had been concluded that the OAS Assembly was not the proper forum for such a discussion. Canadian ambassador Lloyd Axworthy called Mexico's "group of friends" proposal a good idea, and said his country supports dialogue with Cuba, but added that the country would have to respond to OAS demands for greater democracy before it could be welcomed back as an active OAS member.
The Assembly was also divided over the question of the death penalty. Only a few OAS member countries, including the US, have the death penalty in their legal code. Trinidad and Tobago recently withdrew from the Interamerican Human Rights Convention and the UN Optional Protocol in order to apply the death penalty to two prisoners after the time limit for the exectutions had expired. On June 2, human rights organizations demonstrated outside the Assembly site, dressed in black and carrying signs in memory of the murdered Guatemalan Bishop Juan Gerardi and Colombian lawyer Eduardo Umana. The demonstrators also expressed their concern about human rights abuses in Mexico, Peru, Guatemala and Colombia. [El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 6/1/98 from Notimex, 6/2/98 from AFP; Agencia Informativa Pulsar 6/2/98, 6/3/98, 6/4/98; La Nacion (Costa Rica) 6/4/98 from AFP, Reuter; Diario Los Andes (Argentina) 6/2/98 from Reuter]
WEEKLY NEWS UPDATE ON THE AMERICAS