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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Intervention During the Plenary Session Regarding Cuba and the OAS

Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
San Pedro Sula, Honduras
June 3, 2009


As prepared for delivery

It is a great honor to be here today, seated as the head of the United States delegation, as we approve this historic resolution. I regret that our Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, could not be here. Her presence during the last two days was key to the successful development of consensus. However, as you know, she had to leave San Pedro Sula last night to meet up with President Obama in Egypt.

Let me begin by expressing our thanks to President Zelaya and Foreign Minister Rodas for hosting this General Assembly of the Organization of American States. We also express our gratitude to the Honduran people for their kindness and hospitality, even in the face of the terrible results of the recent earthquake. Their openness and solidarity helped shaped this historic General Assembly. We also want to express our appreciation to the many countries at this table who worked so hard to achieve consensus around this resolution.

Statesmanship is a rare virtue. It requires maturity, vision, and persistence. It also requires a clear-headedness that avoids prejudice and rhetoric, but instead attempts to build confidence and understanding while it fashions agreements. But statesmanship, to be an effective element in expressing national purpose, must remain true to our fundamental values and interests.

Today’s resolution was an act of statesmanship. Today we addressed and bridged an historic divide in the Americas, while reaffirming our profound commitment to democracy and the fundamental human rights of our peoples. Today we removed an historical impediment to Cuba’s participation in the OAS, but we also established a process of engagement with Cuba based on the core practices, principles, and purposes of the OAS and the Inter-American system.

This was not an easy process, but its product will be understood to be historic. It will also be understood as an action that affirms our commitment to build relationships in the Americas based on dialogue and collaboration, and as an agreement that strengthens the OAS as an institution. I spoke with Secretary Clinton this morning. She extends her congratulations to all present, and expressed her pride in having participated in this historic OAS General Assembly. During her meetings with her colleagues over the last two days, and in her several interventions in yesterday’s working group, she reminded us that at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, President Obama called for a “new beginning” to the U.S.-Cuba relationship. He lifted restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba. Two weeks ago, he asked Cuba to restart migration talks – a request which Cuba has accepted along with discussions on direct mail, and we look forward to talks beginning soon. And at this assembly, we helped fashion and submitted the resolution that became the basis for today’s historic action.

Together, these actions on the part of the United States signal the biggest change to our approach to Cuba in the last forty years. We are not interested in fighting old battles or living in the past. We are committed to building a better future for all of the Americas, by listening, learning, and forging partnerships based on mutual respect. At the same time, we will always defend the timeless principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law that animate our societies and serve as a beacon for those around the world who are oppressed, silenced, and subjugated.

The United States looks forward to the day when a democratic Cuba rejoins the inter-American system. Until then, we will seek new ways to engage Cuba that benefit the people of both nations and of the hemisphere. We will continue to advocate for democratic governance in Cuba and throughout the Americas. And the people of this hemisphere look to the OAS to do the same.

Our organization represents a region covering more than a quarter of the earth, from the tundra of northern Canada to the Amazonian rain forests to the Patagonian ice fields. Our citizens speak dozens of languages, celebrate many faiths and traditions, and hail from every region of the world. But underneath our differences, we are joined by geography, history, politics, economics, culture, and family. Our futures and fortunes are linked. Now we must stand together to affirm our shared values, face down common challenges, and seize opportunities for the benefit of all our people.

Thank you.

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