What is it going to take to free Alan Gross, the U.S. subcontractor imprisoned in Cuba?
A: It should take some direct contact between the American government and the Cuban government. I don’t think it will happen soon unless there are some changes to be made. I always thought that agreement should be reached on the Miami Five, some have since been released. I think Mr. Gross’s situation is a humanitarian situation that must be dealt with. If it’s possible to open some kind of negotiation, it would not only be good for the people involved it would make a better climate in U.S.-Cuba relations, which are so important.
Does the OAS have any leverage with Cuba given that it no longer has any direct contact with the organization?
Cuba doesn’t participate in the organization. They have never denounced the (OAS) charter so they’re still bound by the Commission on Human Rights. But that’s basically symbolic. There’s this famous density of international relations. When you have only one or two subjects that you deal with, you have only a little bit of clout. You have a lot of clout among countries when you have a lot of relations. And that’s the case with Cuba.
But the OAS has relationships with many countries that have clout with Cuba. Can you use that?
None of them is really willing to act. I think in the case of Mr. Gross, some countries in the region could be helpful because of the importance that has been given to Mr. Gross by the media and by the United States itself. I’m sure if those actions are carried out, we won’t know much about them. All the Latin Americans are very careful about their relations with the Cuban government and they want to keep them in a normal way so they might not be willing to act to press them directly or publicly.
How concerned were you about Mr. Gross’ hunger strike?
I think it’s a bad thing. We all know that his health has not been very good. At his age, this kind of strike is damaging for his health. I hope that will move some people to do some kind of action or negotiation to try to get him out of there.
And do you think the Latin American countries that have that influence with Cuba should do so to get him released?
I don’t know if any of them is already doing that. I don’t want to assume that they’re doing nothing. I would rather assume that they’ve been asked to do something and they’re doing it.
They were not insulting. They were very nice and the signs were very much about things that we share: Freedom in Venezuela, etc. I think that we’re at a very crucial moment. The dialogue is getting going; it’s really warming up and something is going to happen.
The opposition has put conditions on showing up for a dialogue. Does the OAS have any influence to encourage them to participate? [Note: The opposition decided after the interview to participate in talks.]
Some of the peole protesting against you here and elsewhere say the OAS cannot be trusted and that you’re not doing enough to end this crisis. Do you agree?
Well, I know. We get criticized for not doing enough but we can’t do everything. This is an organization of states. And there is no way the Secretary General can go against the will of the member countries. That will be completely senseless. It would be like the United Nations issuing its own policy without the agreement of the Security Council. That I cannot do. And I shouldn’t do, by the way. This is an organization of soverign states that need to take that decision.
Are you hopeful that this crisis will be resolved soon?
I think that we have moved forward. Let’s look at were we were. Six months ago, nobody would have recognized the Venezuelan opposition. [Opposition leader Henrique] Caprilles went around the region and he wasn’t received by some heads of Latin American governments. Now, the opposition is visible and legitimate. I think that they have problems. But to continue processing, I think that they have to engage. They cannot isolate themselves from the processes that the international community is trying to carry out.
Latin America’s economy seems to have largely withstood the economic downturn. What do you see happening in Latin America in the next few years?
We’re coming out of a decade that was tremendous for Latin America. The growth was incredible, especially for countries in the South and therefore the region is in a much, much better economic shape today than it was before. This was basically, as has been said so many times, export-led. A lot of capital came to the region because of the situation in the United States. We’ll probably have less capital coming because of the policies in the Federal Reseve. So we’ll have to do with less. But that doesn’t mean that Latin America is not going to grow. Commodities will continue to be exported because capital will continue coming but at the same speed as before.
The Dominican Republic is dealing with a divisive ruling of its Constitutional Court regarding whether the children of Haitian migrants could become citizens. How can the OAS help to resolve this issue?
We have been willing but we haven’t been called yet to try to find a solution. Probably because the stronger statements on the matter have come from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which are OAS tools. They have condemned very clearly what has happened in the Dominican Republic. That makes me as Secretary General very careful about getting into the matter in a way that would somehow weaken the position of the Commission on Human Rights. The conditions that the OAS is putting on this are very strong. We want, at the very least, the situation of the people who were born in the Dominican Republic to be recognized not for naturalization but just simply readmission. I don’t think anybody can be asked to nationalize themselves in a country where he was born. And that’s the key issue today.
Many people have said that the ruling proves that the Dominican Republic is inherently a racist county. Are they correct?
It’s a racial problem, yes, but it’s like saying the Dominican Republic is a country populated by Caucasian. Actually, most of them are Afro-American or have some Afro-American blood in their veins. I think it’s a problem of many years that the problem has not been dealt with and so many people have come to the Dominican Republic and many Dominicans feel like they’re being neglected by their government because it’s been taking care of the other people. There are social reasons for this but the solution found is not really acceptable under the standards of the international community.