SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras - The Organization of American States voted by acclamation yesterday to revoke the 1962 measure suspending communist Cuba, overturning a landmark of the Cold War in the hemisphere.
"The Cold War has ended this day in San Pedro Sula," declared Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. "We begin a new era of fraternity and tolerance."
The action doesn't mean Cuba will return to the 34-member body, which helps coordinate policies and mediates disputes throughout the Americas. Cuban officials have repeatedly said they have no interest in returning to an organization they consider a tool of the United States.
If Cuba changes its mind, the agreement calls for "a process of dialogue" in line with OAS "practices, proposals, and principles" - a veiled reference to agreements on human rights and democracy.
Nevertheless, Latin leaders cheered the development yesterday as a move forward. "This is a moment of rejoicing for all of Latin America," Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Fander Falconi said.
The decision was taken by consensus, meaning the United States accepted it, though Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had lobbied personally for requiring Cuba to make democratic reforms and improve respect for human rights.
In Washington yesterday, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said that "the historic action taken today eliminates a distraction from the past and allows us to focus on the realities of today." He said it would let officials "continue with the president's efforts to support the desire of the Cuban people to freely determine Cuba's future consistent with our core principles and those of the Americas."
Clinton was not on hand for the vote. The OAS meetings lasted so long Tuesday night that Clinton did not have time to deliver her prepared speech before flying out of Honduras to join President Obama in Egypt.
The United States won Cuba's suspension from the OAS in January 1962, nine months after Fidel Castro first publicly described Cuba's system as socialist and after a disastrous U.S.-backed exile invasion of the country flopped at the Bay of Pigs.
In recent years, with the Cold War fading and left-of-center governments spreading in the Americas, Cuba's isolation melted away. Every country in the hemisphere except for the United States has reestablished relations with Cuba, and the U.S. embargo of Cuba is deeply unpopular throughout the region.
The Obama administration has made recent overtures to Cuba in hopes of overcoming resentment in the Americas over Washington's history of isolating Havana. U.S. officials lifted restrictions on money transfers and travel to the island by Americans with family there and are resuming immigration and postal-service talks.