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May 22, 1998

Cuba's re-entry as an active member of the Organization of American States (OAS) must be given top priority. "It is a growing question," said the OAS assistant secretary general, Ambassador Christopher R.Thomas Thursday.

The matter came up during an hour-long live radio broadcast from the OAS studios Thursday night, linking up with the NBS Radio 98.9 FM station in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. The Trinidad and Tobago-born deputy head of the OAS said that although the issue did not feature at the moment among agenda items to be taken up at the upcoming session of the OAS General Assembly in Venezuela, it would not be surprising if the issue were to come up. "A number of ambassadors and governments have spoken quite clearly that the question of Cuba has to be revisited."

Referring to the number of OAS member countries pressing for the Caribbean island's return to the inter-American system, the OAS deputy chief said it was not possible to see all the dimensions of a hemisphere-wide free trade agreement (expected to give rise to the Free Trade Area of the Americas in another seven years) without the active involvement of "all members of the hemisphere."

The call-in program, which involved Ambassador Michael Arneaud of Trinidad and Tobago as well as Ambassador Lionel Hurst of Antigua and Barbuda, was moderated in Washington by OAS radio specialist Von Martin and in Port-of-Spain, by Errol Pilgrim.

The ambassadors took the opportunity to defend the hemispheric institution against perceptions in some quarters that question the relevance of the OAS to ordinary citizens of the Caribbean.

"The OAS is really all about trying for us to dialogue and discuss and come up with solutions other than the way we dealt with things in the past," Ambassador Arneaud-- also chairman of the powerful OAS Permanent Council, the second ranking decision-making forum of the hemisphere's governments--explained as he said the hemisphere, through the OAS, "is working very feverishly on distance-learning, wall-less universities...for the benefit of all peoples in the hemisphere."

Ambassador Thomas added that a core focus of the 'new vision' guiding the OAS was (more) E-078/98ie the involvement of non-government groups in hemispheric affairs under the OAS. They decided, he said, that the organization should be a catalyst for private sector and civil society involvement in decision-making on development across the hemisphere.

Ambassador Hurst explained the OAS role at the forefront of cultural development and promotion, pointing to the numerous cultural exchanges between the Caribbean and Latin America, and cultural presentations by groups from Caribbean countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, before large Washington audiences gathered at the OAS. He also pointed out the number of artistic exhibitions. "On the question of culture, the OAS has done a marvelous job."

Also touched on were a number of important issues that underscore the Caribbean contribution to building the OAS and development around the hemisphere. Primary among them was the setting up of what is now known as the Inter-American Council for Integral Development, under which OAS technical cooperation is channeled to member countries.

The broadcast comes as the hemispheric body prepares for its General Assembly session, which this year is being convened in Caracas, Venezuela from June 1 to 3.

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