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Published: Saturday, 2/27/2010

An alternate OAS?

PRESIDENT Obama's failure to improve U.S. relations with Cuba may have prompted Latin American nations to launch a group that could supplant the Organization of American States.

The summit near Cancun, Mexico, of the 32 leaders of the Rio Group and Caribbean Community nations ended this week with a decision to create an organization, excluding the United States and Canada, that could become an alternative to the OAS.

The meeting was called ostensibly to strengthen regional coordination in key economic and political areas. Its communique covered a list of long-standing issues, including a plea to end the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Although Cuba was suspended from the OAS in 1962, it would be part of the new organization.

The meeting and the establishment of a new regional grouping are logical outgrowths of traditional Latin American resentment of U.S. domination of the OAS. The group's headquarters were established in Washington in 1948, with the United States providing its financial underpinning. That is no longer necessary as Latin American countries' economic situations improve, including the discovery by Brazil of offshore oil.

OAS members also have chafed for years about Washington's feud with Cuba. There was hope that Mr. Obama would reform U.S. policy, based on his own statements, but after more than a year little has changed, particularly the U.S. trade embargo. His reticence apparently is based on a reluctance to take on Cuban exile and U.S. business groups that continue to lobby against a new approach.

U.S. diplomats in Washington downplayed the significance of the new group, which could take years to form. Nevertheless, the meeting in Mexico and the possible emergence of a bloc to replace the OAS should prompt a re-examination of U.S. policy toward the region, especially Cuba. It's a warning that the United States soon may have less influence in Latin America than it does now. What is Mr. Obama waiting for?

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