Cuba, the US, and Post-Hegemonic Inter-American Relations

By Pia Riggirozzi and Diana Tussie. Pia Riggirozzi is Associate Professor in Global Politics at University of Southampton (@PRiggirozziAcademia.edu) and Diana Tussie is Director of the Department of International Relations at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) in Argentina. You can find more posts by Pia here.


Normative and geopolitical conditions that for decades secured United States (US) and US-sponsored institutions’ influential position in Inter-American governance have changed. Since the early 2000s ideological polarisation and different approaches to hemispheric governance meant that new regional institutions are reclaiming the region and rebuilding Inter-American relations while forcing the Washington based Organisation of American States (OAS) to redefine its position. The challenge is not merely one of symbolic politics led by left-leaning presidents railing against US domination. US-Latin American relations face a profound change in the coordinates of regional power, diplomacy and cooperation.

For more than a decade now Latin American left-leaning governments have been reworking spaces and institutions that govern Inter-American affairs. Various efforts have been made to create organizations to act as alternatives to Washington-based institutions. The creation of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) in 2004 led by Venezuela and Cuba, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in 2008, including the 12 South American nations; or the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), including all of the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, should be seen as manifestations in this direction. Both organisations exclude the US or Canada, and are another manifestation of increasingly diversified global engagement of Latin American and Caribbean countries with countries outside the region, particularly China, and growing diplomatic importance of alternative regional bodies fostering new compromises, institutions, funding mechanisms, policies and practices within the region in areas such as security, (political) rights, development, energy, infrastructure and security.

The re-politicisation of the Inter-American order governed at the margins of US power put pressure on Washington and Washington-led institutions, such as the OAS which from being a core institutional disciplinary mechanism is now fighting a place to remain relevant as new rules are being reasserted by CELAC and UNASUR. Diplomacy is being played at its highest stake. While the sixth Summit of the Americas, a process affiliated with the OAS, held in Colombia in April 2012, displayed U.S. divergence from the region in terms of policy toward Cuba and anti-drug strategy, the second CELAC Summit, celebrated last February in Havana, was attended by the OAS General Secretary, José Miguel Insulza.

And the OAS is losing grounds on signature issue-areas. UNASUR has effectively displaced the OAS as the preferred institution for conflict resolution and mediation in the region (Bolivia in 2008, Ecuador in 2010, Honduras in 2009, Paraguay in 2012, and Venezuela in 2013) and is engaged in innovative forms of ‘niche diplomacy’ representing South America as a whole within the World Health Organisation and vis-à-vis international pharmaceutical corporations. CELAC for its part has entangled the US in a process of ‘unsociable sociability’ with Cuba as the latter hosted the most recent CELAC Summit, one attended by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and OAS Secretary-General, José Miguel Insulza. Cuba is also likely to attend the 2015 Summit of the Americas, hosted by Panama, despite US Members of Congress opposition but a condition of other countries´ attendance. This is even more likely as US and Cuba entered a process of diplomatic rapprochement.

The importance of this diplomatic coexistence is to be understood as a recognition of Cuba as an integrated member of the Inter-American system, whether Washington en toute likes it or not. The space for new regional policies and a fresh balance of interests has become manifest, as we indicated when furthering the notion of ‘post-hegemonic regionalism’. Our argument then and now is that differences and disagreements are no longer just a question for “take it or leave it, my friend” but can be accommodated in more equitable ways than hard-line hegemonic diplomacy ever accepted.

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