Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Cuba's dictatorship is ripe for transition

Posted on Tue, Aug. 29, 2006

Cuba's dictatorship is ripe for transition

In his third inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told us that,
''The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase of human history. It
is human history.'' Without democracy, liberty is no more than a mirage.
Political stability, economic well-being and social justice are denied.
By this point in history it is clear that noble ends cannot be achieved
by immoral means, that liberty does not sprout from oppression, that
dictatorship can satisfy people's most basic needs but not their most
important needs, like respect for their dignity. Only democracy can do this.

The establishment of democracy in Latin America has been a long learning
process, slow, prone to relapse, but ultimately invaluable. It has taken
root in every nation in the hemisphere but one. Today Cuba is the only
exception in the great Latin American transformation toward liberty --
the only country in the region to deny that democracy, no matter its
strengths and weaknesses, is the historical destiny of humanity.

For those who genuinely believe that democracy is a right of all
mankind, the time for covering up what we know to be true has long past.
Cuba is not some different kind of democracy, nor has it followed a path
chosen by the Cuban people. Cuba is, plain and simple, a dictatorship,
and this gives great pain to those of us who love liberty. For a
democracy means something very concrete: free, multiparty elections;
free association and expression; spaces to exercise the right to dissent
and peacefully demonstrate; freedom of the press and freedom from
censorship. Above all, democracy means political power subject to checks
and balances, the most important of which being citizen control over
regularly scheduled elections and the clear possibility for power to
change hands. None of this exists in Cuba.

If someone insists on affirming that the Cuban people reject democracy
and its privileges, we would have to tell them that a vast
anthropological and genetic gap must exist between them and the East
Germans, who celebrated with unbounded joy the fall of the Berlin Wall.
A vast gap must exist between them and the Czechs, who took to the
streets by the thousands to bring about the Velvet Revolution.

There must be a gap between Cubans and Chinese students massacred in
Tiananmen Square; between them and activists who risk their lives to
join their voices with Aung San Suu Kyi to call for democracy in
Myanmar; between them and the thousands and thousands of Spaniards,
Argentines, Chileans, Uruguayans, Portuguese, Brazilians, Peruvians,
Salvadorans and Nicaraguans who lost their lives, liberty or their
citizenship in the struggle against dictatorship and for the rights that
are the essence of democracy. We would have to tell them, essentially,
that Cuba is in complete defiance of history.

I would like to think that the recovery of President Fidel Castro will
finally open a long-postponed debate over a democratic transition on the
island. It is a discussion in which Latin American countries have a
right to participate. This participation does not mean setting a course
for the Cuban people, it means creating the conditions for the Cuban
people to truly choose a course for themselves.

The first and most urgent guarantee for which we must struggle in every
international forum is the lifting of the economic embargo to which the
island has been subject for decades. The second is a Latin American
commitment to strongly pressure for the closure of the U.S. naval base
at Guantánamo Bay and the return of the territory to Cuba.

The unequivocal support of the nations of Latin America for both these
actions constitutes a reasonable foundation for asking the Cuban
government for clear signs of democratization. The Cuban regime should
give these signs not so much as a show of good will but as a strategic
step to make possible an orderly transition, making possible more-ample
international support and the preservation of certain accomplishments of
the revolution.

The situation in Cuba is much more than a political problem. Above all
it is, as former Costa Rican President José Figueres Ferrer warned
decades ago, a human problem. The Cuban people deserve to choose their
own destiny. If those of us in Latin America who believe in the
democratic system contribute to making that possible, I am sure that
Cubans, too, will choose to make the transition, along with all of us,
to the great adventure of liberty and the path of democracy on which our
community of nations has irrevocably embarked.

Oscar Arias Sánchez is president of the Republic of Costa Rica and
winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize.

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