|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Op-Ed for Diario las Americas (Miami, Florida)
November 7, 1999
U.S. Department of State
Ibero-America summit in Havana
On the eve of the Ibero-America summit in Havana, I want to recall the 1996 Viña del Mar Declaration that all the summit participants, including the Cuban Government, have signed. This Declaration reaffirms a commitment to democracy, political pluralism, and respect for fundamental freedoms.
As host of this year's summit, it is only natural that Cuba - the hemisphere's only remaining dictatorship - should come under increased scrutiny for its lack of progress in living up to the Viña del Mar Declaration. Indeed, given the fact that Fidel Castro himself signed this document, it is particularly ironic that the Cuban government has accused the United States of trying to disrupt the summit by encouraging participants to discuss human rights.
In stark contrast to the Declaration's recognition of freedom of expression and association as essential elements of democracy, the Cuban penal code still contains provisions outlawing "enemy propaganda," "clandestine printing," and "illicit association." Last August, for example, a Cuban court convicted an independent journalist for spreading "false news." Meanwhile, Cuba's leading activists, the Dissident Working Group, remain in jail on charges of "sedition" for suggesting that the people of Cuba should be consulted on how their national resources are disbursed.
The Ibero-American summit gives the Cuban government an opportunity to demonstrate that it can keep its promises to the international community. It should begin to implement in good faith its Viña del Mar commitment by allowing space for human rights and democratic activities.
In recent months, we have seen a growing number of Cubans who are willing to brave the government's repressive tactics to peacefully press for fundamental change. Recent examples include a 40-day fast to call for the release of political prisoners, a series of civil disobedience seminars, and groups of dissidents joining together to present a proposal for a democratic transition. I believe that these courageous men and women will triumph in the end, because their cause is just and the desire to be truly free cannot be quenched.
Some heads of state are declining to attend the Ibero-America Summit because of the egregious conduct of the Cuban government. For instance, Costa Rican President Miguel Rodriguez decided not to go to Havana because "human rights are not, nor should they be considered as, a mere domestic issue." The presidents of El Salvador and Nicaragua have announced that they will boycott the summit to protest Cuba's human rights record and lack of progress toward a political opening.
Those who do choose to attend have not only a right but an obligation to demand that the Cuban government live up to its own human rights commitments. Participants should also send a message of support for democracy by meeting with the island's courageous dissidents, who are defending the same fundamental freedoms that Ibero-America embraced in the Viña del Mar declaration.
Meanwhile, the United States will continue to do its part to support the citizens of Cuba as they look to the future with hope. We will nurture people-to-people contacts, support efforts to meet humanitarian needs, and encourage the evolution of an independent civil society. And we look forward to the democratic transition that the Cuban people have long been denied, richly-deserve, and one day will have.
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