Documents on Democracy

Issue Date January 2000
Volume 11
Issue 1
Page Numbers 212-16
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The Ninth Ibero-American Summit was held in Havana, Cuba, on November 15–16. Visiting heads of state were allowed to meet for the first time with members of the Cuban opposition. In connection with the Summit, Cuban dissidents released a statement entitled “All United,” which they distributed to journalists and visiting dignitaries. The text, in its entirety, appears below:

We, the delegates of the independent civic, social and political organizations, have worked with a spirit of fraternity and service to our homeland and, as a result of this joint endeavour have, all united, achieved this declaration, which we now present to the people of Cuba, to the representatives of the nations of Ibero-America and to the whole international community.

All of us sons and daughters of this people are brothers and sisters, regardless of ideologies, political positions, life experiences, races and religious beliefs, whether living in Cuba or outside it.

At this time when we are on the threshold of the new millennium, we Cubans have to and wish to define the path to improving our society and sowing the foundations for the future of the new generations. We follow the vocation of solidarity in which our national identity was forged in this beautiful land that God gave us. Here, where the apostle Jose Marti wanted us to achieve a homeland “with everyone and for the good of everyone.” We are working for reconciliation between Cubans and to achieve the juridical framework and the conditions that will guarantee the rights and possibilities of exercising freedom of expression and access of all to the media, freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of association and political pluralism.

We are working to achieve, for everyone, the growth in the standard of living and quality of life which can only be achieved if all economic and social rights are respected and practised. For Cubans this would [End Page 212] mean participation via their labour, their management and creativity in the economic life of the country, including also their rights to set up, possess and develop, individually and collectively, their own enterprises and to hire freely. The demands of the peasants and rural communities must be heard, guaranteeing them freedom of association and expression. This whole new economic dynamic, so urgent for resolving the crisis Cuba is living through, must and can be achieved within a framework of fair distribution and respect for the dignity of the individual, directed towards the common good.

We demand the release of all the prisoners and detainees for political reasons. This would not only be a step of justice and goodwill on the part of the Cuban government but is an unavoidable condition if we want to travel the path of genuine reconciliation and renewal in Cuban society.

The Cuban people have the sovereign right to change the constitution and the laws to bring them into line with their rights, interests and future prospects. Many seek to talk for the Cubans. It is time for the Cuban people to be consulted via the ballot box so that they can decide, on the basis of the law, what the laws which rule their lives should be.

We exhort Cubans to demand civilly respect for their rights, beginning with those granted to us by the constitution of the republic and which are not observed by the authorities. We exhort the Cuban government to promote an atmosphere of respect for human rights. It is in this atmosphere that we can achieve peaceful change in our society, according to the wishes of the Cuban people.

It is we Cubans, as “protagonists in our history” who must achieve everything in order to build that better society, as free men and women.

We Cubans, after living through various historic experiences, have every ability to realize our own project of social justice and full development, where the end is the total fulfilment of the human being.

We neither support nor ask for measures from outside to isolate Cuba. We also recall that as long as we are isolated by the very political and economic system which prevails in our country it is untrue to think that Cubans benefit from or participate properly in the various forms of relationship with the official Cuban institutions. These forms of isolation do not justify one another. Therefore anyone who wants to act with moral consistency, respect our sovereignty and show solidarity with Cuba must always demand equally the ending of the embargo and democratic liberalization in Cuba.

Free, among Cubans, as brothers and sisters, we move towards the year 2000 . . . all united.

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the democratic revolution in Central and Eastern Europe, a number of former dissidents from the Soviet bloc—including Yelena Bonner, Václav Havel, Vytautas [End Page 213] Landsbergis, Adam Michnik, and Lech Wałęsa—wrote an open letter to the so-called “Group of Four,” critics of the Castro regime who have been imprisoned since July 1997. The complete text of the letter follows:

Dear Martha Beatriz Roque, Felix Bonne, Rene Gomez Manzano, Vladimiro Roca,

In these days, we are commemorating the tenth anniversary of the changes that brought the end of the totalitarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe and launched the process of democratization in our part of the world.

The results of the past decades show that the path from a closed to an open society can be arduous. In spite of all the difficulties which have accompanied the transformation of our society, however, we have been constantly aware of the enormous gift that is freedom. We still keep in mind those fantastic moments, when we realized that communist dictatorships have truly come to an end and that we have lived to see something many of us did not dare to hope for. The events in which we were taking part were not a sort of deviation from relentless historical necessity, but a genuine revolution, fundamentally transforming our lives and bringing us a true liberation.

At this time, we also think of you and we believe that your longing for a free Cuba will also be fulfilled one day. It is really you—and not your jailers—who realize Marti’s ideal in practice. It is you—and not them—who represent the best revolutionary traditions of your country, and who—together with other courageous Cubans, dedicated to the cause of liberty, of inalienability of human rights and human dignity—are the guarantee of a better future. Please accept our admiration, our thanks and our assurance that we are with you in your difficult situation. If our transformation experiences and the lessons we learned can serve as an inspiration—or as good or bad examples—for Cuba, when the time comes, we are ready to help you, in a spirit of solidarity.


A meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government took place in Durban, South Africa, on November 12–15. The Commonwealth’s outgoing secretary-general, Chief Emeka Anayaoku, delivered an address at the opening session, excerpts from which follow:

There have been Commonwealth Meetings of various kinds here in South Africa since the democratic transition five years ago. But this is the first time that the Commonwealth is meeting at the summit in a free, democratic South Africa. Successive generations of Commonwealth and South African leaders have worked and waited for this day. . . . [End Page 214]

In October 1991, Commonwealth leaders adopted the Harare Com-monwealth Declaration outlining the principles which would enable the Commonwealth to meet the challenges of the 1990s. The application of those principles in policy and action has served the Commonwealth well.

In the promotion of the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth, Harare has made all the difference. Before Harare, the Commonwealth had been in the awkward position of professing democracy and democratic principles but too often compelled to live with regimes which were demonstrably undemocratic. Thanks to Harare, the Commonwealth has finally resolved that contradiction and we are today in the happy situation where the Commonwealth meets at the summit without any representatives of a military regime.

In a very real sense, the Commonwealth is now a club of democracies. In this regard, President Olusegun Obasanjo’s presence at this meeting as the democratically elected President of Nigeria has a significance all its own and I would like to take this opportunity to extend to him a special and warm welcome. There is a clear democratic resolve in all the countries of the Commonwealth and it is now for this and future Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings to strengthen this resolve and to ensure that it never wavers.

North Korea

On December 1–3, The Citizens’ Alliance to Help Political Prisoners in North Korea and the Chosun Ilbo newspaper hosted an international conference in Seoul on “North Korean Human Rights and Refugees.” Among those who participated were Russian journalist and former dissident Aleksandr Podrabinek, former Chinese political prisoner Harry Wu, and NED president Carl Gershman. At the conclusion of the meeting, the participants approved the “Seoul Statement” on human rights in North Korea; it is excerpted below:

We, the participants of the Seoul Conference, the first international NGO meeting on the issues of human rights in North Korea,

Deeply concerned at the consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms perpetrated inside the political prisoners’ camps and detention centers in North Korea

Deeply alarmed at the plight of those North Korean refugees fleeing to neighboring states in search of freedom and food,

Guided by the Conference Objectives as defined by the Citizens’ Alliance: 1) To bring worldwide attention to the issues of human rights in North Korea and of North Korean refugees in neighboring countries; 2) To encourage academic research on North Korean human rights [End Page 215] issues and; 3) To build an international network of NGOs and specialists for concerted and effectual action

Call upon Kim Jong Il to bring an immediate end to the systems of political prisoners’ camps and detention centers; and to protect those refugees within and outside North Korean borders in their enjoyment of fundamental rights including the right to life and the right to leave and return to one’s country,

Also call upon China, Russia and other countries, to which the refugees are fleeing for freedom, to respect the international principle of non-refoulement in the treatment of the refugees; and provide them with protective measures in their enjoyment of basic rights, including the granting of refugee status; and to fully cooperate with both the UN, UNHCR, other international governmental organizations, and NGOs in their rendering humanitarian assistance to the refugees,

Strongly urge concerned Governments, including South Korea, and the international community to use their utmost resources to press North Korea into compliance with the principles of international human rights, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which North Korea is a contracting party,

Pledge to take concerted actions to expand the international network of human rights groups devoted to the cause of saving the lives of North Koreans; to urge our respective governments to pay highest attention to the issues of human rights in North Korea; to cooperate in disseminating information on North Korean human rights issues to both governmental and non-governmental sectors of society; to implement, and participate in an expanded 2nd annual conference on North Korean human rights.


On October 20, Abdurrahman Wahid was elected by the People’s Consultative Assembly as president of Indonesia. Megawati Sukarno-putri, whose party gained the largest number of votes in the June 7 parliamentary elections, was subsequently chosen as vice president. Wahid’s acceptance speech is excerpted below:

I deeply thank my sister Megawati Sukarnoputri for showing a deep understanding of our condition and her ability to conduct a democratic life along with me. This was proved in the presidential election.

Democracy can only be maintained and developed by people who understand the meaning of democracy itself.

Therefore, I hope that all of us who are Indonesians will understand this and consistently uphold democracy as the pillar of our life, as only in this way can we uphold the supremacy of the law, freedom of speech, and the equality of all regardless of race, language, culture and religion.