Miami Herald | BY OSCAR ARIAS SANCHEZ
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 Guant�namo 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 Jos� 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 Sanchez is president of the Republic of Costa Rica and winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize.