Media Center



May 19, 2003 - Washington, DC

As Delivered.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman. Distinguished delegates.

"Los pueblos de America tienen derecho a la democracia y sus gobiernos la obligacion de promoverla y defenderla."

Those words, of course, are familiar to all of us. They constitute the first sentence of the first article of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Indeed, the first right enumerated under Article 3 as an “essential element” of democracy is “respect for human rights…”

When the member states drafted and approved the Democratic Charter, it was our firm conviction that the right to democracy so clearly and boldly stated in Article One applied to all people in the Americas, with no exclusions. These same rights are enshrined in the OAS Charter and in subsequent OAS declarations. They underscore our firm belief that democracy is the only legitimate form of government in our hemisphere and that all of our citizens should enjoy the freedoms and basic rights that democracy brings.

A statement considering the deteriorating human rights situation in Cuba has been presented by the delegations of Canada, Chile and Uruguay. It is based on an excellent resolution on the same subject presented by Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The United States is proud to support these statements.

The declaration presented by Canada is a clear and strong statement of principles. It reminds us of our collective commitments to democracy in this Hemisphere. It calls attention to the sweeping repression of non-violent political dissent in Cuba unleashed in past months by the Government of Cuba and expresses our solidarity with the Cuban people's legitimate right to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. It requests the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to monitor the human rights situation in Cuba and report to the Permanent Council its findings. Finally, the statement expresses this body's willingness to promote “a broad and constructive dialogue in relation to Cuba which could contribute to the integration of all nations in a democratic hemisphere.”

Mr. Chairman, we, the member states of the OAS, do not share consensus on all matters. We disagree – sometimes vigorously – on some issues. But on this most basic tenet – that democracy is a fundamental right of the peoples of the Americas and the protection of human rights is the solemn obligation of their government – we are of one mind.

Mr. Chairman, it is entirely appropriate that the member states of this Organization be heard on this subject. The dictatorship of Cuba, whose deplorable record on human and civil rights is radically out of step with our otherwise democratic Hemisphere, has undertaken the most significant act of political repression in decades by its recent mass arrests and show trials of political dissidents and advocates of independent thought.

At least 75 persons have been caught up in the crackdown, in point of fact 11 million people are imprisoned in Cuba today, railroaded through summary trials devoid of any elements of due process and sentenced to harsh prison terms and even execution. They are prisoners of conscience, whose alleged "crimes" would be considered completely normal, constitutionally protected activities in any of our own societies.

There is a temptation to label all these people “dissidents.” Some, indeed, are human rights activists or opponents of the regime. Others are “independent librarians,” people on trial for lending books to their neighbors. Some are independent journalists, whose only offense, from the Cuban governments point of view, is chronicling life in their homeland so the rest of us might know better the plight of the Cuban people.

Many of those arrested and convicted participated in the "Varela Project" aimed at claiming the right of the Cuban people – within the bounds of Castro’s own constitution – to make decisions about their own future. It asked only for the Cuban government to hold genuine free and fair elections for the people to choose their own representatives in government. Last September, the OAS and the director of the Varela Project, Oswaldo Paya, were co-recipients of the National Democratic Institute's annual award for the protection of democracy. As Oswaldo Paya frequently says, “Los Cubanos tienen un derecho a derechos.”

We know from the experiences of Eastern Europe that dissidents risk the regime’s wrath with the hope that the attention of the international community might spare them the worst fate or brutality. Many Cuban prisoners of conscience and their families and supporters are surely praying that we will have the courage to stand by our principles – the same principles for which they have risked everything.

The Castro regime's fear of books, newspapers, the Internet – in essence the free circulation of ideas and information – is reprehensible but understandable. Its dread of political dissent is likewise comprehensible. It is, after all, a dictatorship.

But that should not condone silence on the part of this Organization. Governments and non-governmental organizations the world over have raised their voices to condemn this unprecedented wave of repression in Cuba, even by Cuban standards. It is time for the OAS, the organization most firmly committed to the defense of democracy in the Western Hemisphere, to make itself heard.

Mr. Chairman, on April 28, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell stated, “We look to our friends in the OAS to live up to the ideals we share and take a principled stand for freedom, democracy and human rights in Cuba. We look to them to join us in developing a common hemispheric approach to supporting Cubans dedicated to building a democratic and free Cuba.”

The declaration that like-minded governments offer today meets that challenge. The final paragraph of this declaration is particularly important and relevant because it signals the beginning of a constructive, forward-looking dialogue among neighbors about how we can prepare for and promote a democratic transition in Cuba.

This statement signals the beginning of a process to reconcile this Organization with the Cuban people. Indeed, we must begin to close the gap between our rhetoric and our action. My delegation is fully prepared to engage in this constructive dialogue with our democratic neighbors, provided that the goal is to end the Cuban nightmare, not to prolong it.

Mr. Chairman, for many of our countries, the road to democracy was a difficult one. Democratic freedoms were hard won, through sacrifice and persistence. We are committed to building on this foundation, to strengthen the institutions of our societies so that our citizens will enjoy all of the benefits that democracy can bring.

The people of Cuba aspire to and deserve the same opportunities. And, they should be able to count on our solidarity – so that the essential elements of democracy, outlined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, will soon be respected in Cuba.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates. This statement is an expression of solidarity. And we must make it proudly.

After, all, "The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have the obligation to promote and defend it."

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.