Czech politicians discuss human rights violations at San Jose ICDC forum

The International Committee for Democracy in Cuba (ICDC), which was formed under the initiative of former Czech president Vaclav Havel, has just held an international forum in Costa Rica, at which participants signed what has been called the "San Jose Memorandum". Former Latin American presidents, politicians, and activists from Cuban human rights organisations came together to discuss the importance of Latin America joining in the promotion of human rights in Cuba.

International forum of ICDC in Costa Rica, photo: Freddy ValverdeInternational forum of ICDC in Costa Rica, photo: Freddy Valverde Deputy-Chairman of the Czech Senate Jan Ruml and lower house Deputy Petr Bratsky, represented the Czech Republic as they joined influential personalities such as former Uruguayan president Luis Alberto Lacalle, former Costa Rican president Luis Alberto Monge, and the renowned Cuban dissident writer Carlos Alberto Montaner, in the Costa Rican capital San Jose. To Orlando Gutierrez from the Cuban Democratic Directorate - a non-profit organisation based in Florida, it is important that representatives of former communist countries participate in the promotion of democracy in Cuba:

"What is most symbolic about this International Forum for Democracy in Cuba is the fact that the highest representatives from the Czech Republic as well as representatives of Costa Rican democracy are here together. Costa Rica and the Czech Republic are two exemplary democracies, who love freedom, who always offer sanctuary to all those who are persecuted for their beliefs and today they are joining hand in hand to tell all Cubans on the island and outside the island that they support them in their struggle for freedom."

Human rights activists know their efforts to influence the Castro regime can only bear fruit with the active support of Latin America. But Latin American leaders have not been keen to interfere in internal Cuban affairs. That was the reason why the forum was held just before a meeting of Latin America's presidents and foreign ministers also in Costa Rica. The San Jose Memorandum was forwarded to them just before the summit began. Freddy Valverde, our colleague from Radio Prague's Spanish section, attended both conferences and has just come back from Costa Rica:

"Among other things the memorandum calls on governments to open their embassies to Cuban dissidents, to allow them to take part in human rights activities. This was discussed at the recent ICDC conference in Prague and was stressed again in San Jose, because embassies of EU countries are already doing so."

So why does more of the initiative over human rights violations in Cuba seem to be coming from Europe than Latin America?

"It's a legitimate question but the answer is very complicated. Cuba has always tried to sell human rights violation accusations as coming from the USA and therefore as a Cuban-American problem. Let's not forget the fact that the Cuban revolution was viewed as a largely positive development by Latin America. People loved Fidel Castro's charisma. Of course, the new generation no longer believes that but some political circles, especially the left-wing leaders, still support him. And we also shouldn't forget that the Castro regime is anything but dormant. It has many people working for it throughout Latin America, to reject any criticism of Cuba. They have a very aggressive way of attacking those who dare to say something against the regime. And as former president Monge said, some governments are cowards and do not have the courage to say 'no more' to Cuba."

Freddy ValverdeFreddy Valverde How did Latin American leaders react to the memorandum?

"Officially, it was not discussed because it was not part of the summit's agenda. It did, however, come up in conversations. The important thing is that they will now be forced to talk about the issue when they return home because those Latin American parliamentarians who took part in the ICDC forum will put pressure on the governments to listen and respond to what was said at the forum. Another thing that helped was the incident in which Castro supporters disrupted the forum and chanted pro-Castro slogans. This got much media attention and promoted discussion in the Latin American countries we are trying to reach."