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¡Libertad!

From | The Wall Street Journal

May 25, 2005 | Page A12 | History was made in Cuba last Friday as scores of dissidents from all over the country met in Havana to further their work for a democratic Cuba. At one point the 150 delegates to the democracy assembly chanted "freedom," knowing full well how Fidel Castro, aka El Maximo Lider, usually responds to critics.

The assembly was only the most recent example of the growing cry among Cubans for their own Velvet Revolution. Only 10 days ago, in the province of Holguín, Cuban human-rights activists reported that the locals came to the aid of dissidents being beaten by police. "The town of Antilla poured out by the hundreds in protest to the abuse and they took us to the hospital," according to one of the victims cited by the well- connected Cuban exile group Directorio. One witness reported that the protesters outnumbered the Castro loyalists.

We relate these stories to point out the great opportunity for the Organization of American States to stand up for the rights of the Cuban people. For decades most of the 34 member states have been more concerned with spitting in Uncle Sam's eye than with ending Cuban repression. Things improved slightly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But since Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez started buying OAS votes with Venezuelan oil, and threatening member states with support for subversives within their countries, the OAS has rarely lifted its voice on matters relating to Fidel.

The lack of support for Cuban democracy is one reason the Bush Administration has decided to prod the OAS to do more to promote democracy in the region. Another reason is the creeping authoritarianism of Senor Chávez, who stole a recall referendum right from under the nose of OAS observers last August. OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza acknowledged the Venezuela problem last month when he took up his new post saying, "The elected governments that do not govern democratically should be held accountable by the OAS."

Toward that end, the Bush Administration is proposing a democracy committee within the OAS that would hold elected governments to democratic standards. One idea would give civil society groups -- such as Venezuela's electoral watchdog Súmate, which is under heavy assault from Chávez -- greater access to the OAS permanent council to present grievances.

The OAS could also do far more to support Cuban democrats. Last weekend passed in Havana without incident -- except for the expulsion of a number of European observers, including a few journalists. But as the brave Cubans return to their cities and villages, they risk such traditional Fidelista retribution as neighborhood repudiation squads, arrest and even torture. Any hope of creating space for political dissent in Cuba or Venezuela lies as much with international pressure as with internal activism.

As recently as the 1980s a democratic wave began to sweep through Latin American after decades of dictatorships of both the left and right. The trend reversed in recent years and will continue to worsen without U.S. leadership and help from Latin democrats. With democracy now moving even in the Middle East, the Western Hemisphere shouldn't be left behind.

Editor's note: I do apologize to readers for having associated Mary Anastasia O'Grady with the authoring of this article. It appeared as an editorial of the WSJ not signed by any particular journalist. A. Boyd.



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