Former world leaders discuss future of Cuba at Prague ICDC summit

Cumbre del Comité Internacional por la Democracia en Cuba celebrada en Praga (Foto: Freddy Valverde)

For three days, leading world politicians including former presidents and prime ministers discussed Cuba's future path to democracy at a summit of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba that came to a close in Prague on Sunday. Our colleague Dita Asiedu was there. Dita, the ICDC was formed a year ago under the initiative of Vaclav Havel with the main goal, as its name suggests, to support Cuban dissidents and help them introduce the island to democracy. But a year ago, people did not believe that the ICDC would do much to help Cuba...

Prague ICDC summit, photo: Freddy Valverde
Yes that's right. Paradoxically the scepticism stemmed partly from the fact that ICDC members are leading public figures from all over the world such as former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former president of Chile Patricio Aylwin Azocar, and former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, who still was in the post at the time. Not many people believed that they would all come together to organise real events to help support the Cuban opposition. But the past three or four days have shown that the ICDC means serious business.

Meaning?

Well, it is very rare that so many different people playing a role in the fight for democracy on the island actually meet in one place. This was the big success of the conference. It had representatives of various Cuban dissident and émigré organisations, as well as members of the European Parliament, and influential figures from Latin America.

So what exactly was discussed at the summit?

It's difficult to tell you in just a few minutes but the main position was that all forces against Castro have to unite. The problem is that even those who left Cuba and are fighting for democracy from abroad are in disagreement over what steps to take. Then, we have the Latin American countries, many of which have overcome totalitarian regimes themselves but have yet to speak out about violations of human rights. Vaclav Havel urged them to create a commission of experts, which will be able to guide Cubans once Castro's regime falls.

What about countries like the Czech Republic, who have also gone through Communism and are now democracies and what about the EU?

Former US ambassador to the UN Ms. Jean Kirkpatrick, photo: Freddy Valverde
There certainly seems to be more the European Union could do - at least that's the argument made by the former US ambassador to the UN Ms. Jean Kirkpatrick:

"The European Union in particular could provide more support than they do. They don't help the exile community that much at all. They don't like to talk about what they disagree with Fidel Castro about, including the treatment of political prisoners."

But one thing that is clear is that most post-Communist central and eastern European countries are more than willing to help Cuba. Before EU enlargement in May this year, their voices weren't so strong but now that some of them are in the EU, they hope to make it a priority that other EU states adopt concrete measures to bring democracy to Cuba. Czech MEP Miroslav Ouzky, who is the vice President of the European Parliament, told me that was one of his main goals in the European Parliament:

"The position of the EU must be strong, consistent, and not get softer towards any step of the Cuban regime. That is why I wanted to stress here that my personal experiences and that of the new EU countries could be useful for the EU position on Cuba."

Now, I understand that Radio Prague's Spanish department was praised at the summit for its weekly programme called "From Totalitarianism to Democracy" broadcasting to Cuba, mapping the Czech Republic's process of transformation to a democracy.

Vaclav Havel, photo: Freddy Valverde
Yes. In fact, summit participants actually asked stations around the world to follow the Radio Prague example and broadcast to Cuba. Cuba is one of few countries worldwide that still block foreign broadcasters, but it is clear that our Spanish broadcasts are getting through. Frank Calzon, from the Center for Free Cuba, told me that he feels such initiatives to be important:

"Knowledge is power. Having information is important because the Cuban government with its controlled media is constantly telling the people of Cuba that the Hungarians, the Poles, the Czechs and all people in Central Europe regret having come to the end of Communism and that millions of people in this part of the world would like to go back to the kind of system that was in place under Soviet control many years ago."

And I'll end with Vaclav Havel, who won a standing ovation for his closing speech:

"Cuba is one big prison. The aim of this conference was not to call for the walls around this prison to be torn down violently, but the aim is to ring around. We have to ring the bell at each door. Here, in the Czech Republic, we still remember the day [fifteen years ago] when we went out into the street and shook our keys to ring out for change. It served its purpose and was successful."