Issue No. 173. - May 10, 2000.
1.Azerbaijan: OPPOSITION PRESS WITH REFORMS
By Hikmet Hadjy-Zadeh
2.Croatia: 100 DAYS AFTER
By Goran Vezic
3.Cuba: ELIAN AND THE INTERNAL OPPOSITION VICTORIES
By Zoltan Guba
4.Special addition : NEW AT TOL
Five years of frustration fueled the April 29 confrontation in Baku
between opposition supporters and authorities. Now, as the dust settles
from the street clashes, leading opponents of President Heidar Aliev are
vowing to press on with a campaign to open Azerbaijan's political system.
The Azerbaijani parliament adopted a resolution May 2 condemning the unrest, describing the protest as an attempt to damage Azerbaijan's image. Meanwhile, the main opposition Democratic Bloc assailed authorities for using excessive force against demonstrators.
Opposition discontent has simmered since Azerbaijanís 1995 parliamentary elections. That vote, as well as subsequent elections for President in 1998, and for municipal representatives in 1999, was considered by many international observers to have been rigged. Organizers of the April 29 protest were aiming to prevent vote rigging in parliamentary elections to be held later this year.
The protest strategy began taking shape immediately after the municipal elections of November 1999. Key democratically oriented parties - Musavat, the Popular Front Party, the Party of National Independence and the Democratic Party' set aside philosophical differences and agreed on a concrete, unified program for fair elections. Among the objectives that the alliance is striving to achieve are:
a.. The reorganization of the Central Election Commission, and local election commissions, to facilitate greater opposition participation in election oversight.
b.. The implementation of comprehensive election monitoring.
c.. The guarantee of equal campaign conditions for all parliamentary candidates, including access to state television.
d.. The release of all political prisoners.
The new alliance resolved to conduct nationwide demonstrations to advance their cause. Authorities employed a wide variety of bureaucratic weapons in the attempt to frustrate the opposition. Nevertheless, the alliance has held firm.
Three hours before the April 29 demonstration, police blocked all roads to the rally venue, Fizuli Square. At 4 p.m., up to 8,000 demonstrators started moving towards the Square, walking in four columns. In the vicinity of the Square, club-wielding police officers and plain-clothes security officials attempted to stop the advancing demonstrators. At one point, Musavat leader Isa Gambar told supporters: "This manifestation is only the beginning of our fair struggle for electing a government that is responsive to the people, and no one can stop us". Police tried to arrest Gambar, but demonstrators offered stiff resistance and did not let that happen.
The objective of the police was to squeeze the demonstrators out of the rally zone, which turned out to be too difficult a task in the densely built part of the city. Demonstrators would disperse and then gather again, singing the national anthem, chanting slogans in support of free and fair elections and civil rights.
Much to the surprise of policemen, demonstrators gathered in an adjacent square, in front of the "Republican" concert hall, where the rally lasted for another hour and a half. According to various sources, over 165 opposition supporters and over 30 law enforcement officials sustained injuries during the street clashes. In addition, 46 demonstrators, including secretary of the Musavat Party Arif Hajiyev, chairman of the People's Party Panah Husseinov, chairman of Ahrar Party Vagif Hajibayli and other rally organizers, were detained and sentenced to up to 15 days in prison.
The impact of the rally, which paralyzed the center of the capital, was a lot greater than it would have been if the authorities had allowed for the manifestation to be held in peace. All through the action, the confrontation was televised live by the private ANS channel. Reports on the manifestation were also televised by Russian and Turkish central television channels. Only after the organizers called for an end did demonstrators disperse at 6.30 p.m.
Immediately after the rally, the Democratic Bloc announced that it would push ahead with protest actions. The alliance also demanded the release of arrested demonstrators. The Democratic Bloc took the additional step of issuing an international appeal, calling on the Azerbaijani government to fulfil its human rights obligations.
At a May 1 news conference, Gambar declared; "the April 29 rally is a moral victory for democracy." Asked if the alliance's action might provoke a government crackdown, Gambar answered that "no one can divert us from the course we have taken."
The April 29 demonstration could prove to be the start of a prolonged political struggle, some opposition supporters suggest. They add that the manifestation revealed law enforcement agencies to be far from omnipotent, thereby undermining the "stability" established by Aliev's regime.
After a little over 100 days since the spectacular change of government
in Croatia (parliamentary and presidential elections in January and February),
the new government faced the first real test last Sunday ( May 7) - early
local election in the Croatian capital of Zagreb. Besides election of the
local government, those elections served to show the most recent positions
in Croatian political scene.
Croatian right parties got confirmation of their defeat also at Zagreb local elections on Sunday. Radical Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) headed by Ante Djapic didn't even get near to election minimum with its two per cent support, while the former ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) declined to as low as 11 per cent of the votes in the capital of Croatia, representing almost the third of the total votes. That is half of what that party, which has been an undisputed ruler ver Croatia for ten years, got at parliamentary elections, where it was completely defeated.
Still, defeated right wants to leave seats in parliament and move to street. One if its prominent members is Marinko Liovic, chief of Croatian army invalids of the patriotic war (HVIDRA) and HDZ's representative in the parliament, who threatened that invalids will block Croatian roads and border traffic, destroy tourist season and send letters to the ambassadors in Zagreb, informing them that their fellow citizens aren't welcome as tourists to Croatia, unless the government accepts their demands for improving of veterans' financial status and puts an end to "criminalization of the Patriotic war", that is stops co-operation with the international criminal court in the Hague (ICTY). It is enough to know that Croatia is expecting 3,5 billions US$ from the tourism to understand how these threats may shake already deflated economy.
The threats met with a fierce reproval from Croatian political top and public opinion, but the essence of the problem wasn't eliminated. After spectacular victory of pro-democratic and pro-European political forces in Croatia, there is now a phase of latent disappointment and disillusion in what the changes have brought.
And that is the other side of the coin shown by the local elections in Croatian capital.
Although victorious were the parties of the ruling coalition, there was a huge number of those who abstained from the vote - only about 30 per cent of the voters cast their ballots. Most all relevant analysts of Croatian politics say that abstinence is partly due to "material fatigue" (third grand elections in only few months), but also a serious warning to the ruling coalition that the people are displeased with what's done so far. Therefore there is a justified fear that further increase of that displeasure on one hand and now clear intention of Croatian right to return its lost positions on the street on the other could cause a political chaos with a catastrophic effect on new democracy in Croatia.
There is now more and more of those who remind coalition government made out of six parties and headed by socialdemocrat prime minister Ivica Racan on its key election promises.
It was clear that the government had to face difficult legacy left behind by autocratic regime of Franjo Tudjman and his nationalistic party, but it is the general remark that cleaning up of such legacy is going on too slow and, in some very important aspects, too much superficially.
Although key members of the new government are socialdemocrats (reformed communists), it seems as if they had chosen a very questionable and radical liberal concept of solving difficult social and economical crisis the Croatia is in. Prominent government officials talk about numerous bankruptcies of the unsuccessful firms (as much as 30,000 potential bankruptcies) that could in a very brief time increase the number of unemployed to about half a million (Croatia today has slightly over 4 million people). At the same time, official statistics about the number of the unemployed now list about 360,000 persons, and the number of the retired has reached 1 million. Put together, that is more than the number of the employed at the moment. That is the situation which is favourable for the radical right parties. At the same time, new Croatian government is forced to fully co-operate with international crime court in Hague and help return exiled Serbs, if it wants to get Western support, which creates additional nationalistic frustrations that are skilfully used by the extreme right.
Besides all that, there is also a political confrontation between the government and president of the Republic. Although both are from the same anti-HDZ coalition, they have different opinions on the future political form of Croatian democracy. The government wants to completely strip the president of all power, while president of the state Stipe Mesic wants to keep at least some key authority (military, secret services, foreign politics) that had his predecessor Franjo Tudjman.
And while Croatia is facing an economic abyss, key politicians are more interested in their positions and potential political power than in the most important issues in the country. That situation is also adding to disappointment and strengthening of the right radicalism. The new government has a very serious test during next several months - to confirm its promises that Croatia will integrate into Europe.
The DIRECTORIO is an organization founded in 1990 by workers, college students, and professional executives who have forged together a strategy for the liberation of Cuba from the totalitarian dictatorship, and for the establishment of a Democratic Republic in Cuba. In carrying out its strategy the DIRECTORIO extends multi-faceted support to many organizations of the internal democratic opposition, and it has established alliances with pro-democracy organizations and individuals throughout Europe and Latin America who have organized permanent committees of active solidarity with the internal democratic opposition in Cuba. The DIRECTORIO also disseminates clandestine pro-democracy publications throughout Cuba.
Javier de Cespedes, co-founded the DIRECTORIO in 1990 and is its current President. Javier has an MBA from a Catholic School in Florida and in addition to his human rights and pro-democracy activism, he is a finance executive in a company in Florida. Javier de Cespedes is the Great-great grandson of "the Father of the Cuban Nation," Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, the Cuban patriot who began the Cuban war for independence and the establishment of a Democratic Republic in Cuba in 1868, and who was killed during the struggle.
Q: What is the actual situation of the Campaign for General Amnesty in Cuba?
A: The mothers continue to challenge the government and gather signatures facing the harassment by the government which in November arrested 3 mothers, Berta Antunez and Milagros Diaz among them and kept them in prison for 7 days in an attempt to scare them into stopping their work. Another of their leaders Maritza Lugo Fernandez has also been arrested many times. She is presently in prison and her 8 year-old daughter has posted a sign outside her home that reads "Castro, Free my Mother", in response to the propaganda that the Dictator has unleashed in the case of Elian.
Q: Which countries are involved at the moment in the campaign? What is your experience?
A: The International Solidarity Campaign in support for the call for a General Amnesty in Cuba lasted 3 weeks covering many countries from Latin America and Europe, such as Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Dominican Republic, Spain, France, Italy, Poland, Russia and Hungary. The campaign resulted in a tremendous boost of optimism and activism within the Cuban opposition movement especially after the approval by the Dictatorship of the infamous law 88 and its draconian laws against all individual freedoms. The experience coming from the International Campaign is that there is a lot that people around the world can do to help those in Cuba fighting against tyranny by showing them that they are not alone and offering them tangible support in many ways. After the intense international campaign a growing number of organizations have began to get in contact directly with the mothers or through the Directorio to help them in many ways, by helping lift the consciousness in their countries, and by helping them directly.
Q: What kind of help do you get and expect from Central and Western Europe?
A: There is a growing interest around the world in the case of Cuba who still suffers from a totalitarian regime, and much of this interest has been materialized through the creation of Permanent Committees of Solidarity with Democracy in Cuba which have been created in many countries such as Mexico where several committees are operating, Chile, Argentina, and Dominican Republic in coordination with the DIRECTORIO. The latest of this Committees was created in Poland in Eastern Europe and it has began working very seriously within Poland to channel support to the opposition in Cuba. We are confident that the contacts that we established in Hungary in 1999 will lead to the creation of another strong Permanent Committee of Solidarity with Democracy in Cuba. Our experience in Hungary has convinced us that there is a great level of enthusiasm and understanding of what we Cubans are going through in our fight.
Q: What kind of events have happened since you were here in Hungary last year?
A: Well, immediately after the end of the International Campaign the Foreign Minister in Cuba was fired for "unrelated" reasons, and within a few days the opposition began a National Fast in support of the General Amnesty Campaign. The Dictatorship which is very susceptible to international pressure did not interfere with the fast as it had usually done in the past when hunger strikers were arrested and beaten. The fast originated in an apartment house in Havana, in the street of Tamarindo #34. It soon spread all across the country with more than 2,000 people participating in all parts of the country. The fast was very significant considering that the Dictatorship had passed the draconian law 88 just 4 months before. Law 88 codified into law all kinds of human rights violations with the excuse that Cuba is in a war against the United States, the excuse that the Dictatorship uses to hide the true conflict which is between the Dictatorship and the Cuban people. The fast lasted 40 days, one day for each year of Dictatorship. After the fast, the opposition began preparing for a showdown with the Government in November during the IX Ibero-American Summit. The Dictatorship expected to come out of the summit showing that Cuba is a normal country with a different kind of "Democracy". During the Summit, however, it was the Cuban opposition who made its message known, where 8 delegations including several presidents, publicly met with the opposition, even amidst a wave of arrests and the use of street mobs to put down peaceful demonstrations. Thus the year in which the Dictatorship expected to be accepted by the world as a normal government following the visit of the Pope ended as a year full of victories for the opposition. Following the Summit the Dictatorship arrested the two most energetic Cuban Activists, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and Maritza Lugo Fernandez. The opposition quickly began organizing small street demonstrations for their release increasing the pressure on the Dictatorship. The Dictatorship in desperation decided to make a whole publicity campaign around a 5 year old child who was picked up in the ocean near Miami after his mother and other 8 people had died escaping from Cuba. The father of the boy claimed that he be returned to Cuba immediately while family members in Miami wanted the boy to remain with them in the United States. In a desperate effort to deflect the attention from the victories of the Cuban opposition the Dictator personally ordered all its functionaries to participate in a campaign around the boy. While the International Press in Cuba began attending those government staged demonstrations, the Dictatorship began the worst wave of repression in the last 10 years arresting hundreds of dissidents and even threatening some with death such as was the case of Nestor Lobaina, President of Cuban Youth for Democracy in Cuba who was taken in a car to the outskirts of Santiago and told he would be killed unless he stopped his work in the opposition. While the Dictatorship has succeeded in deflecting the attention from the Cuban opposition for some months while increasing the repression, the mechanics within Cuba have not changed, and the opposition with its new level of self-confidence obtained during the victory at the Summit continues to strengthen. During the year 2000 the call that has come out of Cuba is Faith in Victory!
Q: How do you see the actual position of the opposition? Do you see any chance that the opposition might take over the power in the near future from Castro?
A: The opposition continues to strengthen. The victories during 1999 and the growing international support network have had a tremendous impact in the opposition own confidence. The real chances of the opposition were told by Dictator himself better than anybody during a long press conference. He stated: "If they ( the opposition) win the majority, if they win the streets, the revolution will lose power". There are clear signs that in spite of the tight control on any form of the media the Cuban national public opinion is beginning to grow. The Dictatorship staged demonstrations asking for the boy's return to Cuba are an attempt to allow the mobs to take over the streets permanently, but the dictatorship cannot sustain that level of activity. The success of the opposition in Cuba is not in the hands of Dictatorship but in themselves and those who make the network of support outside Cuba.
Q: What is your reaction on the Elian case?
A: The Elian case is an attempt by the Dictatorship to hide the victories of the opposition during 1999, which culminated in the tremendous victory during the Ibero-American Summit, when many members of the opposition were recognized by the presidents of Latin America, Spain and Portugal. The Dictatorship uses the Elian case to hide the fact that two of the most active Cuban opposition members responsible for the many victories of the opposition, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and Maritza Lugo Fernandez are in prison waiting for the usual unfair trials. That Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina was threatened with death, and that the Dictatorship has arrested, threatened and harassed more than 200 Cuban opposition members while it has been using the Elian case. It also uses the Elian case to hide the fact that political prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," is dying alone in his prison cell as I speak. "Antunez" is dying because the Dictatorship refuses to provide him with urgent medical assistance. That Berta Antunez, his sister and the leader of Cuban Mothers for a General Amnesty, took medicines to the prison for "Antunez," which the Dictatorship refused to give to him. Instead the Dictatorship returned the medicines to Berta full of death roaches and rat droppings. And laughing, they told her that nobody in the world gave a damn for a "damn black prostitute" or for her brother's health, and that "Antunez" would only get medicine when he stopped his pro-democracy activism. The Dictatorship always has an excuse to deflect the attention of the world away from the violations of human rights in Cuba and the struggle of the larger than life heroes of the Cuban internal opposition. Every time the Cuban Dictatorship says "Elian," behind the scenes it is violating the human rights of yet another Cuban opposition member.
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