- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

Cuban for democracy

Fidel Castro refused to allow Oswaldo Paya to come to Washington to receive an award for his struggle to bring democracy to Cuba, but the old dictator could not silence the praise here for the Cuban dissident.

Genaro Arriagada, who led the campaign to restore democracy in Chile, called Mr. Paya an "insurmountable" force for change in communist Cuba.

"During the dark nights of dictatorship, when hope appears to be exhausted, at times one man raises his voice to demand before powers that seem invincible a space for liberty and political decency," Mr. Arriagada told the National Democratic Institute's (NDI) annual democracy award dinner this week.

"Fidel Castro must understand that even the most powerful dictator encounters an insurmountable dignity in certain people like Oswaldo Paya … who embodies more than anyone the virtues that have made liberty possible throughout the ages."

The NDI presented Mr. Paya with its W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award for his Varela Project, which collected 11,000 signatures on a petition demanding civil rights and challenging Mr. Castro's own constitution.

Cuban law allows citizen initiatives on petitions with more than 10,000 signatures. However, Mr. Castro responded by sending his forces to collect 9 million signatures in support of the government.

NDI President Kenneth Wollack said Mr. Paya is the second recipient of the award prevented from attending the dinner. The first was Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr. Paya sent a message through a videotape that was played at the dinner.

"I believe that a culture of fear has been created in Cuba," he said. "I have felt that fear. I have lived with that fear. But I have also discovered the profound feeling of liberation, which does not mean I am not afraid but that fear or hate does not rule me."


OAS also recognized

The National Democratic Institute also presented its annual award to the Organization of American States to recognize the 35-nation forum for its promotion of democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright noted that the OAS has evolved from a talk shop for second-rate diplomats.

"The organization has become a model for other regional groupings throughout the world, setting a standard for legitimacy and collective action," she said.

"Once reticent, the OAS now acts to defend and preserve democracy among all its member states. Once passive, the OAS has led in devising practical methods for promoting good governance and protecting freedom of the press."

OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria, who accepted the award, said, "Gone are the days in which our common denominator was fear and military dictatorships that ruled over many of our countries with absolute impunity. Today, we celebrate the fact that all active OAS member states are democracies."

Mr. Gaviria, however, warned that many democracies are failing to provide the promise of a better life to their citizens.

"Massive citizen disenchantment with government performance has led to hard questions about the very viability of democracy," he said.


Visa-denied Venezuelan

A leading Venezuelan legislator yesterday asked for a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro to find out what happened to his visa application, after a newspaper reported Washington had linked him to "subversive groups."

Tarek William Saab, who is of Lebanese origin, told reporters in Caracas that he has no ties to any illegal organization and that he has traveled to the United States several times during the past two years.

Mr. Saab, vice chairman of the National Assembly's foreign affairs committee, said he still has not been told why he has had no response to his latest visa request. He had intended to visit Washington last month as part of a Venezuelan legislative delegation to meet with members of Congress. The U.S. Embassy refused to comment on a visa matter.


Not with Rand

Embassy Row yesterday incorrectly identified French defense specialist Laurent Murawiec as a Rand Corp. analyst. He resigned from the public policy institute last month.

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