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  • News and Notes

Paz Wins Nobel Prize

Octavio Paz, noted Mexican poet and critic, was awarded the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature. Paz's most well-known works include The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950) and One Earth, Four or Five Worlds (1985). His latest book, Sor Juana: Or the Traps of Faith (1988), is a study of the life of a seventeenth-century Mexican poetess and mystic. Paz served as Mexican ambassador to India during the 1960s, having previously been assigned to diplomatic posts in Paris and Tokyo. He is the publisher of the monthly magazine Vuelta and is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Democracy.

Many of Octavio Paz's writings touch upon themes related to democracy. One powerful statement of his political vision may be found in the following passage from his book The Other Mexico (1970):

"None of us knows the shape of the future. This half-century of disorders teaches us that the future is a secret which is divulged neither in the works of Karl Marx nor in those of his adversaries. But we can say this much to the future which a few impassioned young men are building: every revolution that stifles criticism, that denies the right to contradict those in power, that prohibits the peaceful substitution of one government for another, is a revolution that defeats itself—is a fraud . . . . We must renounce outright the authoritarian tendencies of the revolutionary tradition, especially its Marxist branch. At the same time, we must break up the existing monopolies—whether of the state, of parties, or of private capitalism—and discover forms, new and truly effective forms, of democratic and popular control over political and economic power and over the information media and education. A plural society, without majorities or minorities: not all of us are happy in my political utopia, but at least all of us are responsible. Above all and before all else: we must conceive viable models of development, [End Page 121] models less inhuman, costly, and senseless than those we have now. I have said before that this is an urgent task: the truth is, it is the task of our times. And there is one more thing: the supreme value is not the future but the present. The future is a deceitful time that always says to us, 'Not yet,' and thus denies us. The future is not the time of love: what man truly wants he wants now. Whoever builds a house for future happiness builds a prison for the present."

Senegal Hosts Conference on African Democracy

An international conference of over one hundred democratic activists and scholars met in Dakar in early November to assess the democratic gains that have been made in Africa during the past year and to chart democracy's future course as the number of transitions from authoritarianism rapidly multiplies.

The conference was organized by the Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches sur la Democratie Pluraliste dans le Tiers Monde (CERDET), in association with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C. Conference speakers discussed the formulation of new constitutions in Uganda and Benin; the role of the military, the judiciary, the media, and the electoral system in society; the problems of religion, civil society, economic development, and education in democratic transition and consolidation; and issues of tribalism, human rights, women's rights, and cultural values.

President Abdou Diouf of Senegal opened the conference with a welcoming address. Participants included Maurice Glele, president of the Benin Constitutional Commission; Bona Malwal, editor of the Sudan Democratic Gazette; Olissa Agbakoba, president of the Nigerian Civil Liberties Organization; Githu Mugai of the Kenyan Legal Assistance Project; Frederick van zyl Slabbert of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (IDASA); and Teodosio Uate of the Law Program at the Mondlane University of Mozambique. Other countries represented included Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d'Ivoire, Congo-Brazzaville, Botswana, Togo, and Mali.

One of the most remarkable debates at the conference concerned the question of conditional foreign aid. Although some participants doubted such a policy's probable effectiveness, the consensus was that Western aid donors should make...


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