- News and Notes
Burmese Ban Leading Opposition Candidate
On January 17 Burma's military regime banned Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the country's most popular opposition leader, from participating in elections scheduled for May. Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since 20 July 1989, when the regime began its most recent crackdown on the opposition. Thousands of antigovernment activists have since been jailed, including much of the leadership of both the NLD and the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), the most prominent dissident student group.
The one-party regime of General Ne Win has ruled Burma (recently renamed Myanmar) since toppling the country's democratic government in a 1962 coup. Though Ne Win stepped down from his last formal political post in July 1988, he is still thought to control the regime, which is now headed by Prime Minister Saw Maung. Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of the late Aung San, widely regarded as the founding father of independent Burma. She became the leading voice in the opposition during demonstrations in September 1988, when hundreds of thousands of Burmese took to the streets to protest economic hardship and one-party rule. The military opened fire on the demonstrators, killing at least 3,000 by Western estimates. Thousands more were subsequently imprisoned.
As a result of the government crackdown, an estimated ten thousand antigovernment activists—mostly students and professionals—fled to remote border areas to seek refuge and, in some cases, to take up arms with the ethnic minorities that have waged guerrilla war against the central government since independence. International relief organizations report that tropical diseases and malnutrition, together with government military offensives, have taken an enormous toll on these refugees. Many of [End Page 132] those who have sought protection in Thailand have faced forced repatriation by the Thai government.
In an effort to quell popular discontent in the wake of the September 1988 crackdown, the regime pledged to hold "free and fair" elections this May for a People's Assembly. Observers believe that the government disqualified Aung San Suu Kyi for fear that she might win the election despite being detained. More than 200 parties have registered for the elections, encouraged by government incentives like gasoline and telephone access. Few represent genuine political forces, however, and many are controlled by the government. The regime has also given itself broad discretion to ban parties that it believes are connected to ethnic-based rebel groups. With the most popular opposition parties effectively crippled and martial law still in place, Burma's spring election is expected simply to ratify continued de facto military rule.
Dissidents Press For Change in Cuba
In a statement released to the media in Havana on January 5, the dissident Cuban Party for Human Rights (PPDHC) has demanded that Cuba hold "free elections through secret and direct voting." Pointing to the reforms underway in Eastern Europe, the PPDHC has launched a campaign calling for "the return of a de jure state to the country." The party's platform seeks guarantees in Cuba for opposition political parties, independent labor unions, human rights organizations, and the press.
Founded by Ricardo Bofill, and directed since his forced exile in 1988 by poet Tania Díaz, the PPDHC claims some 10,000 members. The party has made known its wish to apply for legal recognition but remains an illegal organization in Cuba, where it nonetheless operates openly.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro has explicitly rejected the changes taking place elsewhere in the communist world, and his regime has stepped up its harassment and suppression of the PPDHC and other dissident groups in recent months. A number of dissidents were jailed for planning demonstrations during Mikhail Gorbachev's April 1989 visit, and three prominent members of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), including President Elizardo Sanchez, were imprisoned for "spreading false information about international peace" to foreign journalists during last summer's highly publicized trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa. Unrest has also spread to the universities, where dissent has ranged from defiant graffiti to an open letter—calling Castro a "traitor" and...