First Meeting Held in Manila : 13 ‘New Democracies’ Confer on Goals, Woes
They have all struggled through years of dictatorship, and many are now dealing with insurgencies. Together, they owe more than $271 billion.
On Monday, after a four-day conference at which they learned how much they have in common, delegates representing 13 nations--the “newly restored democracies,” they called themselves--vowed to work together in a common cause.
In a “Manila Declaration of 1988,” signed at Monday’s closing session, the 13 declared that “by supporting each other, we can overcome the internal and external forces that may still endanger our democracies.”
Taking part in the conference, in addition to the Philippines, were Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Greece, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Portugal, El Salvador, Spain and Uruguay.
They pledged solidarity on economic issues, denounced protectionism by industrialized countries and pledged mutual support to one another as they struggle to renegotiate their foreign debts with international lending institutions.
They condemned terrorism, offered asylum for political refugees from countries still under dictatorship and demanded that other governments stop the support they may be giving to “any group or movement that constitutes a threat to our democratic institutions or territorial integrity.”
And they agreed to meet again next year, in Peru, in an effort to transform the experimental Manila conference into a permanent organization.
There was at least a measure of controversy. The U.S. ambassador here, Nicholas Platt, had objected to the inclusion of Nicaragua in the group. “We do not consider Nicaragua as having earned the honor of being called a democracy,” he said.
But the other delegates defended Nicaragua, many of them emphasizing that Nicaragua has been in transition since the Sandinistas seized power there in 1979. They said its inclusion in the group will help push it away from Marxism-Leninism toward democracy.
Perhaps the most articulate defense of Nicaragua’s inclusion in the group came from Portugal’s President Mario Soares, who combined a state visit to Manila with the weekend conference. He told reporters that inviting Nicaragua to the conference “does not mean that we are passing a diploma of democracy on Nicaragua; on the contrary, we are putting obligations on them.”
The conference became a kind of group therapy session, with many of the young governments finding new friends and potential allies.
The idea came from the Philippines’ foreign secretary, Raul Manglapus, who spent nearly a decade in political exile in Washington while Ferdinand E. Marcos was president of this country. He said the idea took seed soon after the 1986 uprising that drove Marcos from power.
At Least 5 Plots
Since Marcos’ ouster, there have been at least five military plots against the government here, and Manglapus said he had been approached by representatives of other Third World governments that had gone through much the same thing after their revolutions.
All, he said, seemed to have in common a limited ability to control what they saw as their most serious threats: huge foreign debts that drain their limited resources, together with internal ideological battles in which the United States, the Soviet Union or some other power often plays a role.
He said the newly restored democracies, none of them major powers, “had better stand together, lest their restoration succumb once more in the cross-fire of power confrontations.”
Much of the rhetoric heard here was directed at the superpowers, and much of it at the United States, even from governments that are largely pro-American.
Honduras and El Salvador condemned interference by Soviet-backed nations as a source of continuing destabilization.
On the question of foreign debt, Argentina and Brazil shared insights they have gained from negotiating with the International Monetary Fund and other lending institutions.
“Even now, though, we know we are just fooling ourselves,” said the economic delegate from Brazil, which owes about $110 billion abroad. “Our debt continues to grow, and we aren’t really solving the problem.”
The delegate from Peru, which owes $15 billion, said: “We do not want to satisfy the demands of the International Monetary Fund if it means starving our people to death. Because then we really cannot pay. Dead people don’t pay debts.”
But even Peru, which has taken the position that it will allocate no more than 10% of its export earnings on debt payments, rejected any radical solution. “We believe it is better to follow a policy of negotiation rather than confrontation,” the Peruvian said.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.