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Equatorial Guinea: Dictatorship Seeks Entry in Portuguese Language Community

On July 20th 2012 the Maputo Summit will take place, in which a decision will be taken on Equatorial Guinea's entry into the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), an intergovernmental organization that links eight Portuguese-speaking nations, and three associate members, by a common language and shared cultural features. In June 2011 we reported on the issues raised by various bloggers in the Portuguese-speaking world who questioned whether the CPLP would “ignore human rights“.

A year later, to mark the 70th birthday of President Teodoro Obiang (who has been in power since 1979 following a coup d'état which deposed his predecessor and condemned him to death), we review the situation once again. While on the one hand various initiatives have emerged against what is considered to be the instrumentalisation of linguistic ties, the “petrodictatorship” and the failure of Obiang's regime to comply with the orienting principles of the CPLP, on the other there are those who are in favour of the country's admission.

President Obiang. Equatorial Guinea Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010. Photo by nozomiiql on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 20.0)

President Obiang. Equatorial Guinea Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010. Photo by nozomiiql on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 20.0)

One example is the Movement Supporting Equatorial Guinea as a Member of the CPLP [pt] (MAGE), which alludes to historical events which linked Portugal to part of the territory of Equatorial Guinea in the 15th century, and whose aim is to “collect the greatest possible number of signatures of citizens from all member states” in support of the admission of Equatorial Guinea as an effective member of the CPLP, so that they may be presented to the CPLP's Executive Secretary.

As Clavis Prophetarum from the blog Quintus confirms [pt], “the issue of Equatorial Guinea's eventual admission to the CPLP is very controversial, and has been since almost the very first day”:

A CPLP ganharia influencia e presença no mundo com esta adesão? Sim, mas a um preço demasiado alto. A CPLP só pode aspirar a ser o ponto de partida para aquilo que desejamos: uma União Lusófona, se mantiver o respeito aos seus próprios estatutos, que consagram o respeito pelos Direitos Humanos e pelo são exercício democrático. A Guiné Equatorial pode aderir (e deve) desde que respeite ambos os conceitos. Se o regime tem assim tanto desejo em aderir então que faça como fez a União Europeia para com a Turquia: que exija o cumprimento destas regras básicas. Uma Guiné Equatorial respeitadora dos Direitos Humanos e da Democracia é bem vinda. A atual, não. Nem que fale português.

Would the CPLP gain global influence and presence with this admission? Yes, but at too high a price. The CPLP can only aspire to be a starting point for what we really want: a Portuguese-speaking Union, if it maintained the respect of its own statutes, which would consecrate the respect of human rights and healthy democratic practice. Equatorial Guinea can (and should) join on the condition that it respects both concepts. If the regime is so keen to join then [the CPLP] should replicate the European Union's actions with Turkey: demand compliance with these basic rules. An Equatorial Guinea which respects human rights and democracy is welcome. But the current one is not. Even if it is Portuguese-speaking.
    "A future country named TOWER OF BABEL is on the horizon". Image from the blog Las Locuras de Jamón y Queso (used with permission).

"A future country named TOWER OF BABEL is on the horizon". Image from the blog Las Locuras de Jamón y Queso (used with permission).

The writer and dissident Juan Tomás Ávila [pt], in an interview for the newspaper Público on June 1st 2012, reprinted on the blog O Linguado [pt], is also decisive:

Nos meus artigos na imprensa estrangeira, falo da situação política, o que me permite, nos livros, falar de outras coisas, contar histórias. E muitas transportam-nos para Annobón. Lá, a língua materna é o fadambo, um crioulo de origem portuguesa.
Esse foi um dos aspectos apontados para justificar uma entrada da Guiné Equatorial na Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa (CPLP). A Guiné Equatorial já tem estatuto de país observador, agora quer ser país-membro com plenos direitos. (…)
O país também faz parte da francofonia e para isso aprovou o Francês como língua oficial. O Português foi aprovado por decreto presidencial. Essas duas línguas juntam-se ao Espanhol, como línguas oficiais. Qual o sentido que isso faz?
Quando ele [Obiang] tenta entrar nestas instituições, quer branquear a sua imagem e organizar eventos para dizer que é um líder muito importante.

In my articles in the foreign press, I talk about the political situation, which allows me to talk about other things in my books, to tell stories. And many transport us to Annobón. There, the native language is fadambo, a creole with Portuguese roots. That was one of the aspects highlighted to justify Equatorial Guinea's entry into the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Equatorial Guinea already holds the status of observer country, and now it wants to be a member state with full rights. (…)
The country is also part of the French-speaking world and because of this it approved French as its official language. Portuguese was approved by presidential decree. These two languages are joined by Spanish as the three official languages. What is the point of this? When he [Obiang] tries to become part of these institutions, he does so to whitewash his image and to organise events to show that he is a very important leader.

It is not only Equatorial Guineans who are questioning the motives for Teodoro Obiang's regime's desire to belong to the CPLP. In Cape Verde, Abraão Vicente declares himself to be [pt] ”completely against the admission”, and adds:

confio que a grande maioria dos cabo-verdianos que acreditam nos valores universais da humanidade também se objectam. As razões da minha oposição são muito pragmáticas: Guiné Equatorial é um regime ditatorial, o seu presidente Teodoro Obiang Nguema é acusado não só de desviar elevadíssimas quantias dos cofres do Estado como também é acusado de executar sumariamente todos os seus oponentes. A família Obiang neste momento é alvo de investigação na França e em vários outros países do mundo por transacções de avultadas quantias, compras de propriedades, obras de artes e outros bens sem justificativos devidos da origem do dinheiro. Enquanto isso milhar e milhares de cidadãos desse país morrem à fome. O regime instalado na Guiné Equatorial é feito do sangue e da miséria de milhares de cidadão e as tais reformas nas quais o nosso PM [Primeiro MInistro] se baseia para apoiar a entrada desse país na CPLP são apenas fachada.

I trust that the vast majority of Cape Verdeans who believe in the universal values of humanity will also object to this. The reasons behind my opposition are very pragmatic: Equatorial Guinea is a dictatorial regime, its president Teodoro Obiang Nguema is accused not only of embezzling enormous sums from the State coffers but also of summarily executing all of his opponents. The Obiang family is currently the target of investigation in France and in various other countries around the world for transactions involving huge sums of money, purchases of properties, works of art and other goods without due justification of the origin of the money. Meanwhile, thousands of the country's citizens are dying of starvation. The regime in place in Equatorial Guinea is built on the blood and the poverty of thousands of citizens and the supposed reforms upon which our PM [Prime Minister] bases his support for this country's entry into the CPLP are a mere facade.

In Portugal, the blog Free Equatorial Guinea [pt] was born from a group of citizen's wish to raise awareness of certain facts about this country which are not published in the mass media, such as the death sentence handed [pt] to a Malian citizen in May 2012, when the abolition of the death penalty would be expected in order for Equatorial Guinea to join the CPLP.

Following the example of the 2010 actions, and taking into account the current context, a petition was launched on June 4th 2012, promoted by platforms in Brazil, Cape Verde, Portugal and São Tomé and Príncipe, calling on the Heads of State and of Government of the CPLP to deny Equatorial Guinea's entry to the institution:

não permitam que a Dignidade Humana seja penhorada ao aceitarem a admissão da Guiné Equatorial como membro de pleno direito da Comunidade de Países de Língua Portuguesa (CPLP). Este país não reúne as condições para esse efeito. Trata-se de um país onde não há espaço para a democracia, para a liberdade, para a igualdade, para os direitos humanos, para a justiça social e onde a adopção da língua portuguesa como (terceira) língua oficial não resulta da história, da expressão cultural ou vontade do povo. A admissão deste país à CPLP, nas actuais condições e face aos princípios que esta Comunidade propugna, nomeadamente nos seus Estatutos, descredibilizará e manchará irremediavelmente a reputação e a respeitabilidade da CPLP na comunidade internacional.

Do not allow human dignity to be pawned by accepting Equatorial Guinea's admission as a full member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). This country does not meet the required conditions. It is a country where there is no space for democracy, for freedom, for equality, for human rights, for social justice and where the adoption of the Portuguese language as a (third) official language does not come from the history, cultural expression or desire of the people. The admission of this country into the CPLP with its current conditions and in light of the principles which this Community defends would discredit and irredeemably tarnish the reputation and respectability of the CPLP in the international community.

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