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12/19/03 - MUGABE ISOLATES ZIMBABWE - 2003-12-19

The Commonwealth, a voluntary association of fifty-three sovereign nations that once made up the British empire, voted this month to continue the suspension of Zimbabwe. That suspension was imposed in March 2002, in response to election fraud, violence, and repression by the government of President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe can return Zimbabwe to good standing in the Commonwealth simply by returning Zimbabwe to democracy. Instead, he has announced Zimbabwe's withdrawal from the Commonwealth.

Mugabe's action followed a decision by the International Monetary Fund Board to begin the procedure for expelling Zimbabwe for failing to honor its international financial obligations and for pursuing irresponsible economic policies. By pursuing actions that further isolate Zimbabwe, Mugabe adds to the misery of its people. The Zimbabwean economy is nearing collapse. Inflation is approaching six-hundred percent. There are serious food and fuel shortages and widespread unemployment. For a second year in a row, the Mugabe government's disastrous economic and land policies will force over seven-million Zimbabweans to depend on international donor food assistance.

Zimbabweans who have spoken out against their government's misrule have been jailed. Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, continues to face trial on charges of treason. Over two-hundred labor and pro-democracy activists have been arrested since October for seeking to engage in peaceful public protests, and the country's only independent daily newspaper has been forced to close.

President George W. Bush has called for democratic reforms in Zimbabwe:

"Our commitment to democracy is tested in countries like Cuba and Burma and North Korea and Zimbabwe -- outposts of repression in our world. The people of these nations live in captivity, and fear and silence."

But the rulers of these countries, said Mr. Bush, "cannot hold back freedom forever -- and, one day, from prison camps and prison cells, and from exile, the leaders of new democracies will emerge."