The Castros' island prison
May 21 : A Day Of Solidarity With The Cuban People
David H. Wilkins, National Post Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Cuba's President Raul Castro walks past the Guard of Honor during the
official welcome ceremony for Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbados
Baldwin Spencer in the State Council May 12, 2008 in Havana, Cuba.Sven
Creutzmann/Mambo Photo/Getty ImagesCuba's President Raul Castro walks
past the Guard of Honor during the official welcome ceremony for Prime
Minister of Antigua and Barbados Baldwin Spencer in the State Council
May 12, 2008 in Havana, …
There has been much talk in the media about the recent changes that have
been announced in Cuba. Yes, Raul Castro has replaced his brother in
some of his positions of authority — but this is a process in which
Cuba's citizens had no say. And yes, Cubans can now buy cell-phones and
microwave ovens and stay in expensive hotels. But with the average
monthly wage in Cuba at less then $20, these items are still largely out
of reach and won't let Cubans do what citizens in other countries in the
Americas are doing: seizing the opportunity provided by open societies
and open markets.
The sad fact is that Cuba's citizens still live in a repressive state,
as they have for almost half a century. Last December, Cuban authorities
stormed a Catholic church, teargassed parishioners and dragged 18
worshipers out. A Catholic official called the episode "the worst attack
against a church in 45 years." And just a few weeks ago, the "Ladies in
White," who march peacefully each Sunday on behalf of freedom for their
unjustly imprisoned loved ones, were beaten and dragged away from the
"Plaza of the Revolution" when they sought to deliver a petition to
their government asking for the release of political prisoners. Is this
As the U. S. ambassador to Canada I have long been impressed by Canada's
commitment to promoting human rights abroad. For this reason, I would
like to share with you what my country is doing to help advance human
rights in Cuba.
Today, May 21, we will celebrate the courage and determination of the
Cuban people as they seek their freedom and voice in establishing a
democratic future for their country. On this day, in the United States
and elsewhere, we will commemorate a Day of Solidarity with the Cuban
We will call for the release of all Cuban political prisoners and repeal
of all measures that allow the Cuban government to arrest citizens for
carrying out acts of peaceful dissent. Cubans need to know that they
have international support in their struggle for freedom and human
rights, as the people in central Europe once did.
So how will we know when an enduring process of democratic change is
underway on the island? We will know there is a new Cuba when Cubans
have the freedom to organize, assemble and speak their minds. We will
know there is a new Cuba when a free and independent press has the power
to operate without censors. We will know there is a new Cuba when the
Cuban government allows Cubans to open their own businesses and improve
the economic well-being of their families.
Above all, we will know there is at least a start toward a new Cuba when
the regime releases its political prisoners and engages the Cuban people
in an open and comprehensive dialogue about the future of their country.
Solidarity with the Cuban people means supporting their struggle to
obtain all the freedoms enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, as well as those in the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights. Cuba recently signed the latter agreement, but when
will the government's actions comport with its commitments? As any Cuban
political prisoner can attest, the Cuban state hasn't implemented the
provision that says: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Indeed, Cubans have been arrested and foreigners expelled for handing
out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself.
Today, the U. S. government joins in solidarity with the Cuban people,
particularly the prisoners of conscience on the island who remain behind
bars. – David H. Wilkins is the U. S. ambassador to Canada.