On May 20, 2009, the world joined Cubans in marking the second anniversary of Cuba’s Solidarity Day. However, even as the world observed this day, the situation remains bleak for many Cubans. Political dissidents continue to languish in the country’s filthy jails and freedom of expression and access to information remain a dream to many.
A panel of Cuban-Americans marked Cuba Solidarity Day 2009 by sharing experiences and ideas at an event hosted by a think tank, the Heritage Foundation, in Washington, DC. The panelists urged President Barack Obama to live up to his campaign promise of freeing Cuba from a totalitarian regime.
The former head of U.S. Programs to Promote Democracy in Cuba and Latin America, Adolfo Franco, called on the Obama administration to continue giving both moral and financial support to those fighting for freedom in and outside of Cuba. “The efforts should be doubled or tripled,” he said. In April, the U.S. put in place measures to allow Cuban-Americans to travel freely to Cuba and removed restrictions on money transfers.
Franco, at the same time, expressed disappointment that the White House did not give due publicity and recognition to Cuba’s Solidarity Day and said that it was not mentioned on the White House website. “It is a tragic mistake, that the White House did not do much to recognize this day,” he said. A search on the White House website by this writer did not yield any results on the same. In 2008, the White House sent out a press release expressing support for the occasion.
Calling for more involvement by the international community, Franco reiterated that the whole world needs to know what is going on in Cuba. “It’s time we started talking about what’s happening in Cuba,” he said. “Let’s not just have U.S. intervention only,” he stated. “We need an international audit of Cuba,” he continued.
In a letter addressed to President Barack Obama, a former Cuban political prisoner, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez, called on the president to “maintain a consistent, steadfast, position on Cuba.”
The Obama administration has indicated it is ready for open dialogue with Cuba if the latter returns the gesture. According to press reports, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated that the Organization of American States (OAS)—from which Cuba ceased to be a member in 1962—is ready to re-admit the Socialist state on the condition that Cuba “assumes democratic standards.”
Reports also indicate that Cuban President Raul Castro is willing to meet the U.S. government halfway as long as they are on equal footing. However, Cubans express little optimism that President Castro will live up to his word. According to Perez, “the measures launched months ago by Raul Castro are designed to project an image of openness and flexibility before the international community. The objective however, is to perpetuate his [Castro’s] power.”
President Obama noted that it is now Cuba’s turn to make the next step in an effort to improve relations further.