TOPICS: Struggle for freedom in Cuba

May 21 is celebrated for 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, people in the United States and elsewhere 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.

There has been much talk in the media about the recent changes 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 five star hotels. While Cubans may welcome such changes, they are no doubt hoping for much more. With the average monthly wage at less then $20, these items are 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. Sadly, Cubans still live in a repressive state. Last December, Cuban authorities stormed a Catholic church, tear-gassed parishioners, and dragged 18 worshipers out. 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 change?

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 towards 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 their commitments?

As any Cuban political prisoner can attest, Cuba 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 havebeen arrested and foreigners expelled for handing out copies of the Declaration itself.

Berry is US charge d’affaires, Kathmandu