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Day of Solidarity With the Cuban People

Paula Dobriansky,, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Thomas A. Shannon, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Via Teleconference Call
Washington, DC
May 20, 2008

OPERATOR: Welcome and thank you for standing by for today’s conference call. Thank you for joining today’s conference. Now I’ll turn the meeting over to Mr. Josue Barrera.

Sir, you may begin.

MR. BARRERA: This is Josue Barrera from the State Department Media Affairs Office. First, we’re going to have Under Secretary Dobriansky make a statement on Cuba Solidarity Day, followed by Assistant Secretary Shannon. If you can please state your affiliation when you have a question, we’d appreciate it.

UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Okay. Thank you. This is Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs. Let me say a few words up front about a Day of Solidarity with the Cuban people. The United States is joining other governments, nongovernmental organizations and also a variety of activists to participate in a Day of Solidarity with the Cuban people on May 21. And the purpose of this is, is to draw attention specifically to the plight of Cuba’s political prisoners and to call for their immediate release. It’s also to urge the Cuban regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

We believe the people of Cuba need to know that they have worldwide solidarity and support for their efforts to achieve genuine political and economic change. Now this initiative coincides with commemorations in Cuba of those who have suffered at the hands of the regime for the cause of freedom and human rights. President Bush, will be hosting an event at the White House on May 21 and the theme and the focus will be on the plight of political prisoners; the lack of civil and political freedoms in Cuba.

At the same time, around the globe, other governments and nongovernmental organizations are planning to hold public events with families of political prisoners, to chair roundtable discussions on the situation of human rights in Cuba. Some are having engagement with their parliamentarians; relevant, again, to the issue of political prisoners in Cuba, some are holding press conferences, and some are also planning digital video conferences with Cuban dissidents on the island.

We know that Cuba remains a nation where the people are denied the most basic freedoms and opportunities, freedoms that every government in our hemisphere have agreed to honor and defend in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Basically, these are freedoms that Cuba has promised to honor through the universal declaration of human rights, but has not been acted upon.

So let me just say, specifically, our intent is to highlight these issues on this occasion and to join in solidarity with the people of Cuba. Let me ask Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Shannon if he would like to add to this.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Thank you very much, Paula. Under Secretary Dobriansky, I think, provided a good overview of Cuba’s Solidarity Day and especially our intentions and hopes coming from this day. Let me just underscore a couple key points about our broader Cuba policy.

First, the goal of our Cuba policy is a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba. Secondly, this transition to be successful, to be peaceful and enduring, has to be fashioned by the Cubans themselves. This has been a fundamental aspect of our policy for some time. However, we believe that in order for that transition to be peaceful and enduring and in order for Cubans to have a voice in that, Cuba must begin a comprehensive national dialogue about its future. And for that dialogue to be successful, the fear factor needs to be removed from Cuban society. In other words, the Cuban Government needs to really pull its secret police out of the business of managing political dissent and dialogue.

And we think one of the most important ways to do this is through the release of political prisoners. We believe a release of political prisoners would send a clear signal that Cuba was entering a period of preparation for national dialogue, and that this would be a sure sign that Cuba was prepared to respect fundamental human rights and liberties. And for this reason, we believe that focusing on the plight of political prisoners, urging their release, and calling for respect of fundamental human rights and liberties is basic to a long-term goal of successful transition to democracy.

MR. BARRERA: Okay. We’ll now take your questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our first question comes from Paul Wander. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. The Under Secretary mentioned a couple of countries that would be having activities. Could you go into more detail on those? What countries will be involved and what are the activities specifically?

MR. BARRERA: Would you mind identifying your affiliation, please?

QUESTION: Inter-American Dialogue.

MR. BARRERA: Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Thank you for the question. There are, in fact, a number of countries that are planning in capital and also some that have undertaken events here in Washington, D.C., actually. The Czech Republic held, in fact, here in Washington, a roundtable discussion. They are also planning -- in fact people, in need are planning a hook-up, actually, as I believe it, with the Damas de Blanco in Cuba. Another one is Hungary has indicated that they are planning to hold a press conference and a session at the International Center for Democratic Transition. In the case of also Poland, you have, I believe, something like 130 deputies of Polish Parliament who have signed a petition calling for the release of political prisoners.

Peru; in fact, there was actually a commemorative event that recently was also held in which you had some 1,500 people gathered. And on this particular occasion, they were very focused on the ladies of white and trying to show solidarity in that – in that specific context. Let me see, there are some other countries also -- I know that are also planning some statements in Europe, a number in Latin America are as well.

But those are some of the examples. You might want to go to – there is also a website, by the way, it’s – if I may give it, it’s www.solidaridadcuba, so, s-o-l-i-d-a-r-i-d-a-d, Cuba.org. And that is being used, in fact, for posting a wide range of global activities marking Cuba’s Solidarity Day.

OPERATOR: Okay. I’m not showing any further questions at this time.

UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: By the way, I will add one more detail. I didn’t mention -- I mentioned Latin America, I mentioned Europe. Let me also -- for the last question, it might be of interest to know also that in Australia, in fact, also, members of Parliament actually are circulating a statement and planning to have a signed statement. So just as a follow-up in terms of the global nature of this there are other countries in different continents participating.

MR. BARRERA: Do we have another question?

OPERATOR: I’m not showing any questions at this time.

MR. BARRERA: Okay. If we don’t have another question, you can follow up with me. My number is 202-647-0001. Once again, that’s 202-647-0001. Thank you for your time.

Released on May 21, 2008

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