About the Author: Maria Gabriela Zambrano is a Foreign Affairs Officer serving in the State Department’s Cuban Affairs Office in Washington, DC.
President Bush proclaimed May 21, 2008, as a "Day of Solidarity with the Cuban People" to recognize those who are suffering in Cuba, especially Cuba's prisoners of conscience. For the State Department’s Office of Cuban Affairs, everyday is Cuba Solidarity Day. Everyday, we come to work to support the President’s policy and to support the Cuban people. We show our solidarity when we authorize applications for humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people, when we license travel to Cuba for various categories of Americans, including those who deliver humanitarian aid or engage in religious activities, and when we take action to prevent the Cuban state from obtaining the resources it would use to further oppress its people.
Few people know that the U.S. authorizes companies to sell or to donate food, medicine, and medical devices to Cuba. In fact, in 2007, the United States Government authorized $3.65 billion in sales and donations of food ($3.621 billion) and sales and donations of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals ($20.6 million). Though the Cuban government elected to purchase less than the U.S. Government authorized – approximately $446.8 million – the United States remained Cuba’s top supplier of food and one of Cuba’s top suppliers of medical equipment. One of my responsibilities is to make sure that all these goods going to Cuba ultimately benefit the Cuban people (and not the Cuban state). For me, this is just one way to demonstrate my solidarity with the Cuban people.
Another way we show support is by shedding light on the challenges that the Cuban people face daily. They face challenges on every front: no free speech, no human rights, and no opportunity to provide a better life for their families. We take for granted that we live in a society that allows us to speak our mind, and cherish our differences without fear of persecution. When the Cuban government announced that Cubans were allowed to buy cell phones, we paused to reflect on the great freedoms our democracy provides us. We could not imagine living in a society in which its people must be given permission to own a cell phone.
Today, President Bush announced that the U.S. is changing regulations to allow Americans to send cell phones to family members in Cuba. I believe this will open more lines of communication between the Cuban people and the rest of the world, one of our top policy priorities.
Cuban prisoners of conscience – whether confined to Castro’s jails or simply prevented by his dictatorial policies from exercising the rights we take for granted –need to hear that the world knows about them. Today is the day that the world will send a clear message to the Cuban people that they are not alone. Today, is another day at work in which I show my solidarity with the Cuban people.