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Cuba's Leaders Must Be Held Accountable - Rice

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Op-Ed With Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez
Miami Herald
May 22, 2008

Cuba's Leaders Must Be Held Accountable

The great story of the Americas today is that more and more people are becoming protagonists in the political, economic and social life of their nations. Millions of men and women once confined to the margins of their societies and excluded as passive spectators -- the poor, the disadvantaged and indigenous peoples -- are now becoming active democratic citizens. They are freely electing leaders who are governing responsibly, reducing poverty, advancing social justice and expanding regional security. This is the new defining reality in our hemisphere today, and it is our abiding hope that the great people of Cuba will one day soon join in this new Pan-American community of liberty.

This week, we mark a Day of Solidarity with the proud men and women of Cuba. On this occasion, we highlight our shared aspiration that the Cuban people will one day enjoy the benefits of a free and open society in their own country. We seek to underscore for the hundreds of political prisoners in Cuban jails that they are not alone, and that we believe that no citizen on Earth should be imprisoned for the simple act of disagreeing with his or her government. This is an occasion to say that it is long past time for the rulers of Cuba to treat their people as fellow citizens to be trusted and empowered, not as subjects to be spied on, oppressed and jailed.

The Cuban people are rich in talent, and they deserve, no less than any other people in the Americas, to choose their future freely, without internal repression or outside interference. The vision of a democratic transition in Cuba has been the goal of our administration, and it has been the purpose that has motivated our regional and international diplomacy. Indeed, there is now an emerging consensus in the Americas and beyond that a democratic future for Cuba, freely charted by the Cuban people alone, is the only responsible goal. It is this dream of deliverance and political rebirth for Cuba's citizens that could now be closer than ever with the prospect of near-term change in Havana.

The countries of the Americas, and many beyond it, are now watching intently to see if the Cuban regime is open to a new relationship with its people, and thus an opportunity for a new relationship with the community of responsible nations.

The regime's minor recent reforms of economic and travel policy are to be welcomed and encouraged, but let us not pretend that they are the real changes that Cuba's citizens desire and deserve. If Cuba's rulers are truly committed to beginning a meaningful process of change to empower the Cuban people, they should start by taking actions that put their country in step with the rest of the nations in the Americas today: freeing political prisoners, beginning a truly open process of national dialogue and reconciliation, protecting human rights through the rule of law and holding free and fair elections.

Ultimately, any attempt to ease Cuba into the 21st century with relatively small and highly controlled economic openings will not work. The Cuban regime must show that it has the confidence in itself and in its people to stop using the secret police to control the country's political discourse. The regime should remove the fear factor from Cuba's political life. The United States is eager to support Cuba and its talented people in transforming their society. We want to engage with Cuba -- but not until the Cuban government chooses to engage its own people as free citizens, whose rights and dignity are nonnegotiable.

The real question about Cuba today is not what the United States is prepared to do. Ultimately, this is not about us. It is about the better future that the Cuban people deserve. Thus, the real question is for Cuba's rulers to answer: Do they wish to reflect and advance the democratic aspirations of their people? Or do they merely wish to continue the old policies of the past, concealed by false promises of real change, which serve only to further their own selfish interests and their desire to hang onto power?

Free nations everywhere have a moral obligation to insist that the Cuban people, after half a century of tragedy and lost time, now gain the opportunity to become the democratic protagonists in their own national life. We must not lose sight of this goal, and we must hold Cuba's rulers to the same high standards of civility and decency to which we hold ourselves. This is a promise that we pledge to keep.

Condoleezza Rice is U.S. secretary of state, and Carlos M. Gutierrez is the secretary of commerce.


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