Chargé’s remarks to women of the embassy for Women’s History Month 2019
Good afternoon everyone!
I am so glad you could be with me today for this special gathering.
Every March, the United States celebrates Women’s History Month. I would like to take advantage of this commemorative day to recognize all of the women who work in the embassy, without whom our work would not be possible. Your work ethic, spirit of courage and bravery are part of our day to day efforts, and I thank you for your service in sometimes difficult circumstances.
You are role models for other women and girls; for your sisters, daughters, and nieces, neighbors and colleagues. Every day you demonstrate that a woman can do any job under almost any circumstances, through fair weather or foul weather.
On this occasion, I am obliged to talk about human rights, a pillar of U.S. policy in Cuba. And we cannot forget the important role women play to promote human rights.
I would like to recall Cuban woman who are leaders in support of the noble cause of human rights, often at the cost of great personal sacrifice.
Martha Beatriz Roque, economist and defender or human rights was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for her leadership as an independent Cuban voice. Over more than 20 years of activism, she has sought to improve Cuba by speaking, writing, and organizing on essential topics such as Cuban civil society. In return, the government has arrested and imprisoned her.
Let us remember the Damas de Blanco and their courageous work to call out human rights violations and injustices here in Cuba. Berta Soler and other Damas de Blanco have been repeatedly harassed and jailed as they relentlessly challenge the repressive state security apparatus. They have raised international awareness of the poor state of human rights in Cuba. Instead of receiving thanks from the authorities for working for a better Cuba, they are treated like criminals and thrown in jail.
Yoani Sanchez is another example of a Cuban woman who has courageously spoken freely through her writing, refusing to become a prisoner of ideological confinement. I am proud that my government recognized her in 2011 when she was named an International Woman of Courage.
Rosa María Payá is another Cuban woman who is a leader in fighting for human rights. She picked up the mantle of her fallen father, Osvaldo Payá, and is making a name for herself internationally as a champion of liberty and democracy.
There are also Cuban women who today are at the forefront of the struggle for artistic freedom, a topic that is of utmost importance in Cuba. They choose to lead by using their voice or artistic expression –because no one should be forced to be silent. And there are those that are dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Cubans whether through economic empowerment, or through innovation in science, health, engineering, or computer science.
There is not only one way to lead. We all have the right to speak and to be heard.
And as I mentioned earlier, there is courage in this room today.
What all these brave Cuban women have in common is that they are striving for a better Cuba for all Cubans, where everyone can enjoy fundamental freedoms.
From the United States, we can recall the legacy of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was an early champion of civil rights, and a co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.
We could recall the campaigns for voting rights and women’s rights. It took the United States nearly 150 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed for women to win the right to vote. Eventually though, the dreams of American women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, became reality in the United States.
Cuba also had its struggle for women’s rights. In the first half of the 20th century, the country pioneered important reforms, such as the Divorce Law of 1918 and voting rights for women in 1933. As women, we could be hopeful that all our dreams could be realized here, in Cuba too.
I would like to highlight another example, if you would allow me. A women who joined our countries’ histories together: Clara Barton. An American pioneer in nursing and founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton arrived in Santiago de Cuba in 1898 – a key and historic date – to tend to the sick and wounded. The people of Santiago de Cuba cherished her efforts so much that they erected a statue to honor her. The Government of Spain, our adversary in that conflict, presented Clara Barton with a certificate of gratitude for the help she offered the Spanish soldiers.
Your contribution to this embassy’s work is indispensable, invaluable, and noble. And so today I salute you for it and I thank you for it.
In the spirit of compassion, goodwill, and courage; and in honor of all the women we honor and respect in our lives, let us raise our glasses and offer a toast to them.
Thank you very much and Happy Women’s History month!