Last summer the House and Senate voted to lift restrictions in three areas: the sale of food and medicines, the right of U.S. citizens to travel, and the amount Cubans in this country can send to their families on the island. Congress failed to take up the amendments (on the bill to which the policy changes were attached) before the fall recess. Nevertheless, efforts in both houses to end the ineffective and harmful embargo are going forward in the 108th Congress and need your active support.
In 2002, there were the three key amendments to the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill that passed in the House, but the Senate, faced with a major backlog of legislation, failed to bring the Treasury bill to the floor before adjournment. The same was true for an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill in the Senate which called for funds to engage with Cuba on counter-narcotics issues; that bill also failed to reach the floor before adjournment.
Because Congress failed to pass 11 of the 13 appropriations bills before the October 1st deadline, the provisions of these bills"minus the Cuba amendments"were bundled into a series of --continuing resolutions-- that simply continue funding at last year"s levels until the new Congress takes up the bills. The remaining bills have been lumped into a single large Omnibus Appropriations bill (H.J.Res. 2), from which most controversial legislation may be removed so that the bill can swiftly get to the President"s desk for signing.
Nevertheless, the same amendments are expected to be offered during this Congress. Urge your Senators and Representatives to support future legislation that would lift restrictions on travel to Cuba, on financing the sale of food and medicines, and the amounts people can send to their families and friends in Cuba. These humanitarian concerns have become even more urgent following the devastation that Hurricane Michelle caused to the country"s crops.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops over the years has made the following points:
- The principal effect of U.S. embargo is to strengthen Castro"s control, providing the basis for his constant denunciation of the U.S., blaming Cuba"s genuine shortages of medicines and food on the embargo, instead of on a failed economic system and the end of Soviet subsidies.
- Dollar-laden tourists and the party faithful live well enough, and Cuba is a world leader in certain areas of medicine for paying tourists, but the average poor Cuban--a majority--suffers real and constant deprivation both as to food and basic healthcare.
- The Church in Cuba is unalterably opposed to the embargo, as are most of the political dissidents.
- Getting that issue off the table could clear the way for the more constructive dialogue and the eventual negotiation that must finally take place.
- "The Catholic Bishops of Cuba are under no illusion that the end of the sanctions imposed by our government will usher in a time of economic prosperity for their people. They do know, however, that retaining the sanctions continues to hurt only the most vulnerable sectors of that society, and provides the regime with propaganda advantages it does not deserve."
- "In his historic visit to Cuba in 1998, Pope John Paul II characterized "the economic measures imposed from outside the country," that is, the United States embargo against Cuba, as "both unjust and morally unacceptable." It is time to leave aside a policy that, whatever moral justification it may once have had, has clearly outlived its purpose."
Urge your Senators or Representatives to, sooner rather than later, get rid of a Cuba policy that is outmoded, unproductive and morally unjustified. We should be clear that, whatever motives others may have for ending the embargo, we are not advocating "a softer stance toward Castro," or looking for an illusory reconciliation with the present regime, as some who oppose any change assert.
We are well aware of the many limitations on the freedom of the Church and other parts of civil society, of the routine violations of human rights, and limitations on freedom of speech and assembly. Neither growing international pressure, nor even the Holy Father"s visit, has succeeded in directly changing those conditions. But a bold U.S. initiative could succeed in turning a failed policy that serves the interests only of the regime into a humane, morally justified and, ultimately, politically sensible policy.