Attempts in the Congress over recent years to limit aspects of the Cuba sanctions regime have gradually won support of the majority of members of both Houses. Last year, however, when prospects for a breakthrough seemed most promising, parliamentary maneuvers by the leadership succeeded in frustrating attempts by a bipartisan majority seeking to end some of the restrictions affecting travel and the sale of food and medicines to Cuba.
Legislation finally signed by the President both (1) legalized the sale of food and medicines but denied essential funding arrangements, making potential sales largely moot, and (b) froze current restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba by codifying them into law which now only the Congress, not the President, can lift.
Similar efforts to ease the embargo are underway in the current Congress. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Max Baucus (D-MT) have introduced legislation to rescind the restrictive provisions of the FY 2001 Agriculture Appropriations Bill that tighten the restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Josι Serrano (D-NY), who have been leaders in their respective Houses for a changed Cuba policy, are expected to continue similar efforts in the 107th Congress.
Over the years our basic message 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--suffer real and constant deprivation both as to food and basic healthcare.
- The Catholic Church in Cuba is unalterably opposed to the embargo. Most of the known political dissidents also oppose it.
- Getting that issue off the table could clear the way for the more constructive dialogue and eventual negotiation that must eventually 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."
In any contact with your Senators or Representative, please continue to stress the importance of finally, sooner rather than later, getting 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.
USCC statement on Cuba economic embargo (7/00); on debt relief (11/00); USCC letter on Cuba house (5-8/00;5-12/00); letter to Senate on conferees on agriculture appropriations (9/00); Cuba update (10/00); Cuba action alert (7/00)
For further information: Tom Quigley 202-541-3184 (ph); 202-541-3339 (fax);