Cuba Legislation. Throughout the year, several parliamentary maneuvers by the leadership have frustrated attempts by bipartisan members of both houses to end some of the restrictions affecting travel and the sale of food and medicine to Cuba. The amendment of Senator John Ashcroft (R-MO). to the Agricultural Appropriations bill in 1999, which received majority support in the Senate, and the similar language offered by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to the current bill, offered the best prospects for meaningful reform in our Cuba policy.
On the House side, Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA) had taken the lead with similar language, but was forced into a compromise by House leadership that imposed such severe conditions that the goal of real change was severely impaired. Despite repeated back and forth votes on the issue, it appears that by the time you receive this the largely meaningless "compromise" language will have won out.
USCC Position. 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.
Present State of Play
Despite a series of positive votes, parliamentary maneuvers by the leadership have thwarted efforts to ease restrictions on the sale of food and medicine and on travel to the island. Here's a brief chronology of Congressional action over the last year:
- In November 1999, more than 220 members signed a letter to Speaker Hastert calling for a floor vote on a measure to ease the embargo on the sale of food and medicine to sanctioned states, and by a vote of 79 to 13, the Senate approved a version of the Agriculture Appropriations bill containing a provision offered by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to lift all such restrictions.
- In early 2000, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) approved language similar to that offered by Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO) to a foreign aid bill which would lift all unilateral sanctions on food and medicine sales.
- In May 2000, the House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee approved language easing the restrictions which paralleled the Senate language on the same bill. Attempts to strike the language from the House bill at first failed by committee vote, but in late June, the leadership announced a "compromise" had been worked out which greatly weakened the intent of the original language.
- In June, the House voted 301 to 116 to ban Treasury Department funding from enforcing restrictions on food and medicine sales to Cuba, language later removed by the leadership, and placing the Cuba issue solely in the Agriculture bill.
- In July, the Senate approved legislation that would lift the sanctions and that would also prevent presidents from blocking shipments of food and medicine to any country without congressional approval.
- By August, all signs pointed to significant action by this Congress to ease the restrictions, but at this moment in late September, it appears that the harsh and restrictive "compromise" language will win out.
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.
For further information: Tom Quigley (ph) 202.541.3184; (fax) 202.541.3339; <firstname.lastname@example.org>