Cuba Legislation. The year 2000 saw the most ambitious attempts ever in the House and Senate to chip away at a part of the Cuba policy that most Americans consider outmoded and ineffective. Majorities in both houses voted on several bills that would end restrictions on the sale of food and medicines to Cuba, but that intent was eventually frustrated by maneuvers of the leadership and the most hard-line opponents of any change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.
The two important pieces of the legislation that was finally signed by the President: 1) legalized the sale of food and medicines, but denied essential funding arrangements, making the potential sales largely moot, and 2) instead of relaxing restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba, froze current restrictions by codifying them into law which now, only the Congress, not the President, can lift.
The Next Congress. The farm-state Members and others who lobbied hard for the food and medicines bill can be expected to continue their efforts to lift the ban on providing Cuba credits for its purchases of significant amounts of U.S. grains and foodstuffs, but the main issue is likely to focus on the travel restrictions. At present, persons with legitimate reasons other than tourism to visit Cuba--academic, scientific, religious, etc.--can secure permission from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and Cubans in this country are allowed one "humanitarian visit" per year to see their family members in Cuba.
Some 135,000 Americans did visit Cuba last year by applying for travel permits from OFAC, and another some 22,000 Americans traveled through third countries, largely to join the many Europeans and Canadians who spend much of their time on Cuba's famed beaches. We have no interest in expanding the number of persons who participate in the touristic apartheid by enjoying leisure activities that are forbidden the people of the country, but we do reject the notion that American citizens have to prove their bona fides before being allowed to travel anywhere, and we strongly oppose present restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling more than once a year to visit their own family members.
USCC Position. In union with the Church in Cuba, the USCC is under no illusion that increased travel and trade with Cuba will automatically bring about democratization, improvement in human rights and religious freedom, but the Conference does hold, with the Cuban Bishops, that the present embargo is unjustified both morally and politically. On the ethical side, the average poor Cuban, a majority, does suffer real and constant deprivation both as to food and basic healthcare. On the political side, the embargo serves mainly to strengthen Castro's dictatorial 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 the Soviet subsidies.
In the coming Congress, we hope to press for the ending of all restrictions on travel to Cuba, enabling more Americans, including Cuban-Americans, to engage in people-to-people contact with the long-suffering people of that island.
For further information: Tom Quigley (ph) 202.541.3184; (fax) 202.541.3339; <firstname.lastname@example.org>