The Conference has long supported the position of the Bishops of Cuba that the economic embargo directed against their country by the United States is unjustified and ought to be ended. While the political will to end the embargo outright is still lacking, there has developed, over the past couple of years, a realistic possibility of lifting the restrictions on the sale of food, medicine and medical equipment to Cuba. We support these measures, both as humanitarian gestures in themselves and as a means of chipping away at a sanctions regime that we consider bankrupt and wrong.
While this may be the most that can be hoped for at this time, it is worth pointing out to the Congress that the Catholic Churchhere, in Cuba, at the Holy Seeconsiders this embargo wrong and seeks its definitive lifting. Following are some typical arguments for the embargo and some possible responses.
Although it hasn't yet succeeded in bringing down Castro, the embargo still sends a powerful signal to Cuba that things must change there before we will fully engage. The Clinton Administration made a number of concessions, lifting some of the previous restrictions, with no adequate response from Cuba.
With the Pope and the Cuban Bishops, we agree that Cuba, too, must open to the world and show full respect for religious freedom and other basic rights which are still being violated. But the present sanctions regime, even if less harsh in recent years than before, is nevertheless:
- A failed policy--it has achieved none of its stated goals of unseating the Castro government, restoring democracy, protecting human rights, and aiding the Cuban people.
- An anachronistic policy--a throwback to the Cold War days, of U.S.-Soviet competition, and a reaction to Cuban support of insurgencies in Latin America and Africa.
- A totally isolated policy--no other country in the world has so cut itself off from normal relations with Cuba, no countries other than Israel and Kazakhstan vote with the U.S. in the UN deliberations.
- An ethically unacceptable policy--none of the criteria justifying the imposition of economic sanctions can be seriously invoked for this policy at this time, and it especially hurts the wrong people--the poor, the aged, the infirm.
- A policy increasingly opposed by the American people--fewer Cuban Americans and some of the more hardline conservative elements in our society think this is still a means of thwarting Castro and bringing his government down.
The truth is that the policy does harm the most vulnerable sectors of Cuban society, people without access to dollar remittances from abroad, or not engaged in the dollar sectors of the Cuban economy (tourism, prostitution, etc.), and imposes an undue burden on groups such as the Church in Cuba and its relief agency, Cαritas, which seek to fill some of the many unmet needs of the Cuban poor.
No one fumes against the embargo more than Castro; if we lift it without major concessions from him, it would be to hand Castro an important victory.
The truth is also that the chief, perhaps only real, beneficiary of the embargo is Fidel Castro who uses it as his all-purpose excuse for everything that has gone wrong there since the end of the Soviet subsidies in the early 90s. Despite the harsh rhetoric of his government calling for the end of the embargo, many believe that he lives in dread of the day it is finally lifted. If he gains a momentary propaganda advantage that day, it cannot last and he will have to scramble to find other reasons to explain why life for the average Cuban does not improve.
We acknowledge that very few Members of Congress are prepared today to move for lifting the embargo, but we should let Members know our view, and urge them to re-think this ineffectual and unethical policy.
For more information: Tom Quigley 202 541 3184