Thursday, October 25, 2007

Charles Rangel on Cuba

CONTACT : Emile Milne 202 225-4365 October 25, 2007


The President today sided against the Cuban people and chose instead the tried and tired policies of the past. Not a fresh or novel idea was proposed, just a reiteration of longstanding − and long-failing − hardball tactics that have done nothing to promote democracy on the island. By rejecting a new direction, the President again delivered a course of raw meat to the most extreme opponents of the Castro government.

The Administration has shown a remarkable lack of foresight in its dealing with Cuba. Still mired in 1960's thinking, it waits for Fidel Castro's death to be the catalyst for democratic change, all while his brother, Raúl, consolidates power and influence. The President's attempt to play catch up − hurling age-old threats and intimidation − won't be more effective now than it has been for the last 50 years. Instead of idly preparing for Castro's death, we should be cultivating good will in Cuba, so that we can be active players when the head of state finally changes.

But the President appears committed to failure. The trade embargo has been a godsend to a Cuban government that uses it as a scapegoat for its errors. The failed strategy of the embargo has drawn ire from both religious leaders and political dissidents on the island, because it makes their fight for democracy that much harder. It has increased the influence of Hugo Chavez in appointing the U.S. as the enemy of Latin America. It has weakened our credibility in the War on Terrorism by defending terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles, whose plots have killed innocent people.

Here at home, the policy stifles trade opportunities for American businesses seeking to sell in Cuba. It prevents Americans from travelling there, but allows free access to communist China and Vietnam. It encourages Americans to break the law and go to Cuba through a third country at exorbitant expense.

The cruelest aspect of the President's policy is ignoring the pain of separated Cuban families. No one suffers more than our Cuban-descendent brothers and sisters when travel is limited to one trip every three years, and emergency trips − even those relating to a dying relative − are outright barred. Even Cuban Americans who support the trade embargo are vehemently against a policy that divides their families.

The President announced an initiative allowing non-governmental organizations and faith groups to send computers to Cuba. But at the same time, needed clothes, medicines, and medical supplies donated by organizations like Pastors for Peace are considered contraband. He announced a program allowing for Cuban children to participate in a scholarship program in the U.S. But at the same time, he prevents American students and college researchers from studying there. He announced the creation of an international freedom fund, directed towards assisting Cuba's transition to democracy. But allowable remittances sent by Cuban Americans to their families on the island have been drastically reduced.

If the President really wants to promote democracy in Cuba, he will lift the embargo against travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba. I believe there would be no more effective way to evidence the difference between Castro's failed economy and the potential for a better life than returning Cuban-Americans who can testify to their own experience.

Unfortunately, today is just another day in a string of days since 1959 that playing electoral politics in Florida wins out over enacting sensible policy. It appears that changing course in the face of failure is something this Administration simply will not do.

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