On July 23, the House of Representatives expressed once again its strong bi-partisan sentiment for a change in US policy toward Cuba (see page 27). Following is the contribution to that debate by FRD.
Dear Member of Congress;
As a not-for-profit organization, we are constrained in how deeply we may be involved in the legislative process. And as a Member of Congress, your primary duty is to the people from your own district. With those caveats, I wish to make a few observations that may be relevant to your decision on the amendments by Representative Flake, Rangel, Goss and others to the Treaury-Postal Appropriations Bill that may come before the House as early as tomorrow.
1) Our organization has worked since 1985 to bring about normal US diplomatic, trade and cultural relations between the US and three countries with which our country had concluded a long and bitter war. It cost 56,000 deaths to Americans and more than two million deaths to the people of Indochina and left a legacy of deep mutual distrust. Two of those countries today still have political systems and perspectives on human rights that are very similar to Cuba’s.
2) The embargo of Vietnam and Cambodia and the restrictions on travel to those countries by American citizens were ended without requiring a change in their political systems or human rights policies. Laos has never been subject to either an embargo or travel restrictions, although paradoxically it does not yet have Normal Trade Relations.
3) As a result of traveling to Indochina two to four times per year I have personally observed the liberalizing impact of countless program oriented visits by Americans from non-governmental organizations, universities, foundations and business, as well as of tourism by average Americans, as mutual ignorance and suspicion steadily declined. This evolution is real and it is peaceful, albeit distressing to the diminishing number of hard liners in all four countries.
4) Our organization began work with Cuba about four years ago. During half-a-dozen visits I have seen how US government efforts to bring about change by imposing barriers to personal and institutional contact between Americans and Cubans have clearly backfired. Such US policies perpetuate a negative historical image of American intentions and values and thus reinforce the nationalist response of the most cautious and suspicious Cubans.
5) One consequence of US attempts to force change in Cuba is that Cuba has not experienced a fundamental self-driven change that has characterized Indochina, namely dramatic opening of the economy to local and international free markets.
6) The partial opening for travel and humanitarian assistance introduced in the later years of the Clinton Administration were having a real impact, allowing greatly expanded travel sponsored by groups like ours. These reforms are being choked to death by the political imperatives of President Bush’s team. The only solution is to end all bureaucratic authority over these most fundamental of American freedoms that are essential to good citizenship, the right to travel and personally witness.
John McAuliff, Executive Director July 22, 2002
Peace Corps Volunteer, Peru (1964-66)