|Volume 9, Issue 4||Fall 1999|
from page 6
availability of food and medicine for humanitarian assistance abroad by requiring Congressional approval before the imposition of any unilateral agricultural or medical sanction against a foreign country or foreign entity", a slight re-write of his amendment to the agriculture bill. The bill currently has 36 co-sponsors; it hopefully will see some action in early 2000.
A similar effort is afoot in the House, with pressure being put on Speaker Dennis Hastert to allow a debate and vote on the House floor. Two "Dear Colleague" letters, one Republican and one Democratic, are currently collecting signatures for letters to the Speaker urging him to take up legislation allowing exports of food and medicine to countries subject to economic sanctions. This includes Cuba. The number of signers is steadily growing; between the two letters the goal is to exceed 218, the number needed to pass a bill in the House, which looks hopeful.
This work finds us in coalition with new and sometimes unusual partners: the U.S. business community, agriculture interests (both agribusiness and small mid-western farmers), Cuban-Americans open to ending the embargo, as well as our customary partners from the religious and human rights communities. The coalition continues to gain in strength and resolve, as we work together to benefit both the Cuban people without access to needed medicines and food, and U.S. farmers in search of new markets for their products.
In addition, the Administration recently came out with seemingly contradictory actions. President Clinton said in early November that he could favor an easing of the embargo on Cuba “under the right circumstances,” a plan similar to legislation considered recently by Congress to exempt food and medicine from U.S. embargoes. At the same time, the State Department initiated a new web site focused exclusively on Cuba. Its stated purpose is to help Americans understand the maze of rules and regulations governing travel to Cuba, the U.S. embargo against the island and related issues. It highlights, with the help of pictures, the Administration’s view of perceived shortcomings of the revolution in such areas as housing, transportation, and human rights. Then, on November 10, President Clinton rejected appeals from House Republicans to put Cuba on the so-called “majors” list of drug exporting and drug trafficking nations, stating that no clear evidence has been found that cocaine or heroin are transiting Cuba en route to the United States in quantities that significantly affect the United States. House Republicans have promised retaliatory measures.
LAWG continues to encourage that you contact your Senators and Representative to become cosponsors of the Dodd/Serrano legislation (S. 926/H.R. 1644) to end the embargo on the sale of food and medicine to Cuba. This enables us to assess support for the Ashcroft bill and the similar bill to be introduced in the House, plus pending travel legislation. The House of Representatives is especially important at this time. For the status of your Congressperson or Senator’s positions, and contact phone numbers call or write us.
LAWG’s Cuba grassroots network is active and growing, having increased to an e-mail list of over 400 groups and individuals. The response to our alerts and requests for action from this network of people concerned about U.S. policy toward Cuba is heartening. They can be credited with positively changing a significant number of votes on Cuba legislation this session. If you’d like to join the network, e-mail us and request to be put on the list. A current effort is to provide an organizing packet to raise the issue of Cuba in the up-coming Congressional campaigns. We’ll be in touch with our state/district contacts to assist in designing a strategy in your area. Please contact us if you’re willing to help organize or participate.
Governor of Illinois visits Cuba
On October 23rd, Governor George H. Ryan became the first sitting US governor to visit Cuba in over 40 years. Ryan brought almost $2 million of humanitarian supplies, and a delegation which included First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan, Representative Edgar Lopez (D-Chicago), Illinois Speaker of the House, Illinois House and Senate minority leaders, as well as state representatives, senators, and cabinet members. “My hope is that this humanitarian mission will usher in a new era of cooperation and understanding between the people of our two countries. We’re going to build bridges between the people of Illinois and the people of Cuba,” Ryan said. “Isolating Cuba is not in the best interests of Illinois or in the best interests of the US.” Issued a U.S. Treasury Department license, Ryan met with Fidel Castro, and other government officials. Ryan emphasized the similarities between Cuba and Illinois: “We have visited with your Minister of Agriculture and toured your farms,” he said. “We have discovered much about your land and what it can produce. We have learned that our commitment to the land is the same. It’s what we produce that is different.” His humanitarian aid included school supplies, medicines, food, and clothing. “Too often these kids are not getting the proper medical attention they need,” Mrs. Ryan said. "By providing these supplies, I hope that we can improve their plight today and help them prepare for a better tomorrow."