In the wake of Hurricane Dennis, which took an enormous toll especially in Cuba and Haiti, New York Congressman Jose Serrano is calling for the emergency temporary suspension of the Bush administration’s draconian restrictions on Cuban Americans’ ability to assist stricken family members.

Not only does this initiative deserve wholehearted support by all humanitarian-minded members of Congress, it could be a stepping-stone in the broad and ongoing campaign to end once and for all the restrictions barring any normal relations between the American and Cuban peoples.

At press time, Dennis’ death toll had reached 16 in Cuba — unusual because of the excellent evacuation plan through which, this time, over 1.5 million Cubans, or about 10 percent of the country’s people, were able to relocate to safer areas.

This week Rep. Serrano introduced a resolution in Congress asking President Bush “to temporarily suspend restrictions on remittances, gift parcels and family travel to Cuba to allow Cuban Americans to assist their relatives in Cuba” in the aftermath of the hurricane. He also urged that the ban on including clothing and personal hygiene items in gift packages be lifted.

“This is an opportunity for our country to show once again that it is capable of great compassion during a time of crisis,” Serrano wrote in a letter to the president. He added, “I would like to request that we put aside politics in this moment of great humanitarian need, and instead extend a helping hand to our neighbor.”

While successive U.S. administrations have restricted relations with Cuba, engaged in terrorist attacks on the island, and harassed Americans who reached out the hand of friendship, the Bush administration’s tightening of restrictions last year borders on the demented. Cuban Americans can only send $300 in remittances per quarter to immediate family members, very narrowly defined. They can visit only once in three years. Others are barred from even these limited activities.

Organizations including Pastors for Peace, whose Friendshipment caravans are now traveling the U.S., continue to defy and campaign against the bans.

In the name of common humanity, it is time to end them once and for all.