Ending the U.S. blockade of Cuba an uphill battle in Congress

The same politicians that uphold the Confederate flag as part of American heritage believe Cuba should be blockaded, isolated and overrun by McDonalds and Burger King franchises that pay starvation wages.

To understand the political and economic injustice of slavery, racism and intolerance, one must dig deep into the roots of pre-Civil war history.  A military adventurer from Texas named Narciso Lopez (1799-1851) led an ill-fated attempt to annex Cuba to the United States through a plan developed to extend the Southern slavocracy.  It ended abruptly on Cuban soil.

While slavery was not abolished until October 1886 by Spanish royal decree, Cuba’s neighbor to the North watched jealously as Mambises (Black patriots), criollos, peasants and independentistas fought the Necessary War (1895) organized by José Martí to gain freedom from colonial domination and prevent U.S. takeover of the American Hemisphere.

History has recorded that Cuba’s long struggle for independence continued until the  revolutionary victory of the Rebel Army led by Fidel Castro began on January 1, 1959.   Why, then, do U.S. politicians that support efforts to destabilize Cuba drag their heels six months after the agreement by Presidents Obama and Raul Castro to change course last December 17, 2014?

For example, on Friday, June 12, 2015, the U.S. Committee on appropriations approved $30 million for “programs to promote democracy and strengthen civil society in Cuba,” of which not less than  $8 million shall be for the (anti-democratic) National Endowment for Democracy.

The House Appropriations Committee defeated an amendment by Rep. José Serrano (D- NY), to cut funding for Radio/TV Marti by $5 million (18 yes – 30 No).  Another amendment which sought to restore funding for a potential U.S. embassy in Cuba was withdrawn after sensing it would also be defeated.

Does this not violate the original intent to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba?

Advancing the interest of both peoples becomes possible when U.S./Cuba negotiators can discuss all relevant issues.  Common ground had already been established.  In addition, numerous subjects concerning environmental protection from oil spills, hurricane response preparation and coordinated drug interdiction efforts could be discussed in the confines of either embassy.

Instead, extremists chip away at every opportunity to limit the scope of participation by both governments to resolve differences.   In this instance, Cuba has pointed out that their freedom and independence is a non-negotiable item in the framework of current negotiations.  They are asserting their inalienable right.  Why the disconnect?

On September 14, 2015, authorization for the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) is due to expire.  As a World War I Act designed to cordon off support for allies, and deny aid to combatants considered a threat to US forces, it served a purpose.  But, the United States and Cuba are not at war.  This was a pretext inserted into Title I of Helms-Burton as a measure to strengthen sanctions against the Castro government.

Thus, TWEA provides the basis for civil penalties and fines levied on U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba without a U.S. government license.  This act was arbitrarily applied to prevent visitors from spending money in Cuba where Helms-Burton is considered slavery law.

Denying U.S. citizens their Constitutional right to travel and exchange educational, cultural and personal experience with their Cuban brothers and sisters is a stupid policy that has failed for more than 50 years.  Congress continues to lag behind events.

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (S.299) sponsored by Senators Jeff Flake and Patrick Leahy has 43 co-sponsors.  It does not, however, strike at the central contradiction in U.S. policy toward Cuba.  The demand that President Obama sunset TWEA and terminate any contemplation to extend authorization of the act is a necessary element that conveys good faith in the negotiation process.  The TWEA has no legitimacy because Cuba is not a threat to U.S. national security.

Politicians aren’t interested in the opinions of people who can’t vote for them!  Insist that your senators support S.299 and overturn blockade legislation including repeal of Helms-Burton.  Then ask your Representative to support its companion bill in the House, HR 664.  Contact information for both your senators and your  congressperson can be found on the official congressional website

If they can take down the racist Confederate flag in South Carolina, they can end the criminal blockade of Cuba.

Photo: Tourists relax at the Hotel National, overlooking Morro Castle in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan, File)



Richard Grassl
Richard Grassl

Richard Grassl is a member of the Carpenters union in Washington state.