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Assist the Cuban People: Strengthen Cuba Sanctions & Hurricane Assistance Without Conditions

Armando Valladares, former Cuban Political Prisoner and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission said it best recently: “Not one nail or plank of wood to the Cuban regime” for hurricane relief efforts.

As we have done in disasters in other regions of the world affecting countries with difficult governments, the U.S. has offered billions of dollars worth of assistance to Cuba during the past two weeks.  According to U.S. officials on background, the assistance is up and beyond what we have done in other regions.   But, do not confuse our gesture of goodwill to secure a change in policy.  If anything, what we should be doing is enforcing the sanctions on the books and increasing sanctions on the Cuban regime.   Rather than take our offer of assistance without conditions, the Cuban Communist Party has repeatedly rejected it.   Why?  Because it, and their supporters in Washington, DC, see a shameless political opportunity to ease U.S. sanctions on the Communist Party of Cuba. 

Frank Mora, a Cuba expert at the National War College, called our offer of aid “embarrassing and shameful.”  In a rather shrill tone, the President of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) Jorge Mas Santos, a supporter of Sen. Barack Obama, called our offer “insulting.”  “Our policy does not make sense,” says Arizona Republican Congressman Jeff Flake.  While the Cuban Foreign Ministry, sounding much like these advocates of easing sanctions, piled on as well saying that the U.S. government behaves “cynically” and that it “lies unscrupulously.”   These and other emotionally-laden statements are out of touch with reality.  Next week, a series of Congressional hearings are scheduled to discuss and propose measures to ease U.S. sanctions on Cuba.  Any effort to ease sanctions would be misguided and would play right into the hands of the Cuban Communist Party and the military.

The last thing that the Cuban Communist Party wants to see in Cuba are crates of U.S.-origin food, water, and other supplies distributed to the people of Cuba.  Party officials and military officers understand the psychological blow this would have on an already failed state.  The images of bags of rice and other supplies stamped with an American flag would be further validation that the Communist Party of Cuba is way out of touch with the times.  However, the Cuban people already know this.  They also know that their best hope for help is the U.S. and the Cuban exile community.  They know that the only thing standing between them and their next meal or drink of water is the Communist Party of Cuba and its officials.

The people of Haiti and Cuba deserve better.  In Haiti, the disaster has reached crisis proportions and the people are resorting to violence to get a drink of water or some food.  This further reinforces the notion that the United Nations presence has been an utter failure and, as soon as reasonably possible, the UN must exit the Western Hemisphere.  The U.S. should mount a massive aid and reconstruction program based on rule of law, free markets, and re-building Haiti’s democratic institutions – without any MINUSTAH meddling.

With regards to Cuba, the Bush Administration and the Congress must hold the line on our current policy and not give in to the weak position offered by the Cuban Communist Party and their supporters in Washington, DC.  We have made a genuine offer of assistance.  It is up to the Cuban Communist Party to look beyond policy differences and allow this assistance to reach the Cuban people.  As has been the case since 1959, it is the Cuban regime that is prolonging the suffering of the Cuban people, not the U.S.  It is a failed state whose time has come to go, but because of its unique geographic and political situation, has managed to cling to power longer than it should. 

While currently blinded by political myopia, Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike could very well be the Cuban Communist Party’s undoing.  The Communist Party’s nostalgic response to offers of U.S. assistance reminds us that Cuba’s leaders are still stuck in another era.  While the Communist Party dawdles in Havana, the U.S. has an opportunity to demonstrate to the people of Cuba and the Americas our commitment to freedom and democracy in Cuba. 

As we have done for famine victims in Africa or the tsunami victims in Southeast Asia, the U.S. should organize a massive relief effort and make it available to Cuba, even if they say no.  Food, water, medicine, and medical supplies, including donations from Americans, should be stored in GiTMO in eastern Cuba (no worries, the prison facility is very much apart from the rest of the base).   Given GiTMO’s proximity to Haiti and the Eastern Caribbean, it is possible that assistance for these regions could also be staged from this area.

The U.S. military will see to it that this assistance gets pre-positioned and ready to move to the most affected in Cuba.  It would be up to the Cuban Communist Party just give the word.  Operations to assist the people of Haiti can begin almost immediately.  Not only would this be consistent with our mission in the Americas, but these powerful images of U.S. aid headed to Haiti, but not Cuba, would further reinforce to the people of Cuba who has the ability to do right, and who does not.  This is the only policy change we need right now, enforcement of the current policy on the books.   As former Cuban political prisoner and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission Armado Valladares penned recently, “Not One Nail, Not one Plank of Wood to the Cuban Regime.”

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