Aching and breaking news.
Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee voted to sharply limit the rights of Cuban Americans to visit their families on the island and provide them financial support. In approving an amendment offered by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the panel also revoked a new right granted to all Americans to provide financial support for Cubans who are permitted under U.S. law to receive what are called “remittances.”
To become law, the proposal, added to the 2012 Treasury Department budget, must clear the House and Senate in identical forms, and be signed by President Obama, who made family travel and financial support for Cubans a key part of his foreign policy toward the island.
That could happen, unless reasonable men and women of good will stand on principle and fight for what is at stake.
The Bush administration put onerous restrictions on the rights of Cuban Americans to visit and support their families. Travel was limited to once every three years and could last only 14 days. Cuban Americans were permitted to send just $300 per quarter to family members. The intent was to deny revenue to Cuba’s government.
The hardship this exacted on families was intolerable. The rules contained no humanitarian exemptions. Cuban Americans could not visit family members who took ill, could not attend the funerals of relatives who died. Families who depended on financial support from their kin in the U.S. had trouble making ends meet (as many still do).
To his credit, candidate Obama promised to end the restrictions were he elected president. He made good on this commitment in April 2009, and went further by allowing unlimited visits and eliminating restrictions on remittances. In January 2011, he opened an additional avenue of support by allowing all Americans to provide remittances to any qualified Cuban.
Estimates vary, but remittances now provide between $1-2 billion in additional income for Cubans. This support allows families to make ends meet and, during this era of economic reform, is empowering a new class of Cuban entrepreneurs to open small businesses, allowing them to make their own decisions about hiring, and giving them greater control over their own lives. These opportunities are critical as the Cuban state plans to remove 500,000 to over one million workers from the state’s payroll and cut back on social benefits making it harder for Cubans to meet their household budgets.
Rep. Diaz-Balart – in his desire to crush Cuba by strangling its economy – now puts all of this progress at risk. He would once again divide Cuban families, extinguish much of their outside financial support, deny entrepreneurs the seed capital they need to start independent businesses, and prevent Americans no matter their heritage from helping Cubans succeed in a tough economy.
It is an inhumane policy.
News of the amendment sparked responses from several organizations that advocate for the opening of travel and trade to Cuba. The Latin America Working Group and Washington Office on Latin America released a joint statement calling the amendment “vindictive” and “anti-family.” The Cuba Study Group also released a statement, declaring:
It is unfortunate that Representative Mario Diaz-Balart continues to use the suffering of Cuban families as a weapon in furthering a failed policy aimed at the Cuban regime. At a time when the Cuban government has found it necessary to implement reforms, and Cubans are increasingly becoming independent of the state, Representative Diaz-Balart’s efforts only add to the isolation and suffering of the Cuban people and make a democratic transition on the island less likely.
A press release from the Center for Democracy in the Americas quotes Executive Director Sarah Stephens saying:
This cruel amendment will divide Cuban families, prevent sons and daughters from gathering for funerals or family health crises on the island, and strip away financial support at the precise moment when economic reforms on Cuba make it possible for Cubans to live more independent lives by forming businesses. The bizarre message of this amendment – ‘Mr. President, rebuild those walls’ – stands Ronald Reagan on his head, and makes the hatred by some in Congress of the Cuban government more important than family values. It should not become law.
It shouldn’t become law. But who will stand in its way?
Will Cuban Americans – in places like South Florida and New Jersey – repudiate this amendment and act to preserve their travel and family rights?
Will the U.S. firms who profit from travel to Cuba seek to defend their businesses, profits, and jobs?
Will the airports in Miami – and soon, in Tampa – speak up on behalf of serving the Cuban market?
Will Members of Congress ask the tough questions about this proposal, which makes permanent changes in Treasury’s authority and reduces tax revenues at a time of crushing deficits?
Will farmers who like to sell goods into the Cuban market speak up for travel, which provides Cuba the revenues it needs to buy American commodities?
Will the Obama administration fight for this just and effective example of good Cuba policy?
Finally, will those who worry about Alan Gross – and his separation from his family –improbably use his captivity to justify separating tens of thousands of Cuban Americans from their families or will they fight to keep families together?
We are standing up, and alerting our allies to the dangers and cruelty of this policy. We urge all of them and you to stand up against this amendment as well.
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