By Mauricio Claver-Carone
September 28, 2008
Hurricane Michelle in 2001 was the most devastating natural disaster to
hit Cuba in 50 years. A year before the disaster, the Clinton
administration had signed into law a provision by Midwest farm interests
easing the trade embargo to allow the sale of U.S. agricultural
products. Fidel Castro refused to buy anything because the law also
denied Cuba trade financing and credits. Castro would have to pay cash.
Since Michelle devastated the island's food supply, Castro changed his
mind and pursued a "one-time cash purchase" of foodstuffs. The Bush
administration then authorized this legal purchase as a "good-will"
Over the next five years, however, that "good will" gesture became the
Castro regime's platform for a full-scale lobbying assault on trade
sanctions. Farm bureaus and agri-business giants joined the Castro
government in pressuring Congress to unilaterally lift remaining trade
sanctions on Cuba. Thus far, successful bipartisan efforts have managed
to stave off policy changes.
Everyone learned a lesson — or did we?
This year, Hurricane Gustav impacted the western provinces of Cuba and
has now been followed by Hurricane Ike. The devastation is severe, the
suffering of the Cuban people tragic.
U.S. policy allows and encourages humanitarian aid to be delivered to
the Cuban people and despite the numerous impediments by Cuban
authorities; the United States remains the world's largest provider of
humanitarian aid to the people of Cuba. U.S.-based nongovernment
organizations are licensed by the Treasury Department to travel,
transport and provide unlimited amounts of humanitarian aid to the Cuban
people. Unfortunately, the Cuban government has chosen to deny
U.S.-based NGOs — and most recently European Union NGOs — entry to
distribute any direct-to-people aid.
Similar to pressure applied to the Burmese junta after the cyclone that
ravaged that country earlier this year, it is imperative for all
Americans to join together and call on Cuban authorities to accept NGO
and allow them direct access to the Cuban people.
Equally important, Americans of all political persuasions should be
careful not to confuse or distract from these humanitarian aid efforts
with calls for suspensions of current U.S. policy toward Cuba. Previous
experience has proven that changing U.S. law to unilaterally lift
sanctions is fraught with repercussions.
It would simply provide Cuban authorities with a vetting mechanism for
those traveling to the island, thus facilitating their ability to
condition and siphon funds from the United States, as they have done in
the past; while requiring no concessions from Cuba — no entry for NGOs,
no access for disaster relief specialists, and no distribution of
humanitarian aid. Not to mention, no release of political prisoners, no
legalization of independent journalists, labor unions or opposition
groups, and no effort to establish a rule of law.
In the same breath as it rejected humanitarian aid, Cuban authorities
quickly joined the chorus of those seeking the unconditional lifting of
sanctions, and renewed its all-too-familiar call for unrelated trade
financing and credits. Obviously, the Havana regime has not changed or
lost its focus on distractions, repression and control. In view of this,
U.S. policy must not lose or change its immediate focus, humanitarian
aid for the Cuban people, and ongoing focus, democratic reform.
Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC (
www.uscubapac.com) in Washington, D.C.