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What’s going on in Congress? (Be prepared; this is a discouraging section.)
In June, the House voted to increase the mismanaged “democracy assistance” funds supposedly intended to assist Cuban dissidents. Reps. Albio Sires (D-NJ) and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) attached an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill in June to increase the funding from the $9 million the committee recommended to the $45 million the Bush Administration requested. Regrettably, the amendment passed 254-170.
Similar amendments were offered in the Senate to the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) offered three negative amendments to the bill - one to increase the funding for Radio and TV Marti, one to increase the funding to the $45 million dollar level the Bush Administration requested for “democracy assistance” and one to significantly increase the funding for fumigations in Colombia. In final negotiations, Senator Martinez offered to withdraw two of the negative amendments in exchange for increasing the “democracy assistance” funding. (No surprise, as a GAO report from November 2006 shows a significant portion of this money stays with his constituents in Florida.)
And in late July, the House of Representatives voted 185-245 to defeat an amendment by Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY), a long-time advocate for changing Cuba policy, to facilitate the sales of U.S. farm products to the island. Unfortunately, many of our usual allies voted against this amendment. See our e-alert of July 26, 2007 for some analysis of this vote. These two losses have left many of our congressional allies frustrated and hesitant to offer other legislation that might also result in a loss. Add this on top of Congress’ priorities of the war in Iraq, important votes on children’s health care, and trying to prevent another war in Iran, and it is highly unlikely that we will see more congressional action on the Cuba issue for the remainder of the year. And, actually, we don’t want to push for a vote before we are certain that it would be a winning vote.
So . . . we need to gear up to pave the way for action in 2008 - with educational activities and messages, calling to account our members of Congress who have abandoned this effort or reversed their vote (there are about 46 non-freshman democrats and republicans who used to be solidly with us but voted against the Rangel amendment), agitating for change (we’re working with partner organizations on a plan), and adding to the support we have to be able to demonstrate that we CAN win this issue on the floor of the House and Senate.
One example of how we can agitate
We have been working with our partners at the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Center for International Policy, and the Washington Office on Latin America to put together a Presidential Candidate Scorecard to rank presidential candidates’ overall positions on Cuba. Just to be clear, the scorecard is NOT an endorsement of any candidate, but it is a valuable resource for evaluating candidates’ positions. We expect to have the scorecard completed and a copy posted on our website within the next week. We will send you a quick note letting you know it’s up. We hope you will use it to inform and educate in your state.
We will share the scorecard with members of the press, and we encourage you to review the scorecard and thank candidates that have positions that favor engagement and travel and question those who support the status quo. We will have more suggested actions when we send it out.
President Bush’s Speech
**For more coverage of the speech, read this New York Times article
or this article from the Agence France Presse
On Wednesday, October 24, President Bush made a speech at the State Department and announced several “new initiatives” on Cuba policy. The speech called for U.S. citizens to stand with the people of Cuba (Bush’s version of “standing with” differs from ours!) in the “time of transition” and announced a program to license NGOs and faith-based groups to provide computer and internet access to students, invited Cuban youth to participate in a Latin American Youth scholarship program in the United States, and announced the creation of a multi-billion dollar so-called “Freedom Fund for Cuba.” The President encouraged countries world wide to contribute to the fund, although it is unclear from where the President believes the political capital to create this fund would come, the U.S. leadership role and credibility in the world being as diminished as it currently is. Even the allies that President Bush mentioned in his speech - the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary - have consistently voted against the U.S. embargo in the United Nations.
Speaking of the United Nations, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted 184-4 October 30, in the 16th consecutive loss by the United States, to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba. You can read more in this New York Times story.
President Bush’s speech demonstrates how isolated the United States has become in efforts to have a voice in the debate on Cuba’s emerging transition. If the President intends that the United States play any part (read: appropriate, non-interventionist) in Cuba’s future, he would be wise to pursue a policy of engagement - as the majority of U.S. citizens wish - rather than continuing the failed policy of isolation and hostility.
Most dangerously, the President seemed to call for upheaval in Cuba - certainly not what the policy of the United States should be in any country. He said that “stability” was not the U.S. goal, rather “freedom.” His full speech is available on the Department of State website.
The speech came at a time when the President needs a distraction from the declining situation in Iraq, sagging political support in Florida, and the United Nations vote condemning the United States’ embargo on Cuba.
The LAWG urges the administration and the Congress to become relevant and begin an immediate process of engagement, dialogue and policy change. Opening up trade and unrestricted travel to Cuba would be a good beginning.
Well, that’s it for now. If you’ve read to the end, we hope you aren’t discouraged. Your energy is needed even more now to keep the issue of Cuba policy before our legislators and our presidential candidates. As opportunities arise, we’ll be coming back to you with requests for action and advocacy. Right now, please help us publicize and distribute the Love, Loss, and Longing book with policy makers and the public; help others to understand that Cuba policy is one of the keys to improving U.S. foreign policy in Latin America; be encouraged that change will come.
Mavis Anderson and Claire Rodriguez | Latin America Working Group | http://www.lawg.org