National Lawyer’s Guild Cuba Subcommitte
The U.S. is proceeding with its plans to put on trial persons under U.S. jurisdiction for the alleged offense of travel to Cuba and making related expenditures. On Monday, Dec. 6, 2004 at 2:00 pm, in Washington, D.C., Michael and Andrea McCarthy, Catholic activists and healthcare workers from Michigan, will go on trial, in the courtroom at the Federal Maritime Commission. (800 N. Capitol Street, NW), which is open to the public.
(See background information below.)
Despite the fact that 4 Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have been impaneled since October 2003 to conduct such special “trials for travel,” the government has failed to obtain a single judgment to date. One hearing has been held this fall, with briefings and a decision to follow. In the McCarthy case, the ALJ has denied all defenses to liability, and the hearing on Monday will focus on what, if any, penalty he may feel appropriate to impose.
Last month, the government agreed to dismiss all charges against the “Methodist 3” from Milwaukee, WI, in the face of an order from the ALJ assigned to their cases that it must answer their counterclaims, which asserted that their prosecution constituted illegal interference with their right to practice religion, among other things. The travelers agreed to dismiss their counterclaims in return, and paid no penalties. See http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/nov04/279960.asp
Below is an excerpted background piece on the McCarthy’s case, provided by Geoff Thale, of the Washington Office on Latin America, [url=http://www.wola.org]http://www.wola.org[/url] . For possible interviews and other background information, contact Sarah Stephens (or Shauna Harrison) at Center for International Policy, at 202.232.3317.
Natl. Lawyers Guild’s Cuba Subcommittee, [url=http://www.nlg.org/cuba]http://www.nlg.org/cuba[/url]
414-273-1040, ext. 12; fax 414-273-4859
Michael and Andrea McCarthy, Catholic activists and health care workers from Michigan, traveled to Cuba in the spring of 2001, in response to an invitation from an order of Catholic nuns. They spent more than half of their six day trip in the company of the nuns, to whom they delivered medical supplies that had been donated by their parish in Port Huron. Now they face a fine of some $15,000 from the U.S. Treasury Department, for traveling to Cuba without a license. They will have a hearing in Washington on Monday.
Michael and Andrea McCarthy are health care workers in Port Huron, Michigan. Michael is a physician’s assistant, and Andrea a nurse. They have four children. They are active in their local church, St.Mary’s, and active in Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace group. They have traveled abroad to do volunteer medical work a number of times.
Michael has been to Chiapas, Mexico on four occasions, as well as to Haiti. Michael McCarthy had participated in a peace pilgrimage in Mexico under the sponsorship of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Cristobal, Chiapas, worked in a church medical clinic in Tila, Chiapas, and delivered medical aid there. Mr. McCarthy’s trips had been arranged through Catholic priests in the Lansing, Michigan area, who had had a long relationship with a parish in Chiapas. A Mexican nun, from the Passionist order, had worked for many years with Spanish-speaking Catholics in Lansing; she was subsequently been re-assigned to the Chiapas parish.
In Chiapas, the Passionist sisters working in the parish suggested to Mr. McCarthy that he visit the Passionist convent in Cuba. Subsequently, the order’s Mother Superior issued an invitation to the McCarthys to visit the convent in Cuba.
In the spring of 2001, the McCarthys collected about $250 worth of medical supplies, in order to bring the supplies to the nuns in Cuba.
Then they traveled to Cuba. They did not apply for a U.S. travel license from the Treasury Department. Like thousands of other Americans, they traveled to Cuba through Canada, buying an eight day seven night package tour, that included a car rental. They flew to Cuba, and stayed at an inexpensive tourist hotel about six hours out of Havana. On their third day, they drove the rental car to Havana. They spent three days with the Passionist nuns, at their convent in Havana. The McCarthys brought their medical supplies to the nuns, stayed in the convent itself for two nights, attended Mass at St. Barbara’s church and St. Edward’s chapel, and saw the work of the Passionist sisters in Havana.
On their return to the United States, they told U.S. Customs officials they had been to Cuba. Nearly a year later, they received a letter from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury notifying them that the government intended to fine them for their travel to Cuba.
On Monday, December 6th, Michael and Andrea McCarthy will have a hearing before an. Administrative Law Judge in Washington to determine how much they should be fined for taking this trip. The government has asked for a fine of $15,000, although the judge has indicated that he is not limited by that. According to the law authorizing such civil penalties, offenders may be fined up to $65,000 a piece for violations.
“What is the logic behind punishing American citizens for traveling to Cuba? Especially, what is the logic behind punishing people who traveled to Cuba to deliver medical assistance to a group of Catholic nuns?,” said Geoff Thale, of the Washington Office on Latin America. “You would think that this Administration would want to encourage faith-based travel to Cuba. Instead, they appear to be punishing it.”
Last year, the Bush Administration fined an Indiana woman who traveled to Cuba with a church group to distribute Bibles.
“The issue is whether the United States government ought to be punishing American citizens for traveling to Cuba, and in this particularly egregious case, whether the government ought to be punishing deeply devout people who traveled to Cuba to bring medicine to a convent. Whatever the technicalities of the law, the answer is clearly no. We should be outraged at this proposal to punish the McCarthys,” said Thale.