By Art Heitzer, Cuba Subcommittee Chair
December 17, 2015 will mark a year after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced the release of the Cuban Five and other prisoners, and the U.S. pledge to normalize relations with Cuba. While embassies have been opened and the U.S. no longer lists Cuba as a terrorist sponsor, the Obama administration has not taken significant steps to end over 50 years of the economic blockade. Since 1960, official U.S. policy has been to impose “hunger, desperation and overthrow of government” on the Cuban people. While the ultimate goal has failed due to their courage and steadfastness, the blockade has cost Cubans dearly. Yet it continues today.
Miguel Fraga, the First Secretary of Cuba’s new Embassy in Washington, addressed the NLG convention. He thanked the Guild for its record of solidarity with the Cuban people (see www.nlginternational.org/news/article.php?nid=668 for a short summary). But he also emphasized the need for U.S. actions, not just good intentions. So did Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Oct. 27, speaking at the United Nations before the General Assembly voted almost unanimously, 191-2, with no abstentions (& only Israel joining the U.S.), to condemn the continuing economic blockade. Rodriguez cited the fines of about $1 billion each which were recently imposed on Germany’s second largest bank, and on the French bank Credit Agricole in October, 2015. He pointed out that the Obama administration has expansive powers to dismantle the blockade which it has not used, and that “lifting of the blockade will be essential” to “set the pace towards normalization.”
Once again, as has happened repeatedly in prior years, the U.S. State Department delayed granting a visa to Guillermo Ferriol, the head of the Cuban Labor Law Society, to address the NLG convention until after his scheduled arrival. Many mainstream Cubans have continued to face such harassment when invited to speak in the U.S.
Meanwhile the Treasury Department re-started administrative prosecutions of U.S. people who visited Cuba and helped others to visit, four and five years ago, and is threatening to bring back the “trials for travel” which were held under George W. Bush, but abandoned in 2006 after facing vigorous opposition by Guild lawyers.
Another extremely serious attack is the IRS attempt to revoke the tax exempt 501( c)3 status of Pastors for Peace/IFCO, based largely on its 25 years of using civil disobedience to challenge the blockade and travel ban. An IRS recommendation is based on “illegal activity” – even though the office charged with enforcing these restrictions never found that IFCO/PFP broke the law.
Former NLG President Marjorie Cohn and I cited the Guild resolution in the widely circulated article www.huffingtonpost.com/marjorie-cohn/obama-put-your-money-wher_b_8443074.html. The NLG and its Cuba Subcommittee urge all chapters and members to publicize and adopt this resolution and forward it to their Senators, U.S. Representatives, and to Secretaries of the Treasury and State Departments. See www.nlginternational.org/news/article.php?nid=669 for details and contact information and please send copies to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The full resolution is below.
Urgent Call for US Administration to Cease Impending Punitive Actions for Normalized Relations with Cuba
The NLG welcomes the recently announced policy of the US government to normalize relations with Cuba, pursuant to simultaneous declarations by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro. This includes mutual openings of embassies and full diplomatic recognition, the release of the Cuban Five and other prisoners, and the subsequent removal of Cuba from the unilaterally maintained US list of nations that supposedly support terrorism.
Despite this, the US economic blockade of Cuba still continues. While full repeal of the statutory authority for these economic sanctions can only be done by Congress, the Obama administration has so far not used its expansive authority to allow Cuba to sell to the US, or to generally allow US suppliers to sell or provide goods and services to Cuban entities, including urban and rural cooperatives. We call for an immediate end to these restrictions, by both administrative and legislative action.
We also call on all levels of the administration to act consistently with the announced policy of President Obama, and accordingly to cease all obstructive and punitive actions, specifically:
- The Internal Revenue Service should cease all attempts and proceedings to revoke the 501(c)3 non-profit status of IFCO, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, based on its long history of using civil disobedience to challenge US restrictions on travel to and trade with Cuba;
- The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) should cease all impending threats and prosecutions of US persons based on their previous travel to Cuba, including the threatened re-institution of “trials for travel” in Washington DC; and
- The US State Department should immediately cease its continuing practice of unreasonably withholding or delaying issuance of non-immigrant visas to mainstream Cubans invited to visit the US by academic and professional organizations including the NLG and for this convention.
- Implementation will be done by the NLG Cuba Subcommittee, which will forward copies of this resolution and background information to all chapters and relevant committees, requesting supportive action on their part.
Submitted by: Art Heitzer