Eighty Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are urging President Joe Biden to immediately sign an executive order ending the "cruel" sanctions imposed on Cuba by the Trump administration and to renew diplomatic engagement with the neighboring island nation by reversing his Republican predecessor's "politicized decision" to re-designate Cuba as a "state sponsor of terrorism."
"With support from champions in Congress, we are confident that this can be the administration that finally brings the failed embargo policy to a close."
—Elena Freyre, ACERE
"With the stroke of a pen, you can assist struggling Cuban families and promote a more constructive approach," the lawmakers wrote Tuesday in a letter (pdf) sent to the president.
The letter—spearheaded by Reps. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and signed by leaders of the influential House committees on foreign affairs, financial services, and appropriations—encourages Biden to take executive action "without delay" to lift restrictions on travel and remittances, stressing that more than half of Cubans depend on money sent from abroad.
"We thank our congressional representatives for speaking up in this letter to President Biden urging him to act quickly, boldly, and broadly to end the cruel and inhumane economic, commercial, and financial embargo imposed on the Cuban people," Angélica Salazar, a steering committee member of the newly formed Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect (ACERE) said in a statement.
According to Erik Sperling, executive director of Just Foreign Policy, the advocacy group that helped initiate the letter, the lawmakers' message to Biden "is a sign of a sea change on Cuba policy in Congress, particularly given its support from all flanks of the Democratic Party and from a dozen influential members of House leadership."
"With support from champions in Congress," said Elena Freyre, a longtime Cuban-American advocate for ending the U.S. embargo on Cuba and member of ACERE, "we are confident that this can be the administration that finally brings the failed embargo policy to a close."
Great move today by 80 members of congress, who sent a letter to Biden calling for executive action to improve relations with Cuba! Thank you @RepBobbyRush. Thanks to @AllianceForCuba (ACERE) for its hard work! #EndCubaEmbargo https://t.co/YiBWt5oKi8
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) March 3, 2021
During his presidential campaign, Biden pledged to undo former President Donald Trump's hardening of the six decades-long U.S. economic blockade against Cuba, a shift that he pursued even while Cubans endured acute shortages of food and medicine as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Biden in September 2020 said Trump's failed policies had "inflicted harm on Cubans and their families... [and] done nothing to advance democracy and human rights."
Nevertheless, as Reuters reported, Biden "has not yet indicated whether he will fully revert to the historic détente initiated by Democratic former President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president."
Following the Obama-era effort to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Reuters noted, the Trump administration over the course of four years adopted more than 200 policies meant to punish Havana for its "lack of democracy" and for the island nation's ongoing support for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who survived a failed U.S.-backed coup attempt in 2019.
"Critics said Trump's approach did not address such concerns and was more likely aimed at winning over voters in the swing state of Florida," Reuters reported, "which has a large Cuban-American population and did back Trump in the November 3 election."
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One of the previous administration's most "despicable" actions, according to critics, was former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's eleventh-hour decision to put Cuba back on the State Department's list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism," a move that derails the provision of economic aid as well as loans made by international financial insitutions.
Announced on January 11, just nine days before Biden took office, the move was part of a flurry of last-minute "political land mines" the Trump administration laid for Biden in what Foreign Policy reporters Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch argued was a concerted effort to constrain the incoming White House.
The House Democrats' new letter urges Biden to "reverse the recent politicized decision by the departing Trump administration."
JFP is proud to have mobilized with @AllianceForCuba to build grassroots support for this action.@POTUS campaigned on a vow to reverse policies that "have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights."
It's time to end the embargo.
— Just Foreign Policy (@justfp) March 3, 2021
The re-designation of Cuba as a "state sponsor of terrorism" came not only at the end of Trump's presidency but also just five days after an attempted coup on U.S. soil, wherein an insurrectionary pro-Trump mob killed a police officer during a violent attack on the Capitol following weeks of lies from the then-president and dozens of Republican lawmakers about the legitimacy of the presidential election outcome—a fact that critics were quick to point out.
"This designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism with less than a week to go in his presidency and after he incited a domestic terror attack on the U.S. Capitol... that's hypocrisy," Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) told The Associated Press in an interview at the time.
Cuba's Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez also denounced Pompeo's January announcement, calling it "hypocritical" and "cynical" for the U.S. to put Cuba on its list of terrorist-sponsoring states. "U.S. political opportunism," Rodríguez added, "is recognized by those who are honestly concerned about the scourge of terrorism and its victims."
In recent months, Cuba has been sending doctors around the world to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite being burdened for decades by harmful economic sanctions imposed by the U.S., the biggest export of the small island nation, which has a lower child mortality rate than its more powerful and aggressive neighbor to the north, is medical care.
In response to the outgoing Trump administration's intensification of U.S. hostility toward Cuba earlier this year, CodePink's Medea Benjamin drew attention to the fact that the U.S. has run a "gulag" in Guantánamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba for nearly two decades. She also juxtaposed Cuba's international medical brigades with U.S. support for the Saudi regime's starvation-inducing blockades and deadly airstrikes on Yemen and asked, "Who is the state sponsor of terrorism?"
A White House official, however, "dampened hopes for a quick Cuba policy shift," telling Reuters in an interview that "it was not currently among Biden's top priorities."
Reflecting on the House Democrats' new letter, Salazar said that "we must remain 'impatient' and strong... in maintaining our grassroots pressure on both the Biden administration and on Congress."
"ACERE and our alliance members are committed to helping end the U.S. embargo on Cuba in 2021," she said. "Our national movement is growing!"