Bernard Cardinal Law
Chairman, Committee on International Policy
United States Catholic Conference
July 12, 2000
I welcome the recent moves in the Congress to end part of the U.S. embargo against the Cuban people and commend the leadership especially of Representative Nethercutt and Senator Ashcroft in these efforts. Whatever the motives some Members may have for seeking an end to restrictions on the sale of food and medicines to Cuba, any measures that relieve the present unjust shortages of basic foods and medicines for the average Cuban, especially the poorest, are to be commended. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives failed to include the sanction reform provision in its version of the Agriculture appropriations bill. It is my hope that this omission will be resolved in conference and that the compromise will not impose conditions that frustrate the humanitarian goals of the new measures.
The Church's moral teachings lay down specific criteria for judging the ethical legitimacy of economic sanctions. The embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba has, in my view, long exhausted the moral legitimacy it may once have had and should be abandoned. At present, the only significant beneficiaries of this embargo are the leaders of the Cuban government for whom it provides an endlessly invoked excuse for the devastating failure of its economic system, and harms mostly the poorest and those without access to the dollar stores. Means other than punitive sanctions should be pursued to promote Cuba's adherence to international norms of human rights and religious freedom.
The present lifting of parts of the embargo against Cuba should lead quickly to a thorough re-evaluation of all such punitive measures that have either served their purpose or have shown their inability to serve any justified political goal. While they are clear about the need for positive change, the Catholic Bishops of Cuba have long insisted that any measures designed to harm the government but which mostly harm the people are to be rejected. The Holy Father, in his historic visit of January 1998, affirmed that position and appealed to the world community to open to Cuba as he called on Cuba to open to the world. Neither has yet truly happened, but it is time for our government finally to end the outmoded and unjustified economic embargo against Cuba as a step towards achieving these goals.