Damn Congressional Black Caucus
WASHINGTON — With efforts to open Cuba to travel and trade heating up on Capitol Hill, the sister of a prominent Cuban democracy activist plans Wednesday to deliver a letter from her brother decrying three members of the Congressional Black Caucus for meeting with Fidel and Raúl Castro — but no dissidents.
Berta Antúnez is also asking to meet with California Democrats Barbara Lee and Laura Richardson and Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush to tell them her brother was “outraged that these members of Congress would not take the time while in Cuba to meet with any of the island’s human rights and pro-democracy activists.” The delegation spent five days in April in Cuba, talking with government officials and said on their return that Havana is interested in talking to the United States.
But Jorge Luis “Antúnez” Garcia Perez questions the trip in the letter, charging that while the lawmakers met with the Castros, “our home and the five protesters who remain within it were subject to a brutal siege by the combined forces of the national and political police.
”When one is fighting for liberty and human rights within a totalitarian society like the one that exists in Cuba, it is hurtful and offensive that citizens of a free society who have access to uncensored information visit our island and lack the courage to inquire about the unjustly imprisoned political prisoners,” wrote “Antúnez,” who began a hunger strike on Feb. 17 to protest the Cuban government’s treatment of political prisoners.
“There are brave men and women within Cuba that need to be heard,” Berta Antúnez said in a news release. “I hope that these members that traveled to Cuba to meet for hours with Castro will take a few minutes to listen to the pleas of the victims of Castro’s repression.”
The visit comes as advocates for increased trade and travel to Cuba amp up a campaign to relax restrictions, saying current U.S.-Cuba policy is a Cold War relic that has failed to work. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue joined lawmakers at a Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday to push for access to Cuba’s markets. A bill to lift all travel to the island has been introduced in the House and one of its sponsors predicted Tuesday he’ll have the votes to see it passed. An influential senator is expected to soon introduce legislation that would relax restrictions on trade.
”Lifting the embargo will remove Cuba’s excuse for economic failure, promote a transition to democracy and offer significant economic opportunities to American farmers, businesses and workers,” Donohue said, noting “there’s so much opportunity there and it’s being taken by our trading partners.
”Hotel people will tell you today that they know it’s eventually going to open, but they need years to get down there and figure out how they’re going to take on the foreign hotel guys that are eating up all the good spots,” Donohue said.
Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley criticized the effort in a conference call with reporters, saying Cuba’s political situation needs to improve before the United States relaxes sanctions against the regime.
“The present political situation has deprived the Cuban people of any standard of living,” Grassley said. “Every other country in the world has had open trading with Cuba and in 40 years it hasn’t changed Castro’s mind either. . . . I think we ought to keep the pressure on.”