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HELMS BACKS BIPARTISAN "BLUEPRINT FOR MORE VIGOROUS POLICY TO LIBERATE CUBA"
"SOLIDARITY" ACT SAYS U.S. POLICY SHOULD BREAK CASTRO'S STRANGLE-HOLD ON THE CUBAN PEOPLE"
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms today introduced the "Cuban Solidarity Act of 2001," which will direct $100 million over four years to individuals and independent groups working for change on the island of Cuba. In a speech on the Senator Floor, Helms said, "The embargo is not a policy – it is merely a policy tool – and United States policy should be to put an end to Fidel Castro's strangle-hold on the Cuban people and end his brutal dictatorship. And, the sooner the better."
The bill, S. 894, is cosponsored by Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Rick Santorum (R-PA), Bob Graham (D-FL), Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), John Ensign (R-NV), George Allen (R-VA), Larry Craig (R-ID), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Bob Smith (R-NH). The Helms-Lieberman measure is a companion bill to H.R. 1271 sponsored by Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart and 95 other members of the House of Representatives. The full text of Senator Helms' statement follows:
(As prepared for delivery)
Upon Introduction of the Cuban Solidarity Act
May 16, 2001
MR. HELMS. Mr. President, today I am honored to be joined by Senator Lieberman and nine other Senators in sponsorship of the "Cuban Solidarity Act," which is a blueprint for a more vigorous U.S. policy to liberate the enslaved island of Cuba. This measure is a companion to House Bill No. 1271 sponsored by Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart and 95 other members of the House of Representatives. Whether one supports the current embargo on the Castro regime, we all agree that we can, and must, do more to help those struggling for freedom today in Cuba, and that's the aim of the Cuban Solidarity Act, and that's why I ask Senators on both sides of the embargo issue to consider supporting this bill on its merits. Mr. President, the embargo is not a policy – it is merely a policy tool – and United States policy should be to put an end to Fidel Castro's strangle-hold on the Cuban people and end his brutal dictatorship. And, the sooner the better, Mr. President. The Cuban Solidarity Act will authorize $100 million in U.S. assistance to the Cuban people over four years. It also would mandate a proactive U.S. policy to support the internal opposition in Cuba. (This strategy, by the way, is modeled after the decisive U.S. support for the Polish Solidarity movement in the 1980s.)
And with the enactment of this legislation, Mr. President, the U.S. government will move beyond merely isolating the Castro regime. Indeed, we can undermine Castro's isolation and oppression of the Cuban people by finding bold, proactive, and creative programs to help those working for change on the island.
And this can be achieved by giving the President a mandate to increase all forms of U.S. support for pro-democracy and human rights activists in Cuba. This support may include food, medicines, office supplies, books, educational materials, telephones, fax machines, or other material or financial support. And, recipients may include political prisoners or their families, persecuted dissidents, labor rights activists, economists, journalists, and others working for peaceful change.
Such support will encourage independent libraries, independent agricultural cooperatives, so-called "microenterprises" run by self-employed Cubans, or U.S.-based exchange and scholarship programs. In addition it will support non-governmental charitable programs – such as senior citizen centers, free clinics, or soup kitchens.
For those Senators who are not fans of foreign aid, and I am one who definitely is not, but I must emphasize that the investment we made in the liberation of Eastern Europe has yielded immeasurable benefits. That is what we propose to do for Cuba. And our businesses and our farmers stand to benefit once the Cuban people can begin to reconstruct their economy. This, of course, cannot happen until the Cuban people can shed themselves of a Marxist regime that is bankrupt in every sense of the word.
While our bill neither tightens nor loosens the embargo on the Cuban regime, it will allow President Bush to license private donations from Americans to independent Cuban groups and to independent, self-employed Cubans. The President can license the importation into the United States of goods made by independent, self-employed Cubans.
Mr. President, these potential beneficiaries and activities have in common the intent and purpose to promote freedom and independence from the ruthless Castro regime that uses hunger and fear to keep people under control.
Now then, critics of this bill may contend that this high-profile support will give Castro an excuse to harass and jail dissidents for receiving foreign support, but the sad truth is that Fidel Castro is already tormenting these people – systematically and relentlessly. Furthermore, if courageous Cuban dissidents choose to stand up for their God-given rights and look to us for moral or material support, we certainly should not turn our backs on them. Let Castro do his worst. Let us do our best. Let others waste their energy trying to engage the worn-out, cruel dictator. The United States will engage the other 11 million souls on the island who have suffered persecution for too long already.
President Bush already has broad authority to initiate many of the programs prescribed by this bill – and I anticipate that he may do so. He should begin by instructing all relevant U.S. agencies to increase support to democratic opposition groups.
For example: The U.S. Agency for International Development has been providing support to U.S. groups promoting democracy and human rights in Cuba. Under the Clinton Administration, this program amounted to little more than "window-dressing." Under President Bush, it should have more personnel, more money, and more room to maneuver around the regime.
Other steps are prescribed by this proposed legislation – steps that the President can take today. For example, proposed Act also urges multilateral diplomacy calling on the Cuban government to respect human rights, free political prisoners, legalize political parties, allow independent trade unions, and submit to internationally monitored, free elections. It urges the "freedom broadcasting" stations – Radio and Television Marti and the Voice of America – to take steps to overcome Castro's jamming so their excellent programming is available throughout the island.
The Act also urges the President to instruct the Attorney General to bring to justice those Cubans involved in the February 1996 shoot-down of four innocent pilots on a humanitarian mission over international waters. Pending indictments also tell us that Castro and his cronies are up their noses in cocaine smuggling. It is high-time for Fidel Castro to be held accountable for his many crimes.
The Act also mandates an international campaign to remind the world every day about Castro's abuse of human rights, workers' rights, the independent press, and religious freedom. It also requires an in-depth review of Castro's threats to U.S. security posed by his espionage and his relentless quest for unconventional weaponry.
Mr. President, this coming Sunday, May 20th, will mark Cuba's Independence Day. Few Americans know that the United States played a pivotal role in helping Cubans win their independence from Spain in 1902. Today, our nation is called upon again to keep faith with Cuban mothers who want to raise their children with the best values, with Cuban fathers who want to see their family thrive and prosper, and for Cuban children who deserve a better future.
The Cuban Solidarity Act is a blueprint for a principled, proactive policy aimed at liberating Cuba. It keeps faith with the Cuban people.
May 16, 2001 CONTACT: Garrett Grigsby