May 21, 2003
Dear Cuba Policy Advocates:
Greetings. Our most important point in this message concerns the introduction of a new travel bill in the House of Representatives, companion to the Senate bill already introduced. First some updates, but please read on for information on the House bill and a request for your action to secure co-sponsors.
Update on Senate travel bill:
Your hard work is paying off; but as always, more is needed. Thanks to your phone calls and letters after the last action alert, the new Senate travel bill (S. 950) now has 16 co-sponsors:
We need to get even more, so please keep calling your senators’ offices to request that they co-sponsor this bill. Our goal is to approach 50 co-sponsors. Your help would be much appreciated! If your senators’ names don’t appear above, please call them to request that they co-sponsor the Cuba travel bill, S. 950.
Tensions continue to escalate between the United States and Cuba:
In the meantime, relations between the United States and Cuba seemed to reach a new low last week as the Bush Administration expelled 14 Cuban diplomats from the United States on allegations of espionage. The Cuban Foreign Ministry denied the charges and called the expulsions part of a larger administration plan to increase tensions and provoke a crisis.
A New York Times article by Christopher Marquis, published May 15, laid responsibility for the expulsions upon the Bush administration, rather than the law enforcement or intelligence agencies. According to the article, the F.B.I said “It was not our recommendation to take this action at this time.” Rather, the decision to expel Cubans was made “at the highest levels” in the State Department and the White House, and “the policy makers then turned to the bureau [FBI] for names of intelligence operatives, said the official, who asked not to be named.”
Quoted in a Washington Post article (May 15, 2003, page A18) by staff writer Karen DeYoung, Dagoberto Rodriguez, the head of Cuba's diplomatic mission in Washington, DC, said "We challenge the U.S. government to present one single piece of evidence of any illegal activity" carried out by any Cuban officials in the United States. DeYoung wrote that Rodriguez stated that his government will comply with the expulsion order, and would "take all the time necessary" to determine its own response. Rodriguez maintained that the Bush administration is trying "to continue the escalation of tensions" that have characterized U.S.-Cuban relations in recent months. The goal, he said, is to force the closing of the interests sections that the two governments operate in each other's countries.
House of Representatives introduces identical travel bill:
On May 13, the House Cuba Working Group (CWG), led by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced a bill, (HR 2071—“The Export Freedom to Cuba Act”), with identical language to the Senate “Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act”. The House version of the bill was introduced with 55 co-sponsors, including all the members of the House CWG. Your action is vital to increase the co-sponsorship of this bill.
Members of both the House and Senate Cuba Working Groups held a joint press conference May 14 to publicly announce their travel bills and reiterate their rationale for pushing this legislation during a time of growing tensions between the United States and Cuba. Both conservative and liberal members mentioned that now, more than ever, the United States must change its policy for the benefit of both Cubans and US citizens. See requested actions below.
President Bush makes a comment regarding Cuba on May 20:
Though pro-engagement groups were concerned that President Bush would announce a further tightening of the embargo on the so-called “Cuban Independence Day,” May 20, the President simply made a brief statement of support for “freedom in Cuba”. Not further tightening the screws left him subject to criticism from both pro- and anti-engagement groups. The outlook may be improved for no further tightening of the provisions of the embargo in the immediate future. The text of his comments follows:
“Today, Cubans around the world celebrate 20 de mayo, Cuban Independence Day. On behalf of the people of the United States, I send greetings to the Cuban community. My hope is for the Cuban people to soon enjoy the same freedoms and rights as we do. Dictatorship has no place in the Americas. May God bless the Cuban people, who are struggling for freedom. Thank you.”
1) Call your representative as soon as possible with this message “As a constituent, I urge you to co-sponsor and actively support Rep. Jeff Flake’s bill, HR 2071, which would return to the US people their constitutional right to unrestricted travel to Cuba. Now more than ever, broadening contact between our two peoples is the best way to build a more constructive and coherent policy.”
Contact your representative’s Washington, DC, office by calling the US Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121 and asking to be transferred to your representative’s office. Or, you may call them in their state office; phone numbers may be found on their websites by visiting www.house.gov. Email addresses are also available on these websites.
Your representative may co-sponsor the bill by calling Lance Walker in Rep. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) office (202.225.2635).
2) Continue to call your senators with the same message (though the bill number is different—the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2003, S. 950). Your senators may co-sponsor the bill by calling Wendy Gnehm in Senator Enzi’s (R-WY) office (202.224.3424), or by calling Tim Punke or John Gilliland in Senator Baucus’ (D-MT) office (202.224.2651).
You may contact your senators’ Washington, DC, office by calling the US Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121 and asking to be transferred to your senator’s office. Or, you may call them in their state offices; phone numbers may be found on their websites by visiting www.senate.gov. Email addresses are also available on these websites.
3) Help us recruit people to sign the petition to President Bush on travel to Cuba found at www.cubacentral.com . Upon going through our list, we found we had many duplicate signatures; after deleting the duplicates we still have a ways to go to reach 10,000. At this writing, we are at 8,771 signatures; so we are asking again for a final push to break the 10,000 signatures threshold. Please sign the petition if you haven’t, and let others know about the website. This web site is updated regularly with developments on Cuba policy.
Thanks for all your help. You make a difference! Please let us know if you contact your representative or senators. Both Cuba Working Groups are counting on us to help them in their drive for more co-sponsors.
Latin America Working Group
(Posted 5/30/2003 - Updated 5/7/2004)