We are hurting Cubans, not the regime

September 9, 2008

Miami Herald- Carlos Saladrigas

September 10th, 2008 - Given the current debate over how the United States should react to the devastation left by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in Cuba, it is important to put things in perspective. Hundreds of thousands of people have been seriously affected by the storms, and there will be a profound impact on a nation already on the verge of a food and housing crisis.

Ramon Saul Sanchez's Democracy Movement has asked the federal government to temporarily lift restrictions on remittances to allow Cuban Americans to send monetary and physical assistance to family on the island. Several exile organizations, including those that form part of Consenso Cubano, expressed their support for such a move. Almost all the leading Cuban dissidents have, also. To most observers, this is a perfectly logical, ethical, humanitarian and effective thing to do -- but not in the irrational and absurd context of U.S.-Cuba policy.

Disappointingly, but swiftly, the administration, in collaboration with Cuban-American legislators from both parties, chose to play politics, issuing a statement challenging the Cuban regime to, among other things, allow the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to directly distribute aid, offering a paltry and offensive $100,000. In a continuing political chess game where the suffering Cuban people are pawns, the United States challenges the regime in ways reminiscent of Fidel Castro's offer to send doctors to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

I wish that our presidential candidates had refrained from intervening on this issue. When candidates take positions, issues become politicized. However, Barack Obama's comments were positive and constructive. While I have not heard John McCain's position on this issue, I cannot believe that he would agree with the administration's position, given his wife's recent trip to Vietnam and her laudable work there helping children with cleft palates. Vietnam holds more political prisoners and has more human-rights violations than Cuba. But the McCains have demonstrated that humanitarian efforts should transcend politics.

To propose, as the only option, something that the administration knows the Cuban regime is going to reject is playing politics with Cubans' suffering. If U.S. officials are sincere about helping them, they should act to unilaterally lift, temporarily, all restrictions on remittances and allow U.S. NGOs to send aid to Cuba. Our government cannot control how the Cuban government will react. But its leaders will be held accountable by Cubans and history's harsh judgment. What the Cuban government does, or fails to do, should not dictate our actions.

Instead of rushing to help our brethren, some in the Cuban-American community have engaged in the old, tired and increasingly sterile political debate.

Can we for once put the Cuban people first? This is the perfect opportunity to inject ethical considerations into a debate from which they have been absent for a long time. Can we continue to allow the end to justify cruel means? Can we expect to justify one wrong because the Cuban government commits another? Where are the voices of religious leaders? It is precisely on issues like these that they need to be heard, clearly and unequivocally.

The majority of the Cuban-American community is increasingly fed up with the continuing ineffective and worn out diatribe.

We ought to be freed to help our brethren in any way we can, directly and indirectly. In the end, it will be more politically effective to prioritize helping the Cuban people over hurting the regime. It is the only right thing to do.

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