WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

28 Jul 2021 | Press Release

International Organizations Urge President Biden to Prioritize the Humanitarian Crisis in Cuba

Washington, D.C.—An unprecedented coalition of academics, foundations, and civic groups with long records of engagement with Cuba wrote to President Joe Biden today, urging him to prioritize the humanitarian situation in Cuba by suspending regulations that inhibit the flow of aid to the island.

“All of us have friends and colleagues in Cuba who are getting sick and even dying as a result of COVID and the current shortages,” said Wendy Luers of the Foundation for a Civil Society, which has worked in Cuba since the 1980s. “This is personal. As President Biden reviews his Cuban policy, we’re writing today with a simple message: save Cuban lives first.”

The coalition is calling on the president to allow remittances, remove the requirement for specific licenses for the export of humanitarian aid, and several other regulations that prevent US and international NGOs from sending medicines and food to Cuba.

“The current U.S. rules create a spider’s web of regulation that makes it costly, complicated and time-consuming to send aid to Cuba, and that’s when it’s even possible at all,” said attorney Robert Muse, who specializes in advising U.S. organizations on navigating U.S. regulations on Cuba.

“All of these barriers ultimately prevent aid from reaching Cuba, and cost lives, and all of them could be removed by the president with a stroke of a pen,” added Muse.

Anyone who has ever applied for an export license from the U.S. Commerce Department to send aid to Cuba knows how much time and resources the process takes,” said Bob Schwartz, of Global Health Partners, whose organization has led the Saving Lives Campaign, which has raised over $500,000 from individual donors to send over six million syringes to Cuba for use in their vaccination campaign.

“The simple fact is that these regulations are an impediment to humanitarian donations, and we could do significantly more to help the Cuban people if President Biden suspended them,” added Schwartz.

The U.S. rules concerning financial transactions related to Cuba even inhibit the sending of aid internationally.

“The number of times European banks have declined to process our transactions for vital medical supplies we are trying to ship to Cuba is shocking and unconscionable,” said Franco Cavalli, the president of mediCuba, a Swiss-based organization that has sent over €30 million in medical supplies to Cuba since the 1990s.

Several Cuban-American activists and groups also signed the letter.

“The families on the island facing food lines that last hours, an absence of basic medicine and necessary medical equipment, are our grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends,” said Daniel Jimenez from the CubaOne Foundation, a group which organizes birthright trips for young Cuban-Americans to the island.

“As the hero of Cuba’s independence José Martí has taught us: ‘We light the oven so that everyone may bake bread in it. If I survive, I will spend my whole life at the oven door seeing that no one is denied bread and, so as to give a lesson of charity,’” Jimenez added.

“The pathway to real political and economic change in Cuba lies through peace and access to opportunity, not death and suffering,” said Cuban-American entrepreneur Carlos Fernandez-Aballi.

“So the current humanitarian crisis on the island cannot be accepted and needs to be addressed now before anything else. It’s simply the right thing to do,” added Fernandez-Aballi.

Several of the groups signing the letter have long argued that a humane U.S. policy towards Cuba would help achieve U.S. goals far better than the current policies and regulations.

In the long arc of U.S. policy towards Cuba, precious little has been achieved by the cruel regulations that are still in force. In fact, harsh U.S. sanctions hurt the Cuban people,” said Geoff Thale, President at the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA).

“The unprecedented social outburst that Cuba has seen in the last few weeks is linked to hardship on the island. Harsh U.S. government sanctions don’t explain it all, but they contribute to the humanitarian crisis. The political issues are going to take some time to resolve, but the current humanitarian issues can, and should, be addressed now,” Thale added.

“President Biden has an opportunity to respond constructively to the events happening in Cuba and show true solidarity with the Cuban people by removing regulations preventing aid from reaching Cuba. He should take it.”