WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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21 Mar 2023 | Joint Statement

WOLA and CDA welcome renewed bipartisan calls in the Senate to lift trade embargo on Cuba 

WASHINGTON, D.C. March 21, 2023 – In response to the reintroduction of the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act and the bipartisan letter sent to President Biden urging reduced sanctions on Cuba’s private sector, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) issued the following statement:

On March 6, the office of Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) reintroduced a bill to effectively lift the U.S.’s 60-year trade embargo on Cuba. This perennial proposal, introduced in every Congress since 2015, was followed by a bipartisan letter led by Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) on March 15 calling on the Biden-Harris administration to ease restrictions on Cuba’s burgeoning private sector, as well as on trade, communications, and travel with Cuba. WOLA and CDA welcome the senators’ continued efforts to push for an overhaul of U.S. policy towards Cuba in addition to the bipartisan nature of both the bill and letter.

Sen. Klobuchar’s Freedom to Export to Cuba Act (S.653) would allow for U.S. companies—most notably, agricultural producers—to tap into the Cuban market, while laws targeting the Cuban government’s human rights violations and property claims would remain in place. Sen. Klobuchar has been joined by three Democratic and two Republican co-sponsors: Chris Murphy (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Roger Marshall (R-KS). This represents the most significant Republican support for the measure in the Senate since 2017 when three Republicans ultimately co-sponsored the bill. Removing U.S. policies that restrict Cuba’s entrepreneurial sector and civil society and harm marginalized communities is vital to supporting the Cuban people and the future of the island. Congress must take action on Cuba policy.

Over the past six decades, the embargo has not advanced U.S. interests towards change in Cuba but it has actively gone against the interest of U.S. producers and businesses. Many Republican and Democratic senators are aware of the embargo’s consequences, including Senator Marshall, a first-time co-sponsor of the bill. He noted in a press release that “[r]epealing the current legal restrictions and trade embargo on Cuba allows for Kansas farmers, ranchers and manufacturers to expand their businesses to Cuba and opens the door to a large export market, while leaving in place measures to address human rights abuses.” The measure’s reintroduction demonstrates ongoing support for evolving U.S. policy toward Cuba after decades of a counter-productive approach and in the face of significant setbacks in recent years.

Maintaining U.S. sanctions, including the embargo, has also come at the expense of the most vulnerable populations in Cuba. It affects families, entrepreneurs, and Black and LGBTQ+ Cubans, and hinders progress toward a more fair and inclusive society. In this regard, Sen. Wyden’s letter further emphasizes the need for smarter and more creative policy that robustly supports the Cuban people while maintaining accountability for Cuba’s government, noting that the embargo has not exacted “any notable improvements in human rights, democracy or economic freedom in Cuba.” The letter was supported by Senators Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) who joined the calls for President Biden to take action to reorient the U.S. approach to Cuba.

The political will for U.S. engagement with Cuba experienced significant setbacks during the Trump administration, which not only repealed much of President Obama’s reorientation of U.S. policy, but expanded sanctions. For its part, the Cuban government’s repressive response to the July 11, 2021 protests on the island and subsequent detention of hundreds of protestors further dampened hopes for a new chapter in the fraught bilateral relationship. The Cuban government is certainly not blameless in the current humanitarian crisis facing Cuba. The embargo, however, has a severe impact on the Cuban economy and poses obstacles to humanitarian assistance at a time when the country is grappling with shortages of basic goods and medical supplies.

While the White House has been slow to follow through with campaign promises, constituent groups remain keenly aware that the embargo and other measures are not conducive to the Administration’s goal of supporting the Cuban people in determining their own future. WOLA and CDA urge the Biden-Harris administration to follow these bipartisan calls for greater engagement with Cuba. This would allow the U.S. to better address humanitarian and national security issues and the recent influx of Cuban migration, as well as better represent the will and needs of the people of both the United States and Cuba.