Dear President Bush,
Recently you announced that your Administration will pursue a tougher policy toward Cubain an effort to support the dissident community there and to force changes in the Castro government.
In March, members of the leadership and staff of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, at the urging of our colleagues from the Conference of Latin American Religious and the Conference of Religious of Cuba, visited Cuba. One of the purposes of the visit was to meet the Cuban people and to hear their experiences of living under the Castro regime for the last four decades. The delegation met with religious leaders, including Cardinal Jamie Ortega, himself a former prisoner of conscience. They met with members of the dissident community, including Oswaldo Paya, founder of the Varela Project. They met with men and women involved in development, humanitarian assistance, and social services. They met with Cuban people, involved in the daily struggle to maintain human dignity in a society that has been completely controlled by the government. What they learned and reported on was disturbing and enlightening. The direct experience with the people most affected by the Castro regime and the effects of 40 years of a U.S. policy that has failed to force the Castro government to reform has only served to further impoverish the Cuban people.
You announced that travel restrictions would be tightened to prevent the “deception” of travel to Cuba for illegal business, tourism, and carrying cash into Cuba. Our delegation learned that the restrictions on travel have not had as significant an impact on the economy ofCuba, as they have had on strengthening Castro’s stranglehold on information, the development of ideas, and the lives of people. Isolated from the international community because of U.S. policy, the Cuban people have been denied the right and opportunity to exchange ideas which would promote their own ability to work for reform in Cuba and bring about significant changes that would foster freedom and human dignity.
Our colleagues and friends in Cuba, without exception, spoke out against the U.S. embargo and the policies that have enforced their isolation. Mr. Paya himself urged a change in U.S.policy that would open relations between people. Dissidents in Cuba would welcome increased contact with people from the U.S. With more contact would come increased protection of the dissident community, which you have rightly indicated have suffered greatly recently. But without the ability to contact them freely, or to physically support them with our presence, they are left to the whims of the Castro regime.
Shortly after you announced the new, more rigid policies, the Conferences received a message from Sr. Cristina Colas, RSCJ, the Chair of the Conference of Religious of Cuba. In it Sr. Colas told us, “our people do not want to be more isolated than we are.” She begins the letter, “What I have read from the restrictions, I am very upset because these will close our country more.” She went on to say “we need the support and backing of others so our young people will not think to leave the country but to stay and contribute to the development of our country.”
Both the House and Senate, recognizing the need to engage Cuba and to open communications with the Cuban people in a variety of ways, recently passed legislation to ease some of the travel restrictions that have isolated Cuba for over four decades. We urge you to consider signing this legislation into law and to reconsider the policy changes that you are proposing.
Our Conferences have heard the voices of the people of Cuba and we continue to engage them in dialogue about the conditions in their country and the social and moral impact U.S.policy has on them. Please hear their voices through us and promote policies that will strengthen and encourage the people of Cuba as they seek reform in their own nation.
Ted Keating, SM Carole Shinnick, SSND
Executive Director Executive Director