The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists' (CBTU) 24th annual convention in Detroit last weekend unanimously condemned the 32-year embargo of Cuba for "making it difficult for the Cuban people to have adequate food and medical supplies. . . ."
The resolution, submitted by the Chicago chapter of CBTU, points out that no country in the world, other than the U.S. and Israel, supports the embargo and that it has been condemned by the U.N. General Assembly. The resolution endorses HR-2229, a bill by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to end the embargo and normalize relations with Cuba. It urged President Clinton to lift the current travel restrictions imposed under the Torricelli "Cuban Democracy Act." Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) has introduced a bill to repeal the Torricelli Act. The resolution also called upon the AFL-CIO to "support efforts to end the embargo."
But in Washington, Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is pushing ahead with his so-called "Cuba Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act" to tighten the embargo by extending it to other countries that trade with Cuba. A Baltimore Sun reporter did some digging and found out that one of the main beneficiaries of this pompously named legislation would be Bacardi Rum which lost an estimated $76 million when their distilleries were nationalized after the Cuban Revolution.
Juan Prado, a retired Bacardi executive, told the Sun that, indeed, Bacardi would be rewarded handsomely if the law is passed - and if Cuba's socialist revolution is overthrown. Prado serves as a consultant to the American Bar Association's Cuban Property Rights Task Force.
The legislation, in fact, was partly drafted by Nicolas Gutiérrez, a board member of the National Association of Sugar Mill Owners of Cuba, which represents the former owners of 161 Cuban sugar mills nationalized after the revolution. Gutiérrez's family owned 100,000 acres of sugar plantations in Cuba before the revolution.
Helms' bill would allow these former wealthy Cuban property owners to sue in U.S. courts to prevent the sale or utilitzation of their confiscated property and deny entrance to the United States of anyone who uses it.
Existing laws already require the U.S. government to seek compensation or return of property in Cuba before restoring diplomatic relations - a sweeping assertion of extra--territorial power by the United States and a clear infringement on Cuban sovereignty. Helm's bill, cosponsored in the House by Rep. Dan. Burton (R-Ind.), expands that interference to third nations that trade with Cuba. Even in Washington, where legislation designed to benefit the rich is more or less routine, the Helms bill is raising eyebrows.
Gary Jarmin, chairman of the U.S. - Cuba Foundation, cited Bacardi's role in pushing the legislation and said, "It seems to me this bill has more to do with avancing libation than liberty.
The bill is also sweet for Sen. Helms. Jorge Mas Canosa, boss of the Miami-based Cuban Amercan National Foundation, rewarded Helms by sponsoring a fundraiser in Miami for Helms' 1996 reelection campaign that netted $75,000. J. C. D. "Jack" Bailey, treasurer of Helms' campaign, said the wealthy Cuban Americans "will one of the important sources we tap," to bankroll his reelection.
Helm is pressing for early action on his bill. But the movement that favors normalized relations with Cuba is fighting back. Peace groups are now mobilizing for a national demonstration in Washington, Saturday, June 17 to demand that the House and Senate reject the Helms-Burton bill. Instead, they demanded enactment of HR-367, Serrano's bill, which is co-sponsored by 29 House members.
They are also demanding that Congress approve HR-883 introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). It is called the "Free Trade With Cuba Act" and would terminate the 32-year U.S. embargo of Cuba. Rep. Jerrold Nadler has introduced another bill to exempt medicines from the trade embargo. Cuba has developed the world's first vaccines for the treatment and prevention of several diseases, including meningitis, which is killing people here in the United States.
Also joining the June 17 rally in Washington will be participants in the fourth U.S.-Cuba Friendship Caravan, which will deliver 100 tons of humanitarian aid to Canada for shipment to Cuba.
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