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From: Cgastbook <Cgastbook@aol.com> Message-ID: <2a187af0.3559fa6d@aol.com> Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 15:54:19 EDT To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for May 13, 1998 Sender: owner-aanews@listserv.atheists.org Reply-To: cg@atheists.org from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS subject: AANEWS for May 13, 1998

Helms Bill to provide $100 million for Catholic Church AID programs in Cuba

From AANews, #427
13 May 1998

A bill slated for introduction today by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) would provide up to $100 million in assistance to "victims of political repression in Cuba." But under the proposal, food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies won't be handed out by U.S. or even Cuban government agencies, but would be funnelled through "independent, nongovernmental organizations," according to a report now on the wire from Knightridder news service.

"The bill's authors have so far endorsed only one such organization for the job: the relief agency of the Catholic Church," reports the service.

This would be the first time since 1959 that any federal aid for Cuba has been authorized. The legislation, crafted by Helms and the Cuban American National Foundation, is reportedly designed to blunt domestic and international criticism of the U.S. trade embargo of the small island nation headed by Fidel Castro. The emphasis on using "nongovernmental" organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church was to guarantee that "the Cuban people... know that the U.S. wants to send them $100 million in free food and medicine, and it's up to Fidel Castro whether they have it or not," according to Marc Thiessen, spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Today's bill is seen as a postscript to Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba last January, that include extensive media coverage and opened the door for more Vatican influence in that nation. The U.S. Government provided special travel visas for Americans visiting the country to attend the papal ceremonies; and on Mr. Castro's side, the papal excursion focused international attention on the U.S.-led embargo. American religious groups have generally been divided over the wisdom of government economic sanctions against Castro's regime; liberal and moderate churches, especially those under the National Council of Churches umbrella, and the Roman Catholic Church have opposed the sanctions, insisting that they hurt the Cuban people. Religious right groups have traditionally been more supportive of U.S. efforts to bring down Castro's one-party government, often described as an "officially atheistic" society; but against the backdrop of Pope John Paul's historic visit, there is a realignment of opinions within some groups which, like the Vatican, see an end to the embargo and other restrictions as a bargaining chip for letting more priests and other missionaries into the country.

During his visit, Pope John Paul excoriated Cuban values, particularly the nation's enlightened attitude on abortion and women's rights. Social mores in Cuba regarding sexuality and religion have changed since the 1959 revolution; Dr. Uva de Aragon of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University told reporters last January that "the Cuban peoples attitude toward sex outside of marriage hardly jibes with the teachings of the pope..."

At stake during Pope John Paul's visit to a new vision of the church's status in Cuba. John Paul and Castro essentially discussed a giant geopolitical swap; the Vatican would use its considerable resources and prestige in the international community to again put pressure on the United States to end the embargo and other sanctions. In exchange, Castro would give the Vatican greater access to Cuba's airwaves and schools, permit greater religious activity by the Roman Catholic Church, and permit the entry of hundreds of foreign priests into the country for proselytizing.

Tax Money To Legitimize Vatican Projects

Helms' bill would fund "nongovernmental" out reaches in Cuba to the tune of $100 million in taxpayer money. Why not just give the money or resources to the Cuban government, though? One reason is that Fidel Castro has already stated that he would reject any U.S. charity, demanding instead a trading relationship and end to sanctions. There is also the perception in some quarters of Capitol Hill that direct grants to Castro would merely legitimize his regime, creating the impression that it was the Cuban state -- not the U.S. -- that was providing assistance.

But that same objection would apply to grants to "nongovernmental" organizations, such as the Catholic Church. $100 million in food, supplies, and medical equipment can go a long way in establishing the church as a powerful and legitimate institution in Cuba, especially a post-Castro government. There are also serious constitutional problems, since public monies are being funnelled into religious coffers.

Other parts of Helms' proposal reportedly call on the U.S. government to step up broadcasting of Radio and TV Marti programs directly from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. It also requires monitoring and reporting by the U.S. government of Cuba's alleged role in narcotics trafficking. And the "humanitarian" proposal even calls for the U.S. Attorney General to indict Castro for his alleged role in the shooting down of two unarmed planes in 1996 which were searching for exiles fleeing Cuba in makeshift boats. The planes were operated by the exile group Brothers to the Rescue.

Knightridder also reports that the wording of the bill draws "a parallel to Washington's support for independent trade unionists in Poland during the early 1980s..." That reference is to the funnelling of millions of dollars (some estimates run as high as $20 million) through the Roman Catholic Church in Poland to the Solidarity Trade Union. As Poles quickly discovered, though, once the Communist regime was out of power, the church moved promptly to position itself as the new power broker and master demanding control of the educational system, and launching attacks on unrestrained freedom of expression, abortion rights for women and other liberties. Will the Vatican attempt to stage a repeat performance in post-Castro Cuba? Senator Helms and friends seem to be betting $100 million of our money that it will.

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