Sen. Helms' Cuba Ploy

Letter from U.S. Congressman Esteban Torres

Washington Post Thursday, May 28, 1998; Page A22 Letter To Editor:

Thomas Lippman's May 15 news story about Sen. Jesse Helms' legislation granting U.S. taxpayer aid to Cuba appeared to have been written almost directly from the statement issued by Sen. Helms. It missed the exquisite irony of the architect of the world's most punishing embargo, champion of the free marketplace and one of the principal advocates of getting big government out of the taxpayer's pocket, asking for millions of taxpayers dollars for government donations to address the suffering and pain that he largely created.

The senator is, after all, the author of the Helms-Burton legislation, which deliberately upped the pain threshold for the Cuban people. Sen. Helms opposes my legislation to permit the free-market, commercial sale of food and medicine by U.S. businesses to Cuba; instead, he wants to distribute taxpayer-funded aid. I urge Mr. Lippman to dig a little deeper into the senator's motives in introducing this legislation.

The Catholic Church in Cuba, the main conduit identified for the senator's proposed humanitarian largess, has never distributed aid coming from governments. In fact, the church indicated in a statement on May 17 that it will continue this policy. So, Caritas, the Catholic Church's humanitarian distribution network, will not touch this aid. Neither will the U.S. National Council of Churches or Inter-Action. Groups such as the Cuban American Alliance, the Cuban Committee for Democracy and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-backed Americans for Humanitarian Trade with Cuba oppose this bill.

Digging a little deeper into this story might have shown that Sen. Helm's proposal is hardly a change of heart. Rather, it is a deliberate detour created to derail my efforts, and Sen. Christopher Dodd's, to lift the embargo and restrictions on the sale of food and medicine.

Our legislation, at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer, would address the food and medicine shortages in Cuba. It is supported by almost every organized U.S. religious and humanitarian group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the United Autoworkers Union and 123 bipartisan members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Esteban E. Torres
U.S. Representative (D-Calif.)

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