Rod Driver

From the Providence Journal, March 1, 1999, Letter to the Editor.

Rep. Kennedy vs. the Cuban people

It was 1959 when Cubans led by Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista. Forty years later is none too soon to stop punishing them for it.

Bipartisan groups led by Congressman Esteban Torres, Senator Christopher Dodd and Senator John Warner have recognized that our 37-year embargo against Cuba is cruel, hypocritical and counterproductive. But as they try to undo the damage, Congressman Patrick Kennedy does his best to keep it going.

In April, Kennedy sent a strange letter to his colleagues urging them to oppose efforts to allow sales of food and medicine to Cuba. "As for humanitarian assistance," he wrote, "the U.S. provides annually more assistance to Cuba than all other countries combined."

What nonsense! The U.S. gives zero aid to Cuba.

Volunteer organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Pastors for Peace, the Cuban Medical Project and Jewish relief agencies sometimes manage to overcome the State Department's roadblocks and get permission to ship donated surplus medicines to Cuba. Other Americans have been fined nearly $1.9 million over the last four years for "violating the embargo."

Religious organizations, business organizations and almost every government on Earth have denounced the unilateral U.S. embargo. Pope John Paul II called it a "monstrous crime." The U.S. Chamber of Commerce declared that "U.S. business takes no comfort when economic warfare is waged against the Cuban people." And when the UN General Assembly condemned the embargo in 1997 only Israel and Uzbekistan voted with the United States.

But Patrick Kennedy seems to be focused on solidifying his support among right-wing Cuban expatriates in Miami and New Jersey regardless of the human cost.

In 1996 when Cuba downed two planes piloted by Miami-based Cuban exiles calling themselves Brothers to the Rescue, Kennedy wanted to attack "to render Cuba militarily impotent" (Journal, Feb. 27, 1996, page A10). He saw no need to find out whether "Brothers to the Rescue" planes had actually been violating Cuban airspace before two were shot down.

A few weeks later Congress passed the Helms-Burton act, writing into law the decades-old embargo. The bill went further, prescribing penalties against ships from Canada and other nations that dared to deliver food or medicine to Cuba without our permission. Sen. Claiborne Pell, Sen. John Chafee and then-Rep. Jack Reed voted against this draconian bill. Patrick Kennedy helped to pass it.

In addition to the humanitarian arguments against the embargo, an end to the Cold War against Cuba would also benefit the United States. The threat of another flood of Cuban refugees to our shores would end. We would eliminate a major sore spot in our relationships with other nations. American companies could resume doing business with Cuba. And Cuba, which has actually cooperated with the U.S. Coast Guard to intercept drug shipments en route to the U.S. through the Caribbean, could work more efficiently in this joint effort.

It is sad to see Patrick Kennedy, the wealthy heir to a political dynasty, willing to inflict suffering on the poor and the young of another country to advance his own political career.

ROD DRIVER, Richmond