United States-Cuban Relationsby Representative Anna G. Eshoo
Posted on 2015-01-07
in the house of representatives
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Ms. ESHOO. Mr. Speaker, I wish to begin by saluting Congresswoman
Barbara Lee for hosting this Special Order, as well as her three
decades of advocating for the normalization of relations between the
U.S. and Cuba; and to Congressman Sam Farr for devoting years of
service to this issue, and working with so many individuals and
organizations to bring down the walls of division between the two
On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced a major prisoner exchange with the Cuban government. Alan Gross, a USAID contractor who had been held captive for five years was finally reunited with his family, as were three Cuban intelligence agents who had been imprisoned in the U.S. since 1998. Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a cryptographer in Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence who reportedly provided information to the FBI, was also freed in the prisoner exchange.
This announcement was highly significant and it is historic as well.
In a televised address that followed the exchange, the President announced a major shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba: the reestablishment of diplomatic relations that were severed in 1961, thus drawing a curtain on many of the provisions of the longest standing embargo in U.S. history. The President stated that while the embargo was rooted in the ``best intentions,'' it ultimately failed in its goal to incite change in the communist government and has only served to isolate and hurt the Cuban people.
I continue to harbor deep concerns about the reported human rights abuses in Cuba and limitations of speech and political expression, [[Page E32]] but it is clear that our current policy has failed to end these practices.
So just how will these policy changes positively affect the Cuban people and the United States? Remittances from the U.S. are a vital resource to millions of Cubans and to humanitarian projects in Cuba. Between $1.4 and $2 billion in remittances are transferred from the U.S. to Cuba each year, often from Cubans who immigrated to the U.S. to seek new opportunity. Cubans rely on this money to pay for food, monthly electricity bills, or for the daily expenses of life. And humanitarian projects receiving this aid provide food, clean water, essential infrastructure and education to Cubans. When the average monthly salary in Cuba is a mere $20, the significance of this transfer of money comes into full view. Limits on remittances have stifled real progress, and raising these limits from $500 to $2,000 per quarter will usher in a new wave of much needed aid to counter the Cuban government's infliction of serious harm to the well-being of its people.
Despite harsh government regulations, Cuba does have a nascent burgeoning private sector economy. I saw this firsthand last year when I visited Cuba as part of a Congressional delegation. During the trip, I participated in a roundtable with a number of Cuban female entrepreneurs to hear their concerns and discuss what can be done to support their efforts to create new business. I believe this shift in U.S.-Cuba relations will act as a healthy seed for entrepreneurial growth in Cuba. From authorizing expanded commercial sales and exports, to facilitating an expansion of travel to Cuba from the U.S., we will do more to empower the Cuban people than we have in the over 50-year embargo.
Today, Cuba imports approximately 80 percent of its food, a stunning statistic. American agriculture has long supported an opening of relations and now Cuba's economy will be bolstered and this in turn will bring enormous value to American farmers.
Even more empowering is an emboldening tool of democratization, the Internet. As we've seen in countless other countries around the world, the Internet is an individual's megaphone. It is the place for discourse. For collaboration. For free speech. For democracy! By extending telecommunications and technology services to Cuba, the Cuban people will have access to a tremendous exchange of knowledge and ideas with unparalleled power to inspire change.
These efforts by the U.S. are not exhaustive. Only our vigilance and continued assessment of our relations with Cuba will provoke lasting change for Cubans. But it is also imperative for Latin American countries to reinvigorate their ties with Cuba's civil and political leaders. Democratic Latin American countries, such as Mexico and Brazil, can send a strong signal of support to the Cuban Democratic movement by reinvigorating their relations with Cuba, just as the U.S. is doing.
I have supported a change in U.S.-Cuba policy since I was elected to Congress in 1992, and I welcome and celebrate the decision of the President to make this a reality. It's very exciting to look forward to heralding a new era of opportunity and democratic values for Cuba, a pragmatic partnership with the U.S., support from other Latin American countries, and the abandonment of oppression of the Cuban people by the U.S. embargo, as well as the Cuban government itself.