.- Cardinal Francis George, speaking as President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has asked the U.S. government to lift its ban on remittances and travel to Cuba in a Wednesday letter to President George W. Bush.
“In light of the devastation and humanitarian disaster caused by recent hurricanes in Cuba and the efforts of extended families, friends and organizations to reach those in need, I urge you to suspend – even temporarily - Treasury and Commerce Department restrictions and licensing requirements for humanitarian travel and remittances by American citizens and assistance by not-for-profit organizations,” Cardinal George wrote.
“At times of crisis, there are simple and basic acts of charity on which people rely,” he continued.
Saying the United States can be “rightly proud” of its tradition of humanitarian assistance, the cardinal urged that everything be done to facilitate relief efforts, whether through private donations or organizations like Catholic Relief Services.
“Removing restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba are a necessary step which I urge you to take without delay,” Cardinal George wrote.
Blair Jones with the White House Media Affairs office referred CNA to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent comments concerning the restrictions on Cuba.
During a Sunday appearance with Moroccan Foreign Minister Fassi Fihri, Secretary Rice said:
“The President made a very forward-leaning speech on Cuba that -- a couple of years ago, actually -- that made clear that the United States would be responsive to a Cuban regime that was prepared to release political prisoners, have a process to get to free and fair elections, and that the United States would be open to that regime. But we have seen nothing that suggests that that has come about.”
“What we cannot do is to have the transfer of power from one dictatorial regime to another. That is not acceptable in a Western hemisphere that is democratic, and it is not acceptable for the Cuban people. And so, I don't think that, in the context that we see now, that a lifting of the embargo would be wise.”
Jones also provided to CNA a U.S. State Department “fact sheet” on humanitarian assistance to Cuba.
The September 9 fact sheet says that the U.S. is providing $100,000 in emergency assistance to non-government organizations (NGOs) engaging in relief work in response to the hurricanes. Following Hurricane Gustav, the government has increased existing authorizations for U.S.-based NGOs to provide larger amounts of humanitarian assistance “to help address the basic needs of the Cuban people.”
The U.S. government reportedly will expedite applications for humanitarian assistance of up to $10 million per NGO, “subject to appropriate restrictions.”
The fact sheet encourages individuals and organizations to provide cash donations to “reputable humanitarian assistance organizations that are licensed to send humanitarian aid to Cuba.”
According to the U.S. State Department, the American people are the largest suppliers of humanitarian aid to Cuba, sending $240.7 million in private assistance in 2007.