US Stars Call on Bush to Rethink Policy on Cuba

Campaign News | Thursday, 29 November 2007

Albur Ruiz, New York Daily News

The list of names reads like a "Who's Who" of artists, performers, industry executives and scholars. And it keeps growing.

On Tuesday, they sent a letter to President Bush calling for an end to the ban on exchange between U.S. and Cuban artists.

"We are writing you as representatives of the cultural sphere in the U.S. We write you as American citizens. We write to express our dismay at your administration's continuing hostility towards Cuba," the letter said. "We write to express our opposition to policies that keep us divided from our Cuban counterparts."

Signed by actors Sean Penn and Danny Glover; author Alice Walker; singer Harry Belafonte; Ry Cooder, the musician who brought Buena Vista Social Club to the U.S.; Cuban-American novelist Cristina García and hundreds more, the document makes a powerful case.

It was inspired by a letter written by Alicia Alonso, Cuban prima ballerina of international fame and UNESCO goodwill ambassador.

"Let us work together so that Cuban artists and writers can take their talent to the United States," Alonso said in her letter, "and that you are not prevented to come to our Island to share your knowledge and values; so that a song, a book, a scientific study or a choreographic work are not considered, in an irrational way, as a crime."

Irrationality, though, has been the norm in our relations with Cuba for half a century.

During that time, U.S. policy towards the island has had as its centerpiece the longest and harshest embargo by one state against another in modern history. An embargo that began in 1961 was tightened in 1992 to make it illegal for U.S. subsidiaries in third countries to trade with Cuba, and tightened even further in 1996. It has never been worse than now.

Yet after 46 years, the embargo has succeeded only in making daily life more difficult for ordinary Cubans.

IN WHAT has become a predictable ritual, for 16 years, the world has sent Washington the same strong message: Drop the cruel trade embargo against Cuba.

Year after year, the UN General Assembly votes overwhelmingly to urge the U.S. to lift the embargo. But instead of heeding the UN call, or at least taking into account the overwhelming world opinion, the Bush administration has been steadily tightening the embargo.

Now Cuban-Americans can visit only very close family, and only every three years. Humanitarian travel, even to attend the funeral of a loved one, is prohibited.

The White House cannot be expected to pay attention to the letter's common-sense recommendations, worthy as they are.

The artists and scholars who signed the document are asking Washington for three very basic changes: First, open a respectful dialogue with the government and people of Cuba; second, end the travel ban; third, begin a process to develop normal relations.

For those who think that under a Democratic President things will be different, a word of caution: When it comes to Cuba, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and President Bush are ideological twins. She favors the embargo as it stands now, and if she is elected, do not expect any changes.

After 50 years of failure, no one can doubt that the country needs a new Cuba policy. Incredibly, after Bush is gone, we may still not get it.

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