WASHINGTON – The U.S. bishops have urged President George W. Bush to suspend – even temporarily – the U.S. government’s ban on remittances and travel to Cuba “in light of the devastation and humanitarian disaster caused by recent hurricanes in Cuba.”
In a Sept. 10 letter to Bush, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that removing the restrictions is “a necessary step which I urge you to take without delay.”
He asked the president to lift the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Commerce restrictions and licensing requirements for humanitarian travel as well as for money – or remittances – sent to Cuba by American citizens and assistance by nonprofit organizations.
The U.S. has had a trade embargo in place against Cuba for 47 years.
“At times of crisis, there are simple and basic acts of charity on which people rely. Churches, as well as governments, urge people to reach out and respond with generosity to those in desperate need,” the cardinal said. “The United States has a tradition of such assistance for which it can be rightly proud.
“At this time, all should be done to facilitate humanitarian assistance, be it through institutions like Catholic Relief Services, or through the generosity of individuals moved by the misfortune of their brothers and sisters,” he said.
CRS is the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency.
The cardinal noted “the efforts of extended families, friends and organizations to reach those in need.”
He closed the letter to Bush by expressing “prayerful support” for the president’s “efforts to assist all those affected by these ongoing weather emergencies.”
The New York Times and the Miami Herald daily newspapers reported Sept. 11 that the Bush administration has granted a new license to the Cuban American National Foundation, an organization that can help Cuban Americans send money to family and friends in Cuba.
The foundation has an existing license from the U.S. government that allows it to provide up to $100,000 to help groups in Cuba; the new license will let the group forward up to $250,000 in aid to victims of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav.
More than 100,000 Cuban homes were damaged or destroyed when Gustav hit Cuba Aug. 30. Ike struck the island Sept. 8, killing four people and destroying even more homes and other buildings.