Address by Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, President of the National Assembly of People’s Power, in the Informational Round Table on the new legislation passed by the United States Congress. This legislation tightens the blockade and steals frozen Cuban funds. October 13 of the year 2000.
You could say a double robbery took place the other day. In the House of Representatives the theft, the kidnapping of a whole process that had been going on for two years concerning the so-called unilateral sanctions on food and medicines. Meanwhile the Senate passed a law which implies - as Taladrid has just explained - stealing from Cuba funds which belong to Cuba and which do not belong to them. The Senate has no right whatsoever to dispose of that which does not belong to it, nor to the US Government, nor to any US legislator. What is true, moreover, is that if there is anything useful about this coincidence, it is that it provides an additional argument for proving the absolute falseness of the alleged "relaxation" arising from this manoeuvre in the House of Representatives. What it in fact means is stealing money from Cuba, money belonging to the Cuban state, Cuban companies, Cuban workers, Cuban workers who have their benefit payments, their pensions etc. over there and have not been able to get at them because they live here in Cuba and those monies have been frozen for 40 years. And that is not all, it also opens the way to allowing other Cuban funds to be frozen tomorrow and handed out to any terrorist or provocateur according to the possibilities opened up by this law, because it places no limits, no end. Any monies which any petty, venal judge - and there are plenty of them over there - decides to freeze, any Cuban property, and give them to whomever he pleases, as Judge King did.
If you will allow me, because it is not at all easy to decipher these proceedings, because when you hear people talk about congress, parliament, democracy, accompanied by all thepropaganda which they direct at themselves, it is hard to understand what has really happened. I am going to try to summarize it.
Last year a bill was presented to the United States Senate intended to reform the system of unilateral sanctions, which in essence, meant getting rid of all of them that have to do with food and medicines. The Senate passed it last year, 70 votes to 27. Then what happened was what has been discussed here, we have talked about it several times, that in spite of that it did not manage to become law. In view of that, this year the Senate passed the same bill again. The only difference is that now there were 79 votes in favor and 13 against. In other words, the number of Senators who once again voted in favor of eliminating all sanctions on food and medicines increased.
The House of Representatives, meanwhile, could not put a similar bill to the vote last year. Why could they not put it to a vote? It is hard to understand, but this is the only explanation: because they did not feel like it. In that country if the Speaker -as he is called over there - the presiding officer of the House says no, it is no! . The clique who controls the House simply decided that it was not going to be voted on because it did not feel like it. There were a lot of protests about that last year.
Then what happened? Some congressman from some agricultural states, who were interested in putting an end to these sanctions because it was in their interests, because they needed to do so, began to collect signatures. We should remember that. We should remember that they collected 220 signatures, which is a majority of the House. Signatures asking for what? Asking the Speaker: "Please let us debate and vote on our bill" Were they successful? No. In spite of that, in spite of the fact that the majority wanted to have the chance to discuss something they were not allowed to.
So what did they do this year? They once again introduced a bill similar to the one the Senate had passed twice, they took it to the Subcommittee on Agriculture and it was approved, from the Subcommittee on Agriculture it went to the Appropriations Committee and it was approved. And it was approved in that committee in spite of the fact that one of the chief Republicans in the House sits on it, one of Cuba’s worst enemies. He tried to get them to exclude specifically from the text the name of the Republic of Cuba. Seeing that this was going to pass he said: "Alright, but Cuba no". That proposal was voted on and he failed to have it approved. The Appropriations Committee decided to keep the text of the law without discriminating against Cuba. They waited for the Committee’s proposal to reach where it had to reach, a full session of the House, of the same House where a majority of the members had been begging to be allowed to vote on this since last year. US congresspeople were never allowed to vote on this bill.
I have here what Mrs. Rosa DeLauro, Congresswoman for Connecticut and a member of the Committee and Sub-Committee on Agriculture said. She describes everything that happened - what I have just told you, with more words - and here is her summary. "It is an affront to each and every Member. This does not account whatsoever of the many months of work we have done. Simply, in the dead of night, behind closed doors, a few members of the Republican leadership has come up with this document".
I would like to explain a little bit about this muddle, about what the rules are etcetera. All that, a bill passed twice by the Senate, which the House tried to pass once, and which had already been approved by the relevant committees, that bill never managed to go before the House of Representatives because the leaders of the House did not allow it to.
I am going to end with a quote from Mrs. DeLauro: " This is not a democracy" As plain as that. So that is our starting point for trying to understand this muddle. That was Mrs. De Lauro who was very active in the whole process.
There is a group of US academics, a group specialized in Latin America, it is called the Latin America Working Group. It published a document a couple of days ago about the victories won in the course of the year in the battle to end the blockade against Cuba where it describes them as crushing victories in favor of a change in policy towards Cuba, both in the Senate and in the House. But it goes on to say that these victories were stolen by back room deals between a group of leading Republicans who went against the will of the majority. This is called corruption of the democratic process.
In order to understand all this we have to take the truth as our starting point, and the truth is that representative democracy, at least what they have over there, is the falsest of all the representative democracy farces that have existed in the world.
What happened the other day, the vote on the proposal by the Rules Committee ... Well, the important thing is to know what on earth the rules were all about. The Rules Committee is the committee that establishes the norms, the one that suggests what to do with a bill.
The Committee turned up with this monstrosity which they had imposed in the dead of night and with that norm they submitted it to a vote without amendments, without changes, with no discussion of the wording. The bill that the Appropriations Committee gave its approval to never reached a full session of the House, what did reach the House was this monstrosity which they gave birth to in the dead of the night, as Mrs. DeLauro said. This had to be passed, whether or not this was the way things were done, whether or not procedures were followed, whether or not the norms were heeded. And this is what was discussed and which resulted in quite an even vote.
After the opportunity to discuss the heart of the matter was lost, which was the same as having been able to vote on the proposal that the committee had already approved and recommended, there was nothing left to do but to vote on the whole package of those 78 billion dollars encompassing everything from the salaries of the heads of the U.S. agriculture, the innumerable subsidies the U.S. Department of Agriculture has, and even the food stamps for the needy in the United States. So, faced with this, as was predictable, there was a big enough majority to pass it. That majority, however, was not cast for the proposal to eliminate the sanctions against Cuba.
It should also be said that in the mean time, twice, as we have said here, the House of Representatives voted by a wide margin - in one case it was over 300 votes and in the other more than 230 votes - to put an end to, to eliminate the funds the Treasury Department has for enforcing the prohibitions against sale of food and medicines to Cuba and for enforcing the travel ban. And this was passed, but the following day something else happened which can only be understood if we remember that this is not a democracy, as Mrs DeLauro says.
The next day the notorious Rules Committee came on the scene and informed the House that what it had passed the day before was a no-go. Why a no-go? Very simple, because the leaders of the House had decided to eliminate it. Once again the ultra-right and the annexionist mob had ignored the opinion of the majority.
I think that what happened the other day, and what is happening now is no more than the continuation of a policy whose fundamental components are lies, hiding the truth, acting in the dark, trying to prevent people from knowing what is going on and then trying to confuse people.
It was announced here, and indeed it turned out that, it could be said a gesture had been made, a step taken in the direction of modifying the blockade. But what really happened - as you can see - was a step to kill the efforts that had been made and which had progressed a fair amount since last year, to prevent these efforts from moving forward. What there has been is a demonstration of the will of the minority, a powerful minority, mind you, to continue applying this policy to Cuba.
It is absolutely untrue this law in any way further relaxes or loosens the unilateral sanctions against Cuba. Moreover, it can be said and can be shown with the wording that they imposed that the blockade is tightened and new things have been added to it. In addition to codifying the ban on travel to Cuba, they have added restrictions to the hypothetical, supposed, false case of any trading transaction between Cuba and the United States.
Something similar to what happened with the Torricelli Act is happening. They have spent eight years deceiving the world, eight years lying, eight years saying that they gave Cuba authorization to buy medicines in the United States. We, however, cannot even buy an aspirin and the US businessman who has been given permission to sell something to Cuba has not yet been born. The Torricelli Act was imposed precisely to put an end to the purchases that Cuba was making, of food and medicines, from the US subsidiaries based in other countries. Therefore, to confuse, to deceive, they have said in this law that licenses could be issued, on a case by case basis, with very restrictive conditions, for the sale of medicines to Cuba. Then they published this (Holds up a document). This is a document. They can afford printing pieces of paper that make no sense. This is the form to apply for permission for a U.S. company to be allowed to sell medicines or medical equipment to Cuba.
I am not going to read all of these to you, nor mention all of them, because that would take a really long time and we do not have the time for all of these. These are copies of letters from U.S. Companies. (HOLDS THEM UP) saying that they had been refused permission. And they are not from the last century, this letter is from July 1, 1998 - luckily it is in Spanish and I can read the two paragraphs more quickly -. It reads: "I have more bad news. Today I received from the Department of Commerce, which is the one to issue the export licenses, another long form with additional requirements for the export license for the electrodes and the electromiography accessories.
"Now they are asking for a statement of who the end user of these components will be and a verification that the goods will be used for the purposes declared. Even" - the letter goes on to say – "if these conditions were acceptable to you - which I really doubt - they are not acceptable to me and my company. It is not commercially viable to take on that accounting and monitoring responsibility for each order and to compete in prices and services with companies that are not subject to those requirements."
Because this document, this form that has to be filled out, states: "You must describe here or in the attached letter of explanation the on-site verification/monitoring arrangements you have made to ensure that the items are routed and used by those intended. This should include the name of the party doing the monitoring, the frequency of monitoring and who will retain records of monitoring. [...] The monitor must keep records available to the U.S. Government authorities to review for at least the next five years."
Try and figure out what company in the world is going to sell a bottle of aspirins if they are forced to put an inspector in every drug store, and then go after every person to see if he or she took the pills or not or if they used them for something else. That is why this man says: " it is not commercially possible." If another company does not have those costs, then obviously this U.S. firm cannot compete, apart from being an affront to Cuba’s sovereignty, an unacceptable intrusion, as the manufacturer himself hints.
On January 21, 1999 another company wrote to our Public Health company and informed them that it had been bought out by a U.S. entity and that, therefore, "as of now we can neither supply you with the prices, nor ship any products to Cuba." Medical products, he meant.
Here is another from the same date, January 23, 1999. This is a telegram from a company called American Supplies Corporation. "It is impossible for me to conduct business with your country with respect to the sales of medical supplies" -seven years after the Torricelli Act was passed. "I have consulted with lawyers and with officials – ‘officials’ – and find, that there is no legal way out of the situation."
April 6, 1999. Medicuba asked a U.S. company to provide them with information they had requested on the prices of some products. Answer: "We are not allowed to give that information to Cuba, because of the trade embargo. Maybe in the future. ". Someone called Barbara signed it. (HOLDS UP THE DOCUMENT)
June 19, 1998. This is a case that I have mentioned here on another occasion. This is the case of a shipment of medicines which took three months to reach Cuba because the ship that was bringing them came from the Far East, from the Pacific. It had also to stop in the United States and they told them that if they entered any Cuban port they could not enter the United States, so they decided not to bring the shipment to Cuba. Cuba had to go and find some other means of transportation and the medicines were delayed three months before getting here.
There are many things which affect our daily lives and nobody knows, it is impossible to know, all the details of just how strongly the claws of the blockade, of the economic war have taken hold, affecting us, and creating difficulties and nuisances for our population.
March 17, 1998. This is very interesting because this is where they christen us. This company informs us that it cannot sell us some equipment for purifying water because the company had been taken over by Dow Chemical Company, a U.S. Company, and the gentleman signing the letter says:
"As you are based in Cuba" -he says to the Cuban businessman-, "which is a prohibited country for U.S. companies...". Prohibited country, banned.
All those years fall within the time period when they spread it abroad that since Torricelli Act had been passed, Cuba was allowed to buy medicines in the United States. That is a lie, and Torricelli knows it better than anyone since he wrote the law so that Cuba could not purchase U.S. medicines. That was the only reason he wrote it.
And now in this new law they are adding things that were not even in the Torricelli Act: "Payment of Cash in advance" This part that says that there could be financing by third country financial institutions... Careful! Let us read subparagraph (B) which says: financed by foreign institutions "excluding United States persons." So, if all of a sudden some one appears and buys some shares, what happened with Dow Chemical and other U.S. Companies will happen. But, furthermore, this credit must be "confirmed or advised" by the United States, which is an insult to every other State on the planet. So far that had not been even in the Helms-Burton Act. That means they are telling foreign banks, or foreign countries, that in order for them to provide credits for a transaction with Cuba they have to get U.S. permission. I think that there they got a bit too carried away with themselves, because that should not be very well received, I guess.
In addition, they make it clear, "that any private person or entity" - and here it does not say if that means U.S. or not - "that violates what is laid down herein shall be subject to the penalties provided in the Trading With the Enemy Act, which are currently in force". Those are the penalties which were increased by one of those amendments which are passed every now and again.
Yesterday someone mentioned a man who is accused of wanting to sell to Cuba a product that is also useful for Public Health, and they are bringing 75 charges against him. He could spend 10 years in prison on each one of those charges, -750 years is quite a long time to be in prison - and he could be fined a million dollars for each one of those charges. At the same time the law goes on to make clear, naturally, that "any entity, including its foreign branches or subsidiaries within the United States", are subject to these U.S. restrictions. And the law also applies, according to them, with their usual extraterritoriality, to branches or companies abroad, banks, financial institutions etc, which have any U.S. involvement.
"Nothing in this title" - section 909 reads – "shall be construed to modify or alter in any way whatsoever the entry into the United States of merchandise that is of Cuban origin, is or has been located in or transported from or through Cuba or is made or derived in whole or in part of any article which is the produce or manufacture of Cuba".
This is a total ban, now repeated here, on trade between the United States and Cuba, including medicines. I do not know if this affects, or in what way it affects the chance that Americans will be able, one day, to learn about the vaccines that Cuba has. The anti-meningococcal vaccine, for example, which they really need over there because there are people dying every year because they do not have it. I suppose that after all sorts of setbacks some people have finally obtained a license to import it. Now that they have passed this, in such categorical terms, the implication is that even that is now called into doubt.
At the same time as they were passing this (HOLDS UP DOCUMENT), or that they were imposing this thing to once again prevent the legislators from voting on something which, since last year has had the backing of the majority it seems, at that same time the other matter was passed in the Senate. And that illustrates clearly to us that there is no change whatsoever, nor is there the slightest chance that there would be any change in the near future, but on the contrary, the premise and the conditions have been created for making the policy towards Cuba more hard-line than ever, to, in fact, make it truly hard-line.
It can be said that the only useful thing in all these maneuvers is that no one can remain ignorant any longer of the fact that Cuba is the only blockaded country on the planet. Nor can anyone remain ignorant of the fact that Cuba alone is the object of an economic, financial and trade war that is so ferocious that it includes in its list of forbidden goods, foodstuffs and medicines, nor be ignorant, moreover, that all these policies and all this war continue to be waged using and abusing insults to human intelligence, and by lying systematically and on a permanent basis.
But why must they tell so many lies? I would say that it is obvious this policy is failing, that the economic war against Cuba has failed, is failing and will fail. Why? In the first place, because of the steadfastness of we Cubans, because of the level of consciousness, because of the unity, and because of the patriotism of we Cubans. Second, because of the international rejection, because not everybody is willing to have someone come along and start bossing them around from Washington, and giving or denying them permission to carry on their legitimate business, even if they are not U.S. citizens. And third, and this has been demonstrated over the last two years, because opposition in the United States is growing, and people are even joining the opposition not out of any feeling of solidarity with Cuba, nor because they are necessarily against the blockade or against the war against Cuba, but because their own interests are also being impinged upon.
For that purpose, in order to be able to stick to their line, in order to be able to insist on the same policy, they have to lie out of desperation and try to deceive and cause confusion. But they cannot cause confusion among we Cubans.
Comrades, we should remember how this story began. After spending a century supporting colonialists, supplying them with arms, persecuting patriots, waiting for the moment when they could intervene here and take over Cuba, when they intended to do it, what did the House of Representatives and the Senate of that era do? Did they discuss and pass a law to intervene in Cuba? No, they approved the Joint Resolution: The Cuban people is, and by right must be, free and independent". And as they were saying that, they took away our freedom and independence which we had been fighting for a century, for which all Cuban had shed so much blood and made so many sacrifices. Now it is the same, when they take away medicines, when they forbid foodstuffs, when they try to bring this people to its knees, through hunger and disease, they say that they "authorize" the sale or they "authorize" such and such a thing. In fact we are dealing with the same kind of morality as that of those aggressors who in 1898 arrived on the scene opportunistically to take over our country.
We have to reject these maneuvers, we must denounce them and we have to make sure that every Cuban understands their nature and all the sickening rottenness that lies behind them and which cast so much light on the corrupt system of U.S. so-called "democracy". We must do everything possible to make the world understand as well, so that a few journalists do not spend another eight years talking about "liberalization" while our businessmen spend their lives receiving telegrams and letters which clearly demonstrate that what has been done is exactly the opposite.
That is why I believe that this round table has been very important, and also why it is very important that our entire population continues the struggle against these machinations, these lies, and against the war being waged against us.
Thank you very much (APPLAUSE)