Cubans Need More, Not Less, Contact With Americans, Says Prelate

Bishop Gregory Urges Bush to Avoid Tougher Sanctions Against Island

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 25, 2004 ( Full freedom for the Cuban people should not come at the expense of a tighter economic embargo or further travel restrictions, says the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

Bishop Wilton Gregory used the recent report of the U.S. administration’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba to reiterate the positions of the episcopate in a letter to President George Bush.

“The Commission’s goals of meeting basic human needs in education, health care and housing, modernizing transportation and improving the environment, and most importantly, enhancing the democratic governance of Cuba, are laudable,” Bishop Gregory wrote in the letter released Friday.

“However, these goals can be accomplished best through greater rather than less contact with the American people,” he said.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of prominent business leaders, ex-government officials, elected officials and humanitarian leaders, in an open letter to Bush, called on the administration to work with the members of Congress who seek to lift all restrictions on humanitarian trade and free travel to Cuba.

Americans for Humanitarian Trade with Cuba issued that letter in response to the administration’s recent adoption of measures that would limit Cuban-American family visits, humanitarian aid and travel recommended by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.

Bishop Gregory in his letter noted: “The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops shares with the Commission a strong desire and commitment to pursue full freedom for the people of Cuba, especially with respect to human rights and full religious freedom. The Conference strongly denounced the crackdown on Cuban human rights advocates in March and April of 2003 and will continue to do so.”

He continued: “For too long the people of Cuba have endured excessive social, political and economic controls, causing great numbers of Cubans to seek freedom abroad. Thus we welcome the attention that the Commission brings to these fundamental injustices so close to our own borders.

“We hope, however, that the Commission’s recommendations for tightening the economic embargo and further restricting travel will not be accepted. In concert with Pope John Paul II and the Cuban bishops, we consider the economic embargo to be morally unacceptable and politically counterproductive.”

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