1998 NCC News Archives

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NCC Opposes Helms' "Cuban Assistance and Solidarity Act"

WASHINGTON, D.C. May 15, 1998 -- The National Council of Churches is concerned that the Cuban Assistance and Solidarity Act, introduced May 12 by Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), will undermine efforts to respond to humanitarian need in Cuba. "The legislation would politicize aid, and does not appear to be motivated by a genuine desire to help the Cuban people, but rather focuses on weakening the Cuban government," said the Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, NCC General Secretary.

"Control of religious or non-profit assistance would run counter to historic patterns of voluntary aid," said the Rev. Dr. Rodney Page, Executive Director of Church World Service, the NCC’s humanitarian assistance ministry. Since 1992, CWS has provided more than $7 million in humanitarian aid to Cuba, distributed through the Cuban Council of Churches, including canned food, grain, medicine, medical and hospital supplies, health and school kits, and blankets.

Most disturbing to the NCC, Dr. Page said, is the legislation's requirement that aid only be channeled through "independent non-governmental organizations" in Cuba that are designated by the President and approved by Congress. This restriction would violate the independence of private agencies, including CWS, whose mission is to respond to humanitarian need free from partisan political and foreign policy concerns of government, he said. It would also undermine efforts to build partnerships with Cuban communities based on trust and mutual respect.

The bill would also set back the recent decision by President Clinton to allow direct flights to Cuba for humanitarian purposes, Dr. Page noted. The new policy has enhanced CWS’s ability to respond quickly to emergency needs in Cuba. However, Senator Helms' bill would require strict reporting and monitoring of aid to ensure that it only goes through the approved NGOs, and would require new Congressional approval of direct flights for humanitarian purposes every six months. The extra requirements would inhibit CWS's efforts to provide humanitarian aid on a timely basis, he said.

Finally, the bill would only permit donations of humanitarian aid, not commercial sales. "However, Church World Service's experience in Cuba leads us to conclude that humanitarian aid is not a substitute for trade," he said. "Donations of food, medicine and medical supplies from Church World Service and other agencies are essential, but they provide far less than Cuba needs to protect public health and prevent hunger."

The NCC supports other legislation, the Cuban Women and Children Humanitarian Relief Act (S 1391) and the Cuban Humanitarian Trade Act (HR 1951), which would exempt the sale of food and medicine from the trade embargo. "These bills," Dr. Page said, "demonstrate respect for the principle that food and medicine should not be used as a weapon in the effort to impose economic sanctions."

Contact: NCC News Department
Oscar Bolioli, CWS, New York, 212-870-2460
Kathleen Selvaggio, CWS, Washington, 202-543-6336

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