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Congresswoman Waters Commends the President for Calling for End to Embargo on Cuba in SOTU

January 23, 2015
Press Release

Congresswoman Waters Commends the President for Calling for End to Embargo on Cuba in SOTU


Washington, D.C. -- Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43), Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, issued a statement commending President Obama for outlining his new policy towards Cuba and calling for an end to the embargo on Cuba in his January 20th State of the Union (SOTU) address.  The new policy towards Cuba was announced by the Administration on December 17, 2014.  The Congresswoman's statement follows:


"I am extremely pleased that the President outlined his new policy towards Cuba and called for an end to the embargo during his State of the Union address.  As a strong supporter of lifting the embargo on Cuba, I have visited the island several times, and I know from personal experience that the embargo on Cuba is counterproductive and has done more harm than good to the cause of freedom in Cuba. 


As the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in the 105th Congress, I organized the first of several congressional delegations for CBC members to Cuba.  We met with President Fidel Castro, other Cuban officials, the Chief of the U.S. Interests Section, and several dissidents and independent journalists.  We also donated more than 400 pounds of medical supplies to the Martin Luther King Center in Havana, which is run by the Baptist Church, for distribution in the community. This CBC delegation, which took place in February of 1999, allowed us to see firsthand how the embargo denies critically needed food and medicine to the Cuban people while simultaneously denying them information about American values and the American way of life. 


Since that time, CBC members have become leaders on efforts to end the embargo. Several CBC members have developed relationships with officials of the Cuban government and individuals in both Cuba and the United States who support this change in policy.  My friend and colleague, Congressman Charles Rangel, has repeatedly introduced legislation ending the embargo.  While the President's new policy does not fully lift the embargo, it does move our relationship with Cuba in the right direction.


I worked closely with Peter W. Nathan, President of PWN Exhibicon L.L.C., to organize a U.S. Healthcare Exhibition in Havana, Cuba, in January of 2000.  Peter Nathan had previously organized trade shows in the People's Republic of China and the former Soviet Union.  This trade show was the first such event in Cuba to be licensed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce, and it was attended by almost 100 U.S. companies exhibiting medical equipment and supplies and pharmaceutical products. I personally cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony.


During another CBC delegation to Cuba in the year 2000, Cuba offered to provide scholarships to low-income American students to study at the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba, on the condition that the students agree to practice medicine in underserved communities in the United States.  This offer led to the establishment of a scholarship program administered by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO).  Having personally visited a major university and a hospital in Cuba, I was excited to learn that disadvantaged American students would have an opportunity to study medicine there. 


IFCO subsequently organized a series of conferences to recruit students for this program.  One such recruitment conference was held at Charles Drew University in Los Angeles, and I was the keynote speaker. 


There are now 111 U.S. graduates of the program with MD degrees, and 33 of them are currently in residency programs in the United States.  Several graduates are in residency at California hospitals, including UCLA and UCLA/Harbor.  One graduate, who previously graduated from the Drew Science High School near my congressional district, is now a resident at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center near Sacramento, California.


On each of my trips to Cuba, I met with the Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to discuss the U.S. embargo and its effect on the Cuban people.  My travels to Cuba also afforded me the opportunity to visit the Biotechnology Center in Havana.  I was impressed by the medical research at this center, and the doctors and scientists there were eager to be able to work with their counterparts in the United States.  In addition, I attended museums and cultural performances in Santiago, the center of Afro-Cuban culture in Cuba.


Programs like the IFCO medical scholarship program are good foreign policy, and they are consistent with American values.  Throughout the Cold War, individual Americans traveled to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  They met with individual citizens, and they talked about life in America.  Some attended universities and educational programs, and some met with dissidents.  Enabling American students, professionals, businesspeople, religious leaders, and human rights activists to travel freely to Cuba will serve American interests, empower civil society in Cuba, and educate the Cuban people about the American way of life.


The President's new policy towards Cuba will meaningfully improve the lives of Cuban citizens and promote our countries' mutual interests by allowing increased trade, facilitating remittances, and expanding opportunities for Americans to travel to this island nation, just 90 miles off our shore.


Allowing expanded commercial activity with Cuba will enhance U.S. national security, create opportunities for American businesses and workers, and provide goods and services that will improve the living standards of the Cuban people.  While Cuba has an exceptional record of training doctors and providing health care to its people, additional medical supplies and pharmaceutical products can further enhance the Cuban government's demonstrated commitment to quality health care.  Moreover, trade in consumer communications equipment and telecommunications services will increase Cubans' access to information and their ability to communicate freely.  Finally, facilitating remittances will be especially helpful for Cuban Americans who wish to assist their families in Cuba. 


As the Ranking Member of the Financial Services Committee, I am especially interested in the new regulations proposed by the Treasury Department to facilitate remittances, allow Americans traveling in Cuba to use credit and debit cards, and open Cuba to trade in financial services.  I look forward to reviewing these regulations and discussing them with the Treasury Department.


I plan to return to Cuba soon in order to discuss the President's new policy and the proposed regulations with Cuban officials, members of civil society, and representatives of the Cuban people.  I urge my colleagues in Congress to head the President's call to end the embargo, and I look forward to working with the Administration and my colleagues to chart a new course in our nation's relationship with Cuba."