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October 6, 2015 | 23rd Tishrei 5776

Resolution on the US-Cuba Embargo

Originally Submitted by Congregation Beth Ahabah, Richmond VA


The Cuban embargo was inaugurated by a Kennedy Administration Executive Order in 1960 as a response to the confiscation of American property in Cuba under the newly installed Castro regime. The current incarnation of the embargo, codified primarily in the Helms-Burton Act, emphasizes, "U.S. policy toward Cuba is focused on encouraging democratic and economic reforms and increased respect for human rights on the part of the Cuban Government,"[1] albeit through economic sanctions, travel restrictions and international legal penalties.  In 2000, the Board of Trustees of the URJ declined to approve a resolution proposing the lifting of the Cuban Embargo.

The U.S. embargo and the policies of the Castro government produced deplorable economic and living conditions for the Cuban people. The embargo policy damaged the Cuban tourist economy, a major source of employment and foreign trade in pre-embargo Cuba. The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 further shattered the Cuban economy and weakened the country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the absolute poverty rate increased significantly in Cuba, while deterioration of infrastructure -housing, roads and sewers - also increased.  The major impact has been on ordinary Cuban citizens.

Since 1999, there have been some improvements in the conditions of people living in Cuba. The American government has allowed increased people-to-people contact, which has improved relations and humanitarian concerns.  After Fidel Castro abdicated power to his brother Raul in 2008, the government undertook more than 300 economic reforms designed to encourage enterprise, and restrictions were lifted on property use, travel, farming, municipal governance, electronics access and more, but the embargo still has a direct impact on ordinary Cubans, including the Jewish community.  There is no direct mail between the United States and Cuba, and trade between the United States and Cuba is limited to agriculture and medical supplies for cash only. While there are ways to work around some of the restrictions, they add to the cost and discourage efforts of Americans to provide humanitarian aid and aid to religious groups. 

At present, the United States is largely alone in restricting access to Cuba.  The embargo has long been a point of friction between the United States and allies in Europe, South America and Canada. Every year since 1992, the U.S. has been publicly condemned in the United Nations for maintaining counterproductive and worn out trade and migration restrictions against Cuba. Some argue that the embargo has given the entrenched Cuban leadership a convenient excuse to justify their own failures.  After more than 50 years, the United States has little to show for maintaining the embargo, and it does so while largely ignoring its restraints on the rights of American citizens to engage in travel and trade.

Repealing the embargo would fit into an American precedent of lifting trade and travel restrictions to countries who demonstrate progress towards democratic ideals. Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were all offered normal trade relations with the U.S. in the 1970's after preliminary reforms even though they were still in clear violation of several U.S. resolutions condemning their human rights practices. China, a communist country and perennial human rights abuser, is the U.S.'s second largest trade partner. Even trade restrictions against Myanmar were lessened notwithstanding a fifty year history of genocide and human trafficking propagated by its military government. 

At the same time that we urge removal of the embargo, we continue to be mindful of human rights and humanitarian concerns that continue in Cuba.  In the last few years we have become concerned with the plight of Alan Gross, who was arrested and imprisoned in December 2009 while in Cuba working as a U.S. government subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). He was prosecuted in 2011 after being accused of crimes against the Cuban state for bringing satellite phones and computer equipment to members of Cuba's Jewish community without the permit required under Cuban law. In January 2010, he was accused of working for American intelligence, but he was ultimately charged and convicted for "acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" in March 2011.  He was sentenced to a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba. He is now 64 years old. He has lost over 100 pounds while in prison and reportedly has health issues, as do members of his family in the United States. He has now been imprisoned for 4 years from the time of his arrest.  Whether his imprisonment is seen as a human rights issue or as a humanitarian issue, in view of his age, health, the length of his sentence, the time he has already been in prison, and the health of members of his family, his sentence is unduly harsh and he should be released immediately.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Union for Reform Judaism:

  1. Urges the United States government to terminate the Cuban embargo and to renew relations between Cuba and the United States;
  2. Demands the immediate release of Alan Gross by the Cuban government.


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