As has been widely reported, Hurricane Irma caused major destruction of Cuba’s buildings, homes and roads. Now it needs to reconstruct and recover.
However, the U.S. embargo of Cuba hinders that reconstruction. Therefore, the U.S. should remove restrictions on the ability of U.S. companies to export needed relief and reconstruction supplies to the Cuban government and its people.
The Latin American Working Group (LAWG)  and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) are organizing a campaign asking President Trump temporarily to loosen the U.S. embargo in order to facilitate U.S. companies’ helping Cuba with its reconstruction and recovery from Hurricane Irma. Here is their proposed letter to President Trump with copies to the author’s U.S. senators and representative:
- Dear President Trump,
We are extremely saddened by the loss of life and destruction in the Caribbean from Hurricane Irma. Cuba was particularly hard hit: ten people perished and billions of dollars’ in damage was done to their already weak infrastructure and housing, in what was the strongest hurricane to hit Cuba in 85 years. Cuba absorbed much of Irma’s force, lessening the storm’s impact on southern Florida and the United States. Historical grievances should be put aside during a humanitarian crisis like this – the people of Cuba need urgent support to rebuild.
Fortunately, there is a simple change you can make that would provide necessary support to the Cuban people while at the same time helping U.S. businesses: remove restrictions on the ability of U.S. companies to export needed relief and reconstruction supplies to the Cuban government and its people. Although current Treasury Department embargo regulations authorize U.S. companies to provide services related to infrastructure in Cuba (31 CFR 515.591), Commerce Department export regulations require that U.S. exports to support the provision of such services be approved on a case-by-case basis. (15 CFR 746.2) Obama administration regulations specifically licensed only the sale of tools and construction materials to private entities, servicing only privately-owned buildings, thus excluding public facilities such as schools and hospitals. At this critical time, we should relax these restrictions to allow other appropriate entities in Cuba to purchase needed relief and reconstruction supplies and equipment, even if only temporarily during the rebuilding period.
Companies like Caterpillar and Home Depot, a founding member of the U.S.-Cuba Business Council, have shown interest in providing needed supplies to Cuba in the past. Bill Lane, senior director of global government and corporate affairs for Caterpillar, has said that “Everything Caterpillar makes in the United States is needed in Cuba.” Making this regulatory change would not only help the Cuban people rebuild, but would provide a boon to companies in America who provide good manufacturing jobs to our people.
This change would not be controversial. Even before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba, 90 percent of Americans supported increasing U.S. business engagement with Cuba. At this difficult time for the Cuban people, denying them the ability to purchase high quality, American-made construction, medical, and other crucial supplies is cruel and counterproductive. We urge you to take action without further delay.
Thank you kindly for your consideration. We look forward to your response.
cc: U.S. Senators, U.S. Representative
==================================================== LAWG, which was founded in 1983, “leads one of the nation’s longest-standing coalitions dedicated to foreign policy. LAWG and its sister organization, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, work with over 50 major religious to promote humanitarian, grassroots, labor and change in U.S. policies towards Latin America and to promote human rights, justice, peace and sustainable development throughout the region.
 WOLA “is a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We envision a future where public policies protect human rights and recognize human dignity, and where justice overcomes violence. WOLA tackles problems that transcend borders and demand cross-border solutions. We create strategic partnerships with courageous people making social change—advocacy organizations, academics, religious and business leaders, artists, and government officials. Together, we advocate for more just societies in the Americas.”