Embargo on Cuba hurts people, health, not Castro's regime...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

May 10, 1999

Embargo on Cuba hurts people, health, not Castro's regime

The anti-Castro protesters who gathered at Camden Yards May 3 before the Orioles-Cuba game did not seem to acknowledge that one can oppose the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba without being a supporter of the Castro regime.

One can feel for those who have suffered since the revolution but object to inflicting further suffering through the embargo and related restrictive policies.

For who, in fact, is the embargo hurting? Now in its 38th year, there are no signs that it has seriously endangered Castro's rule. What it has done is create economic hardship and harmed the health of average Cubans.

I visited Cuba last month as part of a public health study tour organized by the Center for Cuban Studies in New York.

Visits to numerous clinics and hospitals, and discussions with health professionals in these facilities, left us deeply impressed by their efforts to sustain Cuba's public health system despite the lack of basic supplies, medicines and important new drugs, many of which are only produced in the United States.

In its 1997 report on the embargo, the American Association for World Health found it "has caused a significant rise in suffering -- and even deaths -- in Cuba."

Noting that few other recent embargoes have banned the sale of food or life-saving medicines, the report found that only Cuba's strong commitment to its health care system has prevented a humanitarian catastrophe.

Ostensibly, American restrictions on food and medical supplies to Cuba have been eased in the past several months. In fact, very little has changed, owing to the stringency of Treasury and Commerce Department regulations.

The Helms-Burton Act, and other embargo-related restrictions, also seriously inhibit Cuba's ability to import medical supplies from other countries. For example, ships from third countries are prohibited from visiting U.S. ports for three months after making deliveries to Cuba.

It's time to leave Cold War politics and outdated policies in the past. The embargo should be ended; the wrong people are being hurt and little has been gained.

In the opening that would follow, we could learn about prioritizing quality public education and health services -- both of which have been top Cuban national priorities since the revolution.

For despite it all, Cuba has managed to maintain exemplary literacy levels and higher immunization rates than those in the United States.

Lauren Goodsmith

Baltimore

A Cuban perspective that is different from our own?

This time a year ago I might have predicted that Cuban players and officials would all have scattered shortly after touching down at BWI Airport.

Visiting Cuba this winter, though, I realized that I had been trapped in my own values and American perspective.

I have strong feelings about personal rights, home ownership and the opportunity to express my political views.

But the Cuban surgeon we dined with one evening had a different attitude. He was content that his personal liberties are subsidiary to the community's well-being.

Although he had plenty of professional questions to ask of the orthopedic surgeon at the other end of the table, the Cuban surgeon's curiosity was academic. This is spite of the fact that he lacks our advanced medical equipment, antibiotics and higher incomes.

We discussed the Castro regime with him and with others. Was the revolution worthwhile?

In most cases their answer was yes. Things are far better now, they insist, than they were before Castro's regime came to power in 1959.

Sally Gray

Baltimore

Use trade and engagement to open Cuban society

When the Orioles played the May 3 game with the Cubans, Baltimore became a podium for the heated but standard positions on American policy toward Cuba.

The competing demonstrators either vehemently opposed the Castro regime or opposed the embargo of that island country.

But the positions are not mutually exclusive. Policy options are available which reconcile the two stances, by using a more open, liberal trade policy to loosen the grip the Castro government holds over the Cuban people.

The embargo has utterly failed in this respect. But trade and investment could erode Cuba's existing system and foster a middle class with the will and means to command political emancipation.

A revamped policy would focus on exposing the Cuban people to the benefits of freedom in all its forms.

Bradley Gillenwater

Baltimore

Disgust at efforts to block AIDS drugs

The Sun's April 30 article "U.S. fights efforts to expand access to AIDS drugs" on the government's efforts at the behest of pharmaceutical companies to fight international access to AIDS drugs saddened and disgusted me.

It demonstrates that corporate profits are sometimes deemed more important than human life.

In this country, people suffer and die because of the high cost of AIDS drugs. Now the drug industry wants to deny developing countries the opportunity to manufacture AIDS drugs at low cost to help their own citizens.

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