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While diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba have been reestablished and some trade and travel restrictions have been changed by executive order, the embargo remains in place and the Cuban people still experience the shortages of crucial medicines and other essential products. Imposed in the early sixties to “bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of the government” (State Department, April 6, 1960) the U.S. embargo is often called a blockade because of the widespread effects of these policies. CRLN has worked with many other organizations for more than twenty years to end these harmful policies carried out in our name. This work has led to many positive changes in policy. Because these policy changes were made by executive order our current president was able on June 16 to reinstate some of the limits to travel and trade. Action by Congress is required to finally end all the U.S. restrictions including the embargo and this year several bi-partisan bills have been reintroduced in the House and Senate. By working together we can change these harmful policies!

IL Senators Durbin and Duckworth are (or soon will be) co-sponsors of the bills in the Senate, so in Illinois we are focusing on the Illinois Representatives.  Call the Capitol Switchboard today at 202-224-3121 to be connected to your Representative.  Let them know that now is the time to finally lift these restrictions (sample script below)!  Be sure to thank them if they are a co-sponsor already.

House Bills

 The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R. 525)
Introduced by Rep. Eric A. Crawford (R-AR-1)
This bill seeks to repeal financing restrictions, allowing firms in the U.S. to offer credit to Cuba in connection with exports of U.S. agricultural goods. It also seeks to eliminate restrictions on key federal funding used in agricultural export promotions.  Current Illinois representatives co-sponsoring are:  Robin Kelly (D- IL 02), Rodney Davis (R-IL 13), Cheri Bustos (D- IL 17), Darin LaHood (R- IL18),  Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-8)

 The Cuba Trade Act (H.R. 442)
Introduced by Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN-6)
This bill would allow businesses in the private sector to trade freely with Cuba, while prohibiting taxpayer funds to be used on promotion or development of a new market. Current Illinois representative co-sponsoring is Darin LaHood (R-IL 18)

 The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (H.R. 351)
Introduced by Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC-1)
The bill simply removes the current travel restrictions to Cuba.

Suggested Script for IL Representatives “As your constituent, I want you to know that I strongly support continued U.S. engagement with Cuba. Increased travel and trade with Cuba allows your constituents their right to travel to Cuba, but also helps to improve the lives of the Cuban people.

The U.S. embargo on Cuba has hurt both the Cuban and the American people. I urge you to co-sponsor  HR 525HR 442 and HR 351 to lift the U.S. travel ban and trade embargo on Cuba.”  (if they have co-sponsored you can add the thank-you in this paragraph)

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Rep. Hank Johnson reintroduced the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act in the 115th Congress as House Resolution 1299 (HR 1299) on March 2, the first anniversary of the slain indigenous rights, feminist, and environomental activist. The bill would suspend all U.S. military and police aid to Honduras, including equipment and training, until basic human rights conditions are met. The Honduran police and military have been implicated in hundreds of human rights violations since the 2009 overthrow of the government, and we should not be supporting them with our tax dollars.

We have an amazing opportunity in the two years of the 115th Congress (2017-18) to generate enough support for this bill to get it passed. Already, Representatives Schakowsky, Lipinski, Gutierrez, Rush, and Davis from Illinois have signed on to co-sponsor. Here are three good reasons you might give us permission to sign your name on a letter to your Representative in support of this resolution, which CRLN staff will deliver when we are in DC for Ecumenical Advocacy Days:

  1. Berta’s family supports this bill, and we in CRLN believe in supporting the survivors of human rights abuses. Two of the suspects arrested in connection with Berta’s murder worked in military intelligence and were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas, and Berta’s family believes the intellectual authors of the crime occupy positions at the highest levels of government. Withdrawing financial support, along with communicating the reasons for doing so, would be a blow to these forces and might weaken their position within Honduras.
  2.  The social movements in Honduras (LGBT, women, Indigenous, Garifuna, labor unions, environmentalists, small farmers), and the journalists who cover them, are under constant threat of violence, and we in CRLN want to do everything in our power to send the message that they have international solidarity in these dangerous times. There have been credible allegations by an army defector of the existence of death squads within the Honduran military who have received U.S. training and who have a hit list of prominent social movement leaders. We need to stop U.S. training that results in assassinations.
  3. The current President, Juan Orlando Hernandez, and his administration and political party are riddled with corruption. He has been named by a drug trafficker leader on trial in New York as receiving bribes from his cartel, with Hernandez’ brother acting as liaison. His National Party stole hundreds of millions of dollars from the national health insurance system to fund his first campaign. He will run again for President this fall, which violates the Constitution; and he fired four Supreme Court justices who objected and appointed four who were in favor of his re-election bid in order to be able to run again. The U.S. should not reward with funds someone who seems willing to benefit himself at the expense of his country.

 

For further reading, here are some recent articles on Honduras:

By Berta Caceres’ nephew on the anniversary of her assassination: Click Here

“Berta Cáceres court papers show murder suspects’ links to US-trained elite troops”: Click Here

By Steven Dudley of InSight Crime on Honduran presidents’ link to gangs:Click Here

“Protesters in DC confront Honduran president over Berta Cáceres murder”: Click Here

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Photo: Jesús Abad Colardo / archive SEMANA

CRLN, along with many in the international community and our partners in Colombia, is surprised and saddened by this weekend’s NO vote on Colombia’s proposed Peace Accords. The final count came down to 50.21 percent ‘NO’ and 49.78 ‘YES’, a difference of 53,894 votes. The turnout was 37 percent, out of 34 million eligible voters.

 

The motivations of NO voters are myriad and complicated, some not knowing what was actually in the accords, some feeling excluded from the peace process, some seeing the Colombian state giving too many concessions to FARC guerillas, especially voters in FARC strongholds. Meanwhile, in areas where the worst massacres of the war were committed, like Bojayá, 96% of the voters cast their ballots for ‘YES’. Likewise, in regions with the most intensive ongoing conflict, the majority of people voted in favor of the Peace Accords.

 

The other political split that affected the vote was between President Juan Manuel Santos and former President, now Senator Alvaro Uribe. Uribe was one of the main campaigners against the Peace Accords, some suspecting that his opposition is linked to his history of connections with paramilitary groups and extrajudicial killings by Colombian state security forces during his time in the presidency. (Unlike what you read in most U.S. newspapers, the FARC was not responsible for all of the violence against civilians during the war. Paramilitary groups have been active forces of violence and displacement throughout the war and continue to displace people from their territories, often in the interest of mining and other extractive industries.) Meanwhile, President Santos, who did not campaign as effectively in favor of his Peace Deal, also has one of the lowest approval ratings of any president in Colombia’s modern history.

While we continue to sift through the various reports, we offer a news round up of some of the stories published since Sunday in English and Spanish. We believe that there is still a path toward peace and we will continue working with our partners to achieve that goal. We will also continue working with organized African descendant and Indigenous peoples, who have been disproportionately affected by the violence and displacement and who worked so hard to win the inclusion of the Ethnic Chapter last month.
English, WBEZ: Worldview’s Jerome McDonnel’s Interview with Gimena Sanchez of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) / Entrevista de Jerome McDonnell de Worldview con Gimena Sanchez de la Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Spanish, BBC: Bojayá, la población donde las FARC cometieron una de sus peores masacres y que votó abrumadoramente por el Sí / Bojayá, the population where the FARC committed one of the worst massacers y and which voted overwhelmingly for Yes

English, NACLA: A Dark Day in Colombia / Un Día Oscuro en Colombia

Video, English / Spanish, MSN: Colombia’s FARC victims campaign for ‘Yes’ vote in peace deal / Víctimas de la FARC en Colombia hacen campaña por ‘Si’ a los Acuerdos en el plebiscito

Spanish, Semana: Las víctimas votaron por el Sí / The victims voted ‘Yes’

English, Latin American Herald Tribune: Colombia’s Santos Gives Peace Negotiator a Vote of Confidence / Santos en Colombia le da al Negociador de Paz un Voto de Confianza

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