Videos & Speeches
Thank you, even in this dysfunctional Senate, we as Members, we as Senators have a unique opportunity to be advocates for those who need our help, and we need to provide a voice for those who are in need. For years—a decade, really—I have been an advocate for allowing increased engagement with Cuba. I have been an advocate for Kansas and American farmers having the opportunity to sell their agricultural commodities to Cuba. I have always believed that increased engagement with Cuba is a better way to bring about the changes that we all desire for the Cuban people.
Additionally, I thought that our policy toward Cuba was especially damaging and created a significant disadvantage to Kansas farmers and their competition for markets around the globe, and it was ineffective because it’s a unilateral embargo. The market and demand for American commodities do exist off our coastline, and yet Congress and administrations over the years have failed to make it possible for there to be much sale or much relationship, commercial relationship, with the people of Cuba.
For more than a decade I have worked to open those Cuban markets to American agriculture. In 2000 I offered an amendment to the Treasury appropriations bill when I was in the House of Representatives that removed those trade sanctions on food, agriculture, commodities, and medicine. It paved the way for American farmers to sell their crops to Cuba for the first time in more than 40 years.
The language of that amendment ultimately became part of legislation called the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, TSRA. Over the years, administrations have made changes that have tightened the rules under that legislation and made it, again, difficult for our farmers to sell agricultural commodities to Cuba. On multiple occasions I have fought to reverse those decisions, those new rules by administrations, to make it easier for us to sell those commodities. We are not even talking about trade; we are simply talking about the sale for cash of those commodities.
We went through this in fact last year as I offered an amendment to an appropriations bill that was approved by the Appropriations Committee to change those regulations. I say all that because I want to highlight how important and how long term my interest in this issue has been, but that is not the point of what I want to talk about tonight. I want to establish that this matters. But even despite the fact that it matters, I have taken a hiatus, in fact, and announced to the Appropriations Committee this year that I would not be offering that amendment again.
It’s not that I have changed my mind about the value of engagement or the importance for Kansas and American farmers to be able to sell their commodities to Cuba, but it’s a sincere recognition on my part that the Cuban Government has a responsibility to cooperate with the United States on an issue that many of us are concerned about, which is the unjust detention of an American citizen, Alan Gross.
Nearly three years ago, December 3, 2009, Alan was arrested in Havana where he had been working for a U.S. Government subcontractor that had a contract for USAID, an agency whose mission is to help those in need. As a USAID subcontractor, Alan had made five trips to Cuba where he helped a small, peaceful, no dissident Cuban Jewish community. He was arrested. He was detained without charges for 14 months. Later, he had a two day trial resulting in a 15-year prison sentence for alleged “actions against the independence and territorial integrity of the State.”
Since his arrest, now a long time ago, his detention so long ago, Alan's health has deteriorated. He has lost more than 100 pounds and suffers from several debilitating medical conditions. During his imprisonment, members of his family have faced serious illness. His daughter has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and his 90-year-old mother has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.
In light of Alan's continued deterioration in his health, and the health problems experienced by his family, 42 of my colleagues joined me and Senator Cardin earlier this year in calling on the Cuban Government to release Alan on humanitarian grounds and allow him to return to his family in the United States. In recent news-in fact, just yesterday, I learned from a press report that Cuba planned to make an announcement regarding Alan Gross. It fueled hope on the part of many of us that the announcement would be that he would be released. Sadly, unfortunately, today the announcement was nothing other than their assessment, the Cuban assessment that Alan is in good health.
I asked my staff and others who know me and know about this issue to say their prayers last night that the release would occur. Once again, Cuba has failed to do what is right and proper. It is unclear whether the claim that Alan Gross is in good health is true. Certainly, many reports indicate that’s not the case. He has never been examined by an independent medical examiner, something that is required by international law.
It’s past time for Cuba to release Alan and allow him to return to his family. Failure to do so makes any improvement in the relationship between our two countries so much more difficult and highly unlikely.
I think that would benefit the people of Cuba, but their government continues to take an unjust course. Alan should be released and Cuba should do the right thing. Mr. Gross devoted his professional life to helping others through his work in international development. He and his family have suffered more than most could endure over the last 3 years.
Continuing our efforts to bring Alan home, next week, on December 3, the three year anniversary, Senator Cardin and I will introduce a resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Gross. I ask my colleagues to join us in supporting this resolution to help send that clear message to Cuba that even those of us who want a better relationship, even those of us who have been willing to cast the votes to increase that opportunity for a relationship between the United States and Cuba, we want Alan Gross to come home. It’s my hope the Cuban Government will reverse course and that Alan can finally come home to his wife Judy and to their family. I would ask my colleagues to join me in that effort and perhaps, more importantly, I would ask Americans to join us in the prayer for Alan's release.