Congressional Committees Vote to Lift Food, Medicine Sanctions
Washington -- Appropriations committees in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have approved legislation that would lift food and medicine sanctions imposed on Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea and Sudan.
The provisions to lift unilateral sanctions, proposed by Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Representative George Nethercutt of Washington state, were added to the 2001 agriculture spending bills approved May 10 in the House Appropriations Committee and May 9 in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Senate committee approved $14,849 million in fiscal year 2001 agriculture spending, and the House committee approved $14,376 million. The Clinton administration had sought $15,517 million for agriculture in the fiscal year starting October 1.
For these sanctions provisions to become law, however, they would have to be approved by the full House and Senate and get the signature of President Clinton.
A year earlier a similar provision for lifting food and medicine sanctions was dropped from the final 2000 spending bill approved in a conference committee of the House and Senate. A major sticking point on the provision was that it would lift part of a long-standing trade embargo on Cuba, according to a U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) study.
This year the House Appropriations Committee defeated, by a vote of 35-24, an attempt by House Republican Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas to strike the sanctions-lifting provision from the proposed spending measure.
"This provision would make American farmers partners with the oppressors of the Cuban people," DeLay told the committee.
Representative Chet Edwards, a Democrat from Texas, said longstanding unilateral sanctions have not worked and should be scrapped. "The old saying is if it ain't broke don't fix it. The corollary of that is if it has not worked for 39 years, let's try something else."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, a Republican of North Carolina, said in a May 10 letter to the chairman of the House International Relations Committee that he opposed any attempt to lift sanctions from Cuba. He also argued that sanctions reform should be part of an authorization bill from his committee and not a spending bill from an appropriations committee.
But sponsor Senator Dorgan said, "We must just not use food as a weapon." He said that using food and weapons sanctions to dislodge Cuban President Fidel Castro "takes aim at a dictator but hits the poor and weak."
Both sanctions reform measures include limitations on the president's power to impose new unilateral food and medicine sanctions without congressional approval. That provision has drawn concern from the White House because it would limit the flexibility the president needs to conduct foreign policy, according to the State Department.
"In that light, the administration had serious concerns about previous legislation concerning the export of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices, which would have inappropriately constrained the president's authority to use sanctions as a foreign policy tool," a State Department official said. "Such legislation could have serious and adverse implications for counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, non-proliferation, and security interests."
State Department Spokesman Phil Reeker said May 10 in a briefing to reporters that "we're going to continue working with Congress on specifics of this [current legislation], and we have supported comprehensive sanctions reform generally."
The Clinton administration has already implemented some sanctions reforms for food and medicine. In April 1999, Clinton relaxed restrictions on sales of food and medicine to Iran, Libya and Sudan on a case-by-case basis. However, that change in policy did not affect Cuba, Iraq and North Korea.
Farm groups and agribusinesses have lobbied for sanctions reform, arguing that sanctions on food do not further U.S. foreign policy objectives and may cost nearly $7,200 million annually in lost farm exports, according to an October 1999 CRS study.