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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 20, 1998


Eight weeks ago, His Holiness John Paul II made an historic visit to Cuba. He spoke to and for the Catholic faithful who have for decades endured a system that denied their right to worship freely.

In anticipation and in support of that visit, my Administration made a number of exceptions to our policy regarding travel and shipment of humanitarian supplies to Cuba. The response of the Cuban people to that visit has since convinced me that we should continue to look for ways to support Cuba's people without supporting its regime, by providing additional humanitarian relief, increasing human contacts, and helping the Cuban people prepare for a peaceful transition to a free, independent and prosperous nation.

Prior to the Pope's visit, we authorized direct charter flights for pilgrims to attend Papal services. We also authorized direct humanitarian cargo flights to Cuba in order to reduce the cost of getting these needed supplies to the Cuban people. The deliveries were carefully monitored to ensure that they reached the people for whom they were intended.

These measures were fully consistent with the letter and spirit of the Cuban Democracy Act and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, which, in addition to sustaining tough economic sanctions also enable and encourage the Administration to conduct a program of support for the Cuban people.

I continue to believe in the validity of our policy built on four main components:

I have been following carefully the various proposals put forward by Members of Congress and other interested groups for expanding humanitarian assistance to the people of Cuba, including food. I have asked Secretary Albright to work on a bipartisan basis with the Congress to fashion an approach to the transfer of food to the Cuban people.

To build further on the impact of the Pope's visit, to support the role of the Church and other elements of civil society in Cuba, and to thereby help prepare the Cuban people for a democratic transition, I have also decided to take the following steps:

The Departments of Treasury, Commerce and State will develop and promulgate new licensing arrangements in these three areas in the coming weeks.

The people of Cuba continue to live under a regime which deprives them of their freedom, and denies them economic opportunity. The overarching goal of American policy must be to promote a peaceful transition to democracy on the island. Such a transition will depend upon the efforts of Cubans who seek to build a vibrant civil society and to secure respect for basic human rights. The presence of His Holiness John Paul II in Cuba inspired the Cuban people, providing an important psychological boost to the Cuban Catholic Church, to Cuba's nascent civil society, and to the Cuban people. The measures I have announced today are designed to build upon that visit, to support the Cuban people through the hardships and difficulties ahead, to contribute to the growth of a civil society and to help prepare for a peaceful transition to democracy.

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