Chicago City Council Resolution: Call for end to U.S. embargo against Cuban trade and travel

Chicago City Council Resolution R2020-612: Call for end to U.S. embargo against Cuban trade and travel

passed unanimously 2/24/2021

Alderpeople sponsors: Sawyer, Roderick T.Tunney, ThomasRamirez-Rosa, CarlosMartin, Matthew J. Osterman, HarryRodriguez, Michael D.Sigcho-Lopez, ByronSadlowski Garza, Susan


WHEREAS, since March 14, 1958, the United States has maintained the most enduring trade embargo in the nation’s history. Initially embargoing the sale of arms to Cuba during the Fulgencio Batista regime, an embargo on exports to Cuba except for food and medicine was further imposed on October 19, 1960 after a successful revolution led to the deposition of the Batista regime and the installation of a regime by Fidel Castro who ordered the nationalization (without compensation) of Cuban oil refineries owned by United States corporations. On February 7, 1962 the embargo was again escalated to include almost all exports as relations with Castro continued to deteriorate; and

WHEREAS, on December 17, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and current Cuban President Raul Castro executed an agreement to reestablish diplomatic relations and cooperation between the two countries on certain matters of mutual interest. Despite executive decisions by President Obama easing some restrictive regulations, the main portions of the embargo affecting trade and travel continue in force; and

WHEREAS, full restoration of trade and travel between the two countries would be of great benefit to both, particularly in the areas of food production, economic opportunities, education, health care, tourism, the arts, music, and sports along with medical and  biotechnological research; and

WHEREAS, the City of Chicago would greatly benefit by the restoration of trade with the Republic of Cuba, through permitting the export of industrial and agricultural products to this neighboring nation of 11 million people and the importation of Cuban products useful to Chicago such as life-saving medicines Herberprot-p and CIMAvax; and

WHEREAS, businesses and institutions in Chicago have expressed a very strong interest in providing their products and services to Cuba, importing Cuban products, and cooperating with Cuban institutions in the development of pharmaceuticals and medical devices as well as biomedical research and procedures. Nevertheless, rather than continuing to move forward toward expansion of the initiatives on Cuba undertaken by his predecessor, the administration of the current President Donald Trump has increased travel and economic restrictions and expelled from the United States the greater part of the staff of the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC; and

WHEREAS, unlike its predecessors, the Trump administration has refused to waive the clause in the Helms-Burton Act which allows lawsuits against foreign companies that do business with formerly private businesses in Cuba that were nationalized after the Cuban Revolution and has threatened to impose even harsher economic restrictions on trade and travel between Cuba and the United States; and

WHEREAS, the current United States policy toward Cuba is a special manifestation of disrespect to many African American people whose roots are so closely intertwined with those of the Cuban people in general and Afro-Cubans in particular. Additionally, these harshly regressive Cuban policies the Trump administration has fomented are hard on families in both Cuba and in the Cuban-American community in the United States, inasmuch as they divide families who have members in both countries. Such actions unfairly restrict the ability of Cuban Americans to send financial help (remittances) to their relatives in Cuba; and

WHEREAS, Chicago’s citizens, institutions, and businesses are also negatively affected by these added restrictions that violate their right to travel and harm economic opportunities that enhanced trade with Cuba would initiate; now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED that we, the mayor and members of the City of Chicago City Council, gathered together this 9th Day of September, 2020 AD, do hereby find that the embargo and travel restrictions as prejudicial to the interests of the citizens of this city, the United States, and Cuba as a violation of the rights of United States citizens and residents to travel to Cuba for educational research and cultural exchange. Furthermore, we urge the immediate restoration of engagement with the Republic of Cuba as initiated by President Barack Obama by promptly rescinding restrictive regulations and allowing the restoration of staffing to the Cuban embassy in Washington DC, as well as the U.S. embassy in Havana.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the United States Congress is urged to promulgate and pass legislation that will finally end the unsuccessful and harmful 59-ycar old economic, financial and commercial embargo, as well as the travel restrictions on U.S. citizens and residents to Cuba, and Cuban citizens to the United States

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that suitable copies of this resolution prepared and presented to the Hon. Richard J. Durbin, the Hon. Tammy Duckworth, the Illinois Congressional Delegation, and the President of the United States of America.

Roderick T. Sawyer

Alderman – 6″‘ Ward

For Immediate Release

CONTACT: Sarah Staggs, Chicago Committee to Normalize Relations with Cuba,  (773) 539-3476

Breaking News! Chicago City Council Unanimously Passes Resolution to End Blockade of Cuba

The Chicago City Council passed a resolution today calling on the federal government to end the decades-long U.S. embargo of Cuba. The vote was unanimous with all fifty Alderman voting to pass.

The vote in the City Council follows a two-year grassroots campaign spearheaded by a group of over 200 Chicagoans from across all neighborhoods who have developed ties to Cuba through work in culture, academia and ecumenical relations, and through family ties and other shared interests.

Sponsored by Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th) and co-sponsored by seven additional Aldermen, the Resolution urges Congress to pass legislation that ends the 60-year-old US embargo of Cuba, which polls show a majority of Americans oppose. The resolution also calls for President Joe Biden to rescind the intensified measures taken against the island by former President Donald Trump.

Trump’s measures included tightening the embargo, creating additional obstacles to U.S.-Cuba travel and sharply restricting the ability of Cuban-Americans to send remittances to relatives on the island.

“With passage of this Resolution, Chicago is the largest city to join 13 other cities across the US who have passed similar resolutions” calling on the federal government to reverse the disastrous policies of the Trump administration and to return to the policies of dialogue and improved U.S.-Cuba relations that had begun under President Barack Obama, Steering Committee member Marguerite Horberg stated.

The Chicago Committee to Normalize Relations with Cuba, the lead organizers of the effort to pass the Resolution urged the Aldermen to consider the tangible benefits of normalizing relations with Cuba. They organized both oral and written testimony presented to the City Council. [See sample testimonial excerpts below.]

“Adopting this resolution is an important public opinion statement by the City of Chicago at a time when President Biden and his administration are reviewing Cuba policy,” said Sarah Staggs, of the Steering Committee.

Copies of the Resolution will be sent to President Biden, Senators Durbin and Duckworth and the IL Congressional Delegation.                                                                                                                                                              


The following individuals provided testimony and are available for interviews: Please call 773-539-3476 for numbers.

Lisa Brock, Academic Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, Kalamazoo College

Felix Masud-Piloto, Professor Emeritus, DePaul University

Marilyn McKenna, Education Coordinator, Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America

Marguerite Horberg, Executive Director, Hot House, 312-752-5316

Peter Orris, MD, MPH, Professor and Chief of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System

David Hinkamp, MD, MPH, Health in the Arts Program, University of Illinois at Chicago

Excerpts of Testimony offered to the Chicago City Council in support of Resolution 2020 – 612 – A Call for an End to the US Embargo Against Cuba Trade and Travel

Dr. Lisa Brock, Academic Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, who lives in the 19th ward, in the Beverly neighborhood, spoke to the importance of Academic and scholarly exchanges, citing her book Between Race and Empire: African-Americans and Cubans Before the Cuban Revolution which was co-edited with late Dr. Digna Castaneda, a professor at the University of Havana. Brock has hosted Cuban academics and cultural figures here in Chicago, who spent time at Columbia College Chicago, the School of the Art Institute, the University of Illinois and Olive Harvey Community College and has taken study groups to Cuba.  “It is so important for us in Chicago and the US to understand what life is like in Cuba and to benefit from collaborative and educational exchanges,” she said. 

Felix Masud-Piloto, DePaul University Professor Emeritus, spoke of his numerous trips to Cuba, to visit family and friends, conduct research, to attend professional meetings and to lead groups of students to Cuba.  He was in Havana in December, 2014 when President Barack Obama and Raul Castro surprised the world by announcing that after 50 years of hostility and war  they would begin a new relationship guided by respect and constructive engagement.  But the brief moment of increased travel, economic development and collaboration with Cuba came to a halt with President Trump’s return to cold war policies.  “As a Cuban American, I welcome and cheer for the opportunity to travel to Cuba freely without the limits and regulations of the past.” Masud stated.    

Noting a history of medical exchanges between the American Public Health Association and the Cuban Society for Public Health, Dr. Peter Orris, Chief of Occupational & Environmental Medicine at UI Health spoke of the importance of open dialogue and exchange of medical research between Cuba and the U.S. “The Resolution before you could play an important role in renewing the demand to allow and support US Cuba scientific and health exchanges especially in this current fight against the pandemic. It will as well emphasize the need to end the failed embargo of Cuba and open up the possibilities for trade and people to people exchanges between our two historically linked countries,” Orris said.

Marilyn McKenna, Education Coordinator for the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America, described how exchanges between Chicago churches and Cuban churches have focused on humanitarian efforts to relieve the dire economic consequences that the U.S. embargo has had on the Cuban people.  Upon learning the State Department goal of the US embargo of Cuba was to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government, McKenna explained: “Our faiths called us to act to end the devastating results of the embargo and so our organization joined with the Cuban Council of Churches, the Cuban Catholic Bishops, The Vatican, The World Council of Churches, The US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Churches in calling for an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.”

Marguerite Horberg, the Executive Director of the cultural center HotHouse, cited the deleterious impact Trump’s visa policies and travel bans and the ongoing embargo have had on international cultural and artistic exchange. Horberg remarked: “For years the inconsistent policies have disincentivized the entertainment and non-profit arts presenting industry from bringing in touring artists from Cuba – a country that is one of the world’s foremost producers of great music and Afro-Caribbean culture. The financial risk has been persistent for all the years I have been doing this”, said Horberg, one of the lead organizers of the local campaign.

David Hinkamp, founder and co-Director of the Health in the Arts Program at UIC School of Public Health, offered examples of collaboration with Cubans which have furthered prevention and treatment of health problems among workers in the visual and performing arts. Through regular travel and exchange a department devoted to art workers was established at the Cuban rehabilitation hospital. However, the trip to Cuba planned for 2020 was cancelled due to drastic travel  restrictions imposed by the Trump administration.  “Our University of Illinois at Chicago-sponsored programs have offered Cubans and experts from the US and around the world many opportunities to work on common projects in a spirit of collegiality and mutual respect,” he said. He urged the City council to pass the resolution and normalize relations with Cuba.

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