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Softening of U.S. embargo linked to pope's Cuba visit.

The first of a series of shipments of medical supplies left the United States for Cuba March 23, the result of President Clinton's, decision to allow temporary relief in a 35-year-old Cuban embargo.

Catholic leaders and some Cuban Americans praised Clinton's decision, though other Cuban Americans, who favor a hard-line approach to Castro's government, denounced it.

The policy change was linked to Pope John Paul II's late January visit to Cuba, where he criticized the 35-year-old U.S. embargo, saying it had caused civilians to suffer.

Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, N.J., issued a statement praising Clinton's action, saying he and others who visited Cuba during the pope's trip "cannot forget the outpouring of joy and enthusiasm of the Cuban people ... and neither can we forget so many signs of a general deterioration: the pitiful condition of state-run health clinics or the empty shelves of food stores." He added, "We welcome the willingness of our government to facilitate the more adequate response to the needs of the people of Cuba at this time."

McCarrick, chairman of the U.S. bishops' International Policy Committee, was in Cuba with the pope.

Supplies in the March 23 shipment are part of $6 million in stockpiled medical aid, including $1 million worth of insulin, collected from the nation's pharmaceutical companies by Catholic Medical Missions Board in New York City.

Catholic Relief Services also plans to ship medical supplies to Cuba -- more than $5 million worth, according to Kenneth F. Hackett, executive director.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who has made two recent visits to the Vatican, including one on March 24, stressed that the concessions were linked to the pope's visit and were intended to help the Cuban people, not Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Essentially, she said, the embargo remains in place.

In her most recent visit to the Vatican, Albright met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, and other officials. She told officials that since the pope's visit a number of new political arrests had been made and that about 20 of some 300 political prisoners released after the pope's visit had been forced to leave the country.

Vatican officials expressed guarded satisfaction at Clinton's temporary policy change. Albright asked the Vatican to keep pressing the case of political prisoners, according to a U.S. government source.

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia said Clinton's action "slowly opens the door of hope" for Cuban people and will help to strengthen them "not only physically but emotionally and spiritually."

During a March 20 Mass for Cuban Americans and other Hispanics, Cardinal John O'Connor of New York urged that restrictions on travel to Cuba be lifted. O'Connor led a delegation to Cuba during the pope's visit.

The Cuban American National Foundation, dissenting from the praise, said that sending humanitarian relief gives the wrong message to Castro. Repression in Cuba "has not changed," spokeswoman Ninoska Perez said. The Cuba Committee for Democracy, however, expressed support but encouraged Congress to expand on Clinton's action by lifting bans on food and medicine sales.

The New York Times said in an editorial that the pope had spurred a welcome change in the nation's Cuba policy. Other sources noted that Protestant groups have been involved in the effort.

"We are pleased to know that President Clinton has been listening to the growing clamor of the churches," said the Rev. Rodney Page, executive director of Church World Service, the relief arm of the National Council of Churches.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Apr 3, 1998
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