A Crisis of Our Own Making

Why are Cubans leaving their home, as Núria López Torres depicted so painfully in “The Trauma of the Returnee” (March)? The obvious answer is the failure of a centrally planned economy managed by the military. However, a recent residency in Havana suggests to me an additional answer: the embargo with which the United States has, for sixty-four years, attempted to bring Cuba to its knees.

In the latest tightening, a ship that docks in Cuba cannot visit a U.S. port for six months, which has devastated cruise tourism. Products with just 10 percent U.S. content cannot be sold to Cuba, depriving Cuba of essential equipment and U.S. manufacturers of a market. President Trump made a cruel system worse by naming Cuba a “terrorist” nation, like Iran or North Korea. The embargo is one reason Cubans are leaving in such enormous numbers: 511,033 in the two years before January 2024, the second highest among all asylum seekers. Americans complain about a surge of immigrants which—in the case of Cuba—they have helped cause. Ironically, Cubans are more consistently admitted than others because they come from a “terrorist” country. Congress created and enforces this counterproductive, sadistic remnant of the Cold War, and President Biden has done nothing to ameliorate it. If he gets a second term, may he invoke some measure of what he learned in Catholic schools: love thy neighbor as thyself.

Jerry Brady
Boise, Idaho

Lifting the Embargo

Thank you for the heart-wrenching story and photos on the plight of Cuban migrants who are returned home. My husband and I have just returned from ten days in Cuba, the first five on a Road Scholar program in Havana, followed by several days in Trinidad, a World Heritage site. We are left with haunting images of the beauty of the land and its culture; the vitality, resourcefulness, and indomitable spirit of the Cuban people; and the catastrophic state of the Cuban economy, resulting in an abysmal lack of opportunity for its well-educated population (kindergarten through university education is free for all).

One thing is clear to us: the U.S. embargo, which applies not only to Cuba itself but also to all those countries that dare to trade with Cuba, must end. What is its purpose today, more than half a century after the end of the Cold War that justified it? Most of the Cubans we spoke with love their country and want to remain. Lifting restrictions that have served to isolate Cuba and strangle its economy are long overdue. Both justice and mercy demand it.

Gail Porter Mandell
Professor and Schlesinger Chair Emerita
Humanistic Studies Program
Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind.

One More Among Many?

The United States faces an obvious moral dilemma in its consideration of whether or not to accede to Israel’s clear need for aid if it is to succeed in at least gaining a stalemate in its war with its various opponents, led by Hamas (“Turn Off the Tap,” April). I assume that the start of the analysis is to equate complicity in a war, by facilitating it, with direct engagement. In this, I am aligned with the editors.

I strongly believe that we should then apply both traditional Catholic “just war” concepts and more modern variants on those critiques. I will not say more on this, as you have published numerous articles on the subject. I am particularly struck by the absence from the editorial of any particularly Catholic mindset. Why should the editors’ opinion be valued if, upon analysis, it resolves to a lay cri de coeur, one more among many, and not easily distinguishable? I may be over susceptible, but I also hear an echo of a perception of the need to conform with the proclivities of the audience.

I am also struck by the facile way in which the editorial evades difficult issues. Among these: First, Israel is no more to be equated with Netanyahu than the United States was equated with Trump five years ago. Second, the strain on Israel’s economy from the absence of citizen-soldiers from their jobs, not to mention from direct military expenditures, is unsustainable. I speculate that Hamas leaders knew this from the start. Defunding Israel is functionally equivalent to aiding Hamas, and must also be analyzed under traditional Catholic principles. Third, Hamas instigated this war and remains committed to the destruction of the state of Israel. It is inconceivable that this philosophy could be a legitimate just-war approach by Hamas. Fourth, the editorial engages in unproductive wishful thinking. Biden has limited authority. Witness the recent report of an invitation by the Republican Speaker of the House for Netanyahu to appear before a joint session of Congress.

None of this is to diminish the need to continue dealing with the ongoing tragedy of the Palestinian people. Rather, it is to urge a more nuanced approach, recognizing the limits of American abilities to remake the world in ways we would prefer.

William Bronner
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Catholic Art

Your reprint of Walter Kerr’s “Catholics and Hollywood” (March) spoke to an experience I had in my local parish regarding the highly acclaimed 1928 film The Passion of Joan of Arc. I first saw the film at a program presented by the Los Angeles Master Chorale to a full capacity audience of believers and nonbelievers. The response to the film was a long and resounding standing ovation that was one of the most spiritually moving film experiences of my life. I purchased a DVD of the film and showed it to a parish focus group with the intent of presenting it in a film series. My efforts were rebuffed and I was stopped in my tracks from proceeding with my quest. I continue to be troubled by this experience, and Walter Kerr’s article has enlightened me regarding art, the Catholic Church, and many Catholic friends and neighbors.

Mary A. Hannon
South Pasadena, Calif.

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Published in the May 2024 issue: View Contents
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