D.C. Council unanimously demands U.S. end Cuba blockade and remove terrorist designation
Members of the Claudia Jones School for Political Education, who played a key role in winning the resolution's passage, pose with Councilmember Robert White, Jr., second from left, following the vote. | via Claudia Jones School

WASHINGTON—On Tuesday, May 16, 2023, the D.C. Council unanimously voted to urge President Joe Biden and Congress to end the 60+ year economic blockade against Cuba and to remove the country’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

After three months spent in committee, the resolution, officially titled “PR25-0113: Sense of the Council on the Restoration of Cuban American Relations Resolution of 2023,” was brought to the whole body for a vote. All council members voted in favor, as members of the community rallied in the chamber in support.

The resolution came to a vote after being held up in committee by Chairperson Phil Mendelson due to a few factors. One was the experience with a prior resolution introduced in 2019 by then-councilmembers David Grosso, Mary Cheh, Brianne Nadeau, and Robert White, Jr., which did not make it out of committee because of Mendelson’s concern about interfering with national foreign policy issues and requesting a public hearing.

The second was Republican-led Congressional interference in D.C. lawmaking since the beginning of 2023, which had D.C. councilmembers concerned that any controversy over a Cuba resolution could potentially derail other locally-passed laws, including the Local Voting Rights Amendment Act and the FY24 D.C. Budget.

The D.C. Council voted unanimously to urge the president and Congress to end the blockade on Cuba and remove the country’s terrorism sponsor designation. | via Claudia Jones School

The D.C. Council was able to overcome these challenges and bring the Cuba resolution to the non-consent agenda of the council’s legislative meeting this Tuesday after months of pressure from local community members and activists.

During debate prior to the vote, Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto expressed concerns about the reasoning behind bringing forth and passing a resolution that is related to federal foreign policy given that D.C. is a “city that should be a state.”

At-Large Councilmember Robert White, Jr., responded, saying that D.C. has passed similar resolutions, including one related to the naming of Jamal Khashoggi Way and another linked to the Russia-Ukraine War. Pinto seemed unconvinced but prefaced her comments by saying she supported the substance of the resolution.

Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau responded by saying that she has several constituents who support the Cuba resolution and also had two Cuban-American staff members that deserve the solidarity and support of Washington, D.C.

After the resolution was passed, community supporters—along with Councilmembers R. White, Charles Allen, and Janeese Lewis George—all waved Cuban flags and cheered in support of the passage.

National Network on Cuba (NNOC) Co-chair Cheryl LaBash said immediately after the vote, “This resolution, the 80th nationally and 16th this year alone, shows the Biden administration’s Cuba policy is out of step with the people across the country.”

Busboys & Poets founder and CEO Andy Shallal said:

“Let today’s vote send a clear message to the Biden administration that Trump’s failed policy must be overturned. The American people in over 80 cities and jurisdictions, including the nation’s capital, have made it clear: It is time to end the sanctions against Cuba and restore the Obama administration’s policy of moving toward full diplomatic relations.”

Organizers that were part of a new coalition calling itself the D.C. Network to Normalize Relations with Cuba, or the D.C. Network for U.S.-Cuba Normalization, included leading activists from the Claudia Jones School for Political Education, NNOC, DSA International Committee, Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect, U.S. Peace Council, CODEPINK, Busboys & Poets, and the D.C. Metro Coalition in Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution.

Pressure methods used in the lead-up to the vote included a 30+ organization sign-on letter sent to the council, a 500+ individual letter-writing campaign directed at councilmembers, phone zaps to councilmember staff, consistent lobbying, and political education events in the community.

This is now an opportunity to let the wider D.C. community learn more about Cuba and to build more direct relations between D.C. elected officials and Cuba through travel delegations, political exchanges, and more.

The Cuban Ambassador to the United States, Lianys Torres Rivera, tweeted: “D.C. stands with the people of Cuba folks!”

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Jamal Rich
Jamal Rich

Jamal Rich writes from Washington, D.C. where he is active with the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.