James Abourezk is a former Democratic United States Representative and United States Senator and was the first Arab-American to serve in the United States Senate. He represented South Dakota in the U.S. Senate from 1973 until 1979.
In 1980, Abourezk founded the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a grassroots civil rights organization.
Letter of James Abourezk to President Obama
President Barack Obama
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As a former United States Senator from South Dakota, I call your attention to an important case of injustice, one that you can easily remedy. It has to do with a group called the Cuban 5.
After years of terrorism against Cubans-bombing tourist hotels, blowing up a Cuban airliner, and other criminal acts, Fidel Castro sent five of his people to Miami to collect evidence on those committing such terrorism. They turned the information they had gathered over to the FBI, whose agents promptly arrested the Cubans. They were convicted by an intimidated Miami jury, then sent to American prisons. That action showed the world the duplicity of our war on terror.
I would hope that you would pardon these five men, an act that would be a first step toward restoring relations with Cuba as a close neighbor to the United States. Our 50 year embargo against Cuba has caused a great deal of suffering to a people we say we want to help.
Back in the 1970s, my colleague, George McGovern and I separately traveled to Cuba and met with Fidel Castro. We did so again together in 1977 and fostered an exchange of basketball teams from South Dakota. We played three games in Havana, and the Cuban team returned to South Dakota for three games here. President Carter approved of the exchange, and his administration was on the way to normalizing relations, a step that was halted by the actions of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC). The Cuban government was open to normalizing relations back then, and I believe are still interested in doing so.
Freeing the Cuban Five I believe would be a first step in normalizing relations with Cuba. I also believe that such a step would result in the release to his family of Alan Gross, who was carrying out US policy in Cuba when he was imprisoned there.
Such a gesture on your part would lead to a restored neighborly relationship. It would also be seen as a very sensible and courageous step on your part.
You've made a lot of us very happy by succeeding in your re-election to the Presidency.
Cc: Vice-President Joe Biden
International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5