Senator Jesse Helms, President Clinton and
the Libertad Act of 1996

On March 12 1996, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, or Libertad Act was signed into law. It not only strengthened the U.S. embargo against Cuba, but also said that the President should develop a plan to provide economic assistance to support a “transition government leading to a democratically elected government in Cuba.”

The bill was first introduced in early 1995 but was tabled by Democratic filibusters. However, after Cuban fighter jets shot down two private planes operated by Brothers to the Rescue (an anti-Castro group headquartered in Miami) the bill was reintroduced and quickly passed through both Houses of Congress. After signing the bill, President Clinton said, “This Act is a justified response to the Cuban government’s unjustified, unlawful attack on two unarmed U.S. civilian aircraft that left three U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident dead…It is a clear statement of our determination to respond to attacks on U.S. nationals and of our continued commitment to stand by the Cuban people in their peaceful struggle for freedom.”

Senator Helms strongly believed the Cuban people deserved to live in a democratic society and that the United States was obligated to support that cause. Below are clips from a speech Helms gave at Regent University on July 9, 1996 discussing the importance of the Libertad Act.


The following year, on June 2, 1997, President Clinton wrote Senator Helms a letter expressing his thoughts on the Libertad Act and what it could do for the Cuban people.



William J. Clinton: “Statement on Signing the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996,” March 12, 1996. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

William J. Clinton to Jesse Helms, June 6, 1997, The Jesse A. Helms Papers, The Jesse Helms Center Archives, Wingate, NC.