Life for the people of Romania is deteriorating daily under the repressive regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. Riots in Brasov and student demonstrations in Bucharest have taken place to protest repression and human rights abuses. Food and fuel shortages ravage this land. Churches are destroyed, dissidents disappear and Ceausescu is building a palace-like monument and boulevard to himself ironically titled "The Victory of Socialism."
In spite of the conditions the Romanian people live under, the U.S. government continues to grant Romania most-favored-nation status as a trading partner.
Romania was extended MFN status in 1975. The State Department felt that Romania's role as a maverick in the Eastern bloc, its ties to Israel and its condemnation of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 merited MFN. Ceausescu was lauded as a "new" type of Communist-bloc leader who could be weaned away from the influence of the Soviet Union.
I visited Romania in 1985 because of stories about Ceausescu's egregious human rights record. Congressional concern culminated in bipartisan legislation that some of my House and Senate colleagues and I introduced last year to temporarily suspend Romania's MFN status. Amendments, passed by both the House and Senate and attached to the omnibus trade bill, are now being considered by a conference committee. The administration, however, has the prerogative to extend MFN each year. Romania's MFN status was extended another year on June 2, 1987.
Though Congress went on record nearly a year ago clearly condemning Romania's human rights record, the Ceausescu regime has continued unabated its abuses. I recently returned to Romania and found that the human rights situation had actually turned worse.
Churches and synagogues continue to be bulldozed and people are harassed for their religious beliefs. Although Romania has allowed ethnic Germans and Jews to emigrate, press reports say those who receive exit permits have to pay restitution of between $2,500 and $5,000. This fee is paid for by the receiving country, in many cases West Germany and Israel. No matter what the emigration record Romania possessed in previous years, Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead, stated after his recent trip to Romania that no exit permits had been issued since Oct. 31, 1987.
Even Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev has spoken out. During his 1986 visit to Romania, he said, "Even if you told me that everything was all right . . . I would not believe you." Gorbachev's comments preceded the Feb. 1 demonstrations, called for by the Czech group Charter 77, in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Demonstrators turned off lights, turned down heat and marched in front of Romanian embassies. If the people of Eastern Europe recognize the nature of Ceausescu's rule, then how can the United States continue to subsidize his regime with preferential MFN status?
A human rights situation similar to that in Romania today existed in 1982 in Poland. President Reagan suspended Poland's preferential U.S. trading status in light of the repression of Solidarity and the institution of martial law. As he did in Poland, the president can join with Congress by temporarily suspending MFN by executive order or refusing to extend Romania's MFN for another year when the renewal time comes this summer.
There are 23 million people in Romania who receive little or no benefit from the MFN status their country enjoys with the United States and daily endure economic, physical and spiritual hardships from the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. These are 23 million people we cannot afford to forget.
The writer is a Republican representative from Virginia.