The debate on Cuba policy moved quickly this week with influential actors moving further and more quickly than the administration in reaching important, new conclusions about where to take the policy next.
The three big developments of the week are Senator Richard Lugar’s report on Cuba policy, a new Brookings Institution Cuba Policy road map, and an appropriations bill in Congress that would stop the enforcement of travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans.
Senator Lugar issued a report which advocated reinvigorating our diplomacy with Cuba, restoring travel rights, and cooperating with Cuba in areas ranging from agricultural trade and medical research to alternative energy and law enforcement. But he also made more far-reaching recommendations for direct and multilateral diplomacy, clearing Cuba for foreign aid, and dropping Cuba from the terrorism list.
The Brookings Cuba policy roadmap includes not just the traditional menu of options – family travel and remittances, cultural exchange and the like – but other more forward leaning proposals on diplomacy, settling the status of Guantanamo, allowing Cuba’s entry into multilateral institutions, and going as far as diplomatic recognition itself. These ideas won the endorsement of leaders from organizations like the Cuban-American National Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Cuba Study Group, and others who had not publicly supported such significant departures from current policy in the past.
Significantly, both Lugar and Brookings challenge an underpinning of President Obama’s Cuba policy – conditionality – saying that the U.S. government should not link its policy actions on Cuba to what the Cuban government says and does.
In the Congress, the appropriations bill which has cleared the House and which will be voted on soon in the Senate includes amendments easing restrictions on Cuban-American travel and on sales by US farmers to Cuba. While these provisions were written in the last Congress and meant as a challenge to the previous administration, there are two things now that are new: there is no presidential veto threat, and these provisions represent the minimum and not the limit of what Congress should be able to do.
Obama acted courageously in the 2008 presidential primaries by coming out in favor of eliminating all restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ travel rights and their ability to support their families financially. He promised to issue an order making these changes immediately. No one had been elected president previously who promised to loosen the embargo, and he still deserves great credit for taking this position. But as we wait for him to take the executive action he promised in the campaign, we hope he is also watching – and understanding – just how far the debate has shifted on Cuba policy in the months since he made that pledge, and in just the last week as well.