Lugar Report, Brookings Road Map, Movement in Congress

Dear Friend:

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.


Lugar: Cuba embargo has failed

Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate’s senior spokesman on foreign policy, released a report this week stating that leadership changes in Cuba and the United States offer a chance to “reevaluate a complex relationship marked by misunderstanding, suspicion, and open hostility.”

“We must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests,” Lugar wrote.

In one of its most significant findings, the report criticizes a fundamental premise of U.S. foreign policy – conditionality – which links progress on policy actions by the United States to policies undertaken by Cuba’s government.  It urges, instead, a form of sequenced engagement with Cuba that premises our actions on what is deemed to be in the national interest of the United States.

The report offered the following conclusions:

  • By limiting engagement with Cuba, the United States Government (USG) forgoes the opportunity of establishing ties that might positively influence the advancement of U.S. interests in the near future.
  • On issues of national security and commerce, the Government of Cuba (GOC) indicated a willingness to cooperate with the United States where mutual interests exist, echoing previous statements by Raúl Castro on his desire for dialogue with the United States.
  • Because of Cuba’s symbolic importance to Latin America, U.S. policy towards the island remains a contentious subject with many countries in the region.
  • The United States government hurts its broader national security interests by impeding cooperation with Cuba on matters of shared concern, such as migration and counternarcotics, among others.

The report offered the following recommendations:

Immediate Unilateral steps:

  • Travel: As an initial unilateral step, the report recommends that President Obama fulfill his campaign promise to repeal all restrictions on Cuban-American family travel and remittances before the Summit of the Americas (April 17-19).  The report goes on to say that Congressional action to lift all current U.S. travel restrictions should be considered as an effort along these lines as well.
  • Restrictions on diplomats: The report suggests undertaking efforts to lift current travel restrictions on the Cuban Interests Section personnel in Washington, whose diplomats may not venture beyond the Beltway without explicit permission from the USG.
  • Policy Review: The report recommends a review of the effectiveness of the following components of U.S. policy in both the legislative and executive branches: the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, and the policy recommendations of the 2004 and 2006 reports of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.

Short and mid-term steps:

  • The resumption of bilateral talks on drug interdiction and migration: The report encourages the USG to undertake comprehensive counter-narcotics cooperation with Cuba, including providing equipment and technical assistance. Regarding migration, it recommends the revival of U.S.-Cuban biannual migration talks, which have been suspended since 2004.
  • Investments in alternative energy: GOC officials welcome U.S. participation in renewable energy development and if restrictions were lifted U.S. technology could help ensure environmentally-sustainable development of Cuba’s energy sector. Cooperation would be consistent with long-term U.S. interests.
  • Agricultural trade: The report recommends assessing the viability of a combination of potential executive and legislative actions to: (1) review the “cash in advance” requirement; (2) authorize private financing for agricultural sales; 3) expand the types of products that may be sold to include agricultural machinery and supplies, which are especially needed for rebuilding in the wake of the recent hurricanes; (4) authorize general licenses for travel to Cuba for the marketing, negotiation, and delivery of agricultural goods; (5) facilitate the issuance of U.S. visas for Cuban officials to conduct relevant activities.
  • Medical trade: The report recommends reviewing the viability of authorizing private financing for medical sales as well as general licenses for travel to Cuba for the marketing and sale of these goods. Appropriate legislative action could also include a review of the current end-use monitoring requirement, which is why some U.S. companies do not export medical products to Cuba. In addition, it suggests reviewing the potential for legislative action to permit pharmaceutical imports from Cuba’s rapidly developing biotech industry.

The report was written by Carl Meacham, a senior staffer for Lugar who traveled to Cuba in January.

You can access the Full Report here.

You can read a USA Today article about the report here.

You can hear a report by NPR on Lugar’s recommendation here.

Brookings Institution: U.S. should unilaterally ease Cuba policy

The Brooking Institution has urged President Obama not to wait for Congress to begin making changes to Cuba policy and suggests he start by using his presidential authority to ease the trade embargo.  A new report by Brookings outlines a variety of short, medium and long-term initiatives that the administration could undertake to improve Cuba policy and stresses that the U.S. “should not publicly link initiatives to specific actions of the Cuban government.”

”Let’s forget the hostile regime-change strategy and begin a policy of critical engagement,” said Vicki Huddleston, the former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana who co-chaired the report, the Miami Herald reported.

The report includes the following recommendations:

  • Remove all restrictions on family and humanitarian travel to Cuba.
  • Permit and expand specific licenses for people-to-people travel for educational, cultural and humanitarian purposes — all travel permitted under law.
  • Open a dialogue between the United States and Cuba, particularly on issues of mutual concern, including migration, counter-narcotics, environment, health, and security.
  • Allow licenses for U.S. companies to participate in the development of Cuban offshore oil, gas and renewable energy resources.
  • Review the evidence to determine if Cuba should continue to be listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.
  • Reach mutually acceptable solution for restoring Cuban sovereignty over the territory of Guantanamo Bay.

Huddleston noted that many of the group’s members are very conservative in their Cuba policies, including Pepe Hernandez, President of the Cuban American National Foundation, and Carlos Saladrigas, Co-Chairman of the Cuba Study Group. However, all of the recommendations were agreed upon by all of the group’s members.

You can read the Full Report here.

You can read the Miami Herald article here.

Measures to ease Cuba sanctions included in appropriations bill

The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation to complete the funding of federal agencies in fiscal year 2009 with provisions to ease some Cuba sanctions.

The legislation would prohibit the Treasury Department from enforcing Bush administration rules requiring payment of cash in advance for agricultural sales to Cuba and allow business executives marketing and selling agricultural products to travel to Cuba on general licenses.

The bill would also stop funding for the Treasury Department to enforce strict restrictions on Cuban Americans visiting family members in Cuba, which were introduced by the Bush administration in 2004.

The measure must pass the Senate before becoming law, and Reuters reported that an aide for Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) said Martinez may try to use Senate procedures to stop the bill.
The move was applauded by many as a good start, but not enough.

Tessie Aral, owner of ABC Charters in Miami, which arranges travel to Cuba, told the Associated Press that because of the way the measure is written, she worries individuals won’t be prosecuted for traveling to Cuba, but companies arranging the trips may be targeted.

“This is not what President Obama promised,” Aral said. “If it only stops enforcement, I still can’t sell you a ticket knowing I’m going to break a law.”

The Miami Herald wrote in an editorial that the measures did not eliminate President Obama’s responsibility to fulfill his campaign promise of eliminating all restrictions on Cuban-American travel to the island.

“We recommend as a first step that President Barack Obama fulfill the promise he made in an Other Views column published in The Miami Herald on Aug. 21, 2007:  ‘I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.'”

Reuters reported that the law could immediately boost the sale of rice and other food products to Cuba.

The cash in advance requirement introduced in 2005 required that Cuba pay in cash before ships left U.S. ports, instead of upon arrival in Cuba, complicated trade and added to costs.  Some products, such as rice, did not recover in the face of tough competition from Vietnam, Cuba’s main rice supplier, and other Asian countries.

In 2004, the United States shipped 175,000 tons of rice to Cuba, but the Bush regulations caused sales to plummet to 12,600 tons in 2008.

Marvin Lehrer, senior adviser on Cuba for the USA Rice Federation, said the proposed changes could provide a significant boost for U.S. rice sales to Cuba.

“Open trade and travel would bring our share of imports to 50 percent,” he said.

Here you can read a Reuters article about the impact the law could have on food sales.

Here you can read an Associated Press article about the rule changes on travel.

Read the Miami Herald editorial here.


Raúl Castro marks one year in power

Several news agencies carried reports concerning the one-year anniversary of Raúl Castro’s election as Cuba’s president and focused on his diplomatic achievements abroad while raising questions about the success of his economic reform program at home.

According to the Reuters news agency, “Early expectations that he would reform the island’s economy have been replaced by questions about how and when he plans to make things better for ordinary Cubans, but Cuba’s foreign policy has flourished, experts say.”

Among Castro’s foreign policy successes, Inter-Press Service highlighted the European Union ending diplomatic sanctions against the island in the spring and Cuba formally joining the Rio Group of Latin American nations, the main regional policy coordination forum in December.  Castro has also hosted visits by six Latin American presidents in the past two months, all of whom have called upon the United States to end the embargo against Cuba.

Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas said the regional support would give Cuba greater confidence in dealing with the United States, where new President Barack Obama has said he is willing to talk with Cuban leaders and ease aspects of the embargo, particularly restrictions on travel and remittances to the island.

In her report, Patricia Grogg of Inter-Press Service outlines the reforms introduced by Castro after officially becoming President in February:

  • Lifting of restrictions on sales of computers and some household appliances, such as DVD and video recorders, electric slow-cookers and motorized bicycles.
  • Removing the ban on Cuban citizens from staying at hotels reserved for foreign tourists.
  • Cubans can now buy mobile phones and related telephony services.
  • Small farmers have been allowed to make productive use of idle state land and can now buy agricultural inputs direct from stores, which charge in hard currency (CUC). Some economists view these changes as structural reforms, because they break with the concept of centralized supply through farming cooperatives.
  • Permits to run private transport services, mainly in rural areas where public transport is deficient, have been re-introduced after being discontinued in 1996. These services are signs of an expansion of self-employment opportunities that, although regulated, are independent of the state.
  • Introduction of a wage system that links earnings with productivity through results-based bonus payments has been instituted to equalize remuneration policies between companies that have adopted better management practices to improve efficiency and those that have not. But so far its application has not been “significant,” according to experts.

“Raul promised greater efficiency and productivity, but largely failed to deliver,” says Cuba expert Dan Erikson, according to Reuters. Cubans, who receive various social benefits but earn on average just $20 (€16) a month, said their early hopes have faded amid economic difficulties.

Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute in Virginia says although Raul blames problems such as an ageing population, poor work incentives and low rates of job generation, he has failed to make changes matching the challenges. “We have seen a dire diagnosis, but only a mild prescription,” Mr.  Peters said.

You can read the report from Reuters here.

You can read the IPS article here.

State Department criticizes Cuba’s human rights record

The annual U.S. State Department report on Human Rights, released this week, strongly criticized Cuba.

According to Voice of America, the report found that “suppression of freedom of speech increased last year, and that harassment of dissidents intensified, including the beating of activists.”

It also says that “the government of President Raul Castro continues to restrict citizens’ access to independent information and has sought to restrict their access to the Internet, despite allowing ordinary Cubans to own personal computers for the first time.”

According to the State Department, Cuba holds at least 219 political prisoners. Cuba denies holding political prisoners and accuses the opposition as working for the United States Government.

You can read the Voice of America article here.


Special envoy from France in Cuba

Jack Lang, special envoy of French President Nicolás Sarkozy, met with Raul Castro in Cuba on Wednesday.

According to the BBC, Sarkozy sent Lang to Cuba “in an effort to strengthen ties with President Raul Castro.”

“We thought it was the right time to reinvigorate French-Cuban relations, at a time when the European Union has resumed dialogue with Cuba, when Cuba is evolving slowly, too slowly perhaps, when the United States themselves are thinking about their position on Cuba,” an official in the President’s office told Reuters when asked about Mr. Lang’s trip.

Mr. Lang was culture minister in the 1980s under President Francois Mitterrand, who had close ties with Fidel Castro. He was also parliamentary deputy and president of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Commission.

You can read a BBC article here.

You can read a Granma article here.

Presidents of Honduras and the Dominican Republic will visit Cuba

The President of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, and the President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya Rosales, will travel to Cuba to participate in an international forum on globalization and development problems, the Chinese People Daily reported

Fernández and Rosales will be in Cuba from March 2 through March 6th. According to the Dominican Republic’s Foreign Minister, Carlos Morales Troncoso, Fernandez will meet with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque.

The visits by Fernández and Rosales follow recent trips to Cuba by the Presidents of Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guatemala and Panama, marking eight presidents that will have traveled to Cuba in the first three months of 2009. Mexican President Felipe Calderon is also expected to visit Cuba in April.

You can read the Chinese People Daily article here (in Spanish).

Recommended Reading:

Two great reports from Progreso Weekly analyze changes occurring in Cuba and the future of the Revolution. Luis Sexto, the winner of the National Journalism Award of Cuba, writes about the state bureaucracy in “The Tiger We Need to Tame.”

In a radio interview on the program “Yesterday in Miami,” hosted by Cuban-American journalist Francisco Aruca, Radio Progreso Alternativa’s Havana correspondent, Manuel Ramy, says that in Cuba “the process of changes is ongoing.”

The Tiger We Need to Tame

The Process of Changes is Ongoing

Marc Frank of the Reuters news agency reports that “the dawn of President Obama and twilight of the Castro brothers’ rule has shifted discussion on U.S.-Cuban relations in both countries and around the world from whether they will improve to how quickly and how far normalization might proceed.”

Optimism Marks Future for U.S.-Cuba Relations

Recommended Viewing:

Rethinking Cuba policy

CNN’s Jim Acosta looks at a movement in Congress aimed at lifting U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba.

Until next week,

The Cuba Central Team

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