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.
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:
The report offered the following recommendations:
Immediate Unilateral steps:
Short and mid-term steps:
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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:
“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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.”
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