Center for Democracy in the America: New Analysis of U.S. Policy towards Cuba

A new analysis of U.S. policy towards Cuba has just been published by the  Center for Democracy in the Americas. It is another well-balanced and eloquent call for a change in the failed US approach towards Cuba, a failure that has endured for a half-century.

The Table of Contents and part of the concluding comments are presented below. The complete study can be found here: Center for Democracy in the America, CDA_Cubas_New_Resolve: Economic Reform and its Implications for U.S. Policy (Hyperlink)

Table of Contents

About this Project 1
Preface 3
Section One: Raúl Castro Addresses Cuba’s Economic Crisis 7
Section Two: How the Economy is Changing for Everyday Cubans 35
Section Three: Listening to the Cuban People . 45
Section Four: Findings and Recommendations 59
The Center for Democracy in the Americas’ Cuba Program 75
Acknowledgments . 77
Endnotes 81

What Should U.S. Policy Be?

U.S. sanctions are premised on the belief that strangling Cuba’s economy will lead the system to fail, motivating the Cuban people to rise up against their government and establish a multiparty liberal democracy. After five decades, it has failed to achieve its goal. Instead, it is inhumane and counter-productive. In addition to inflicting pain on the people we are ostensibly trying to help, the sanctions could even prompt a mass  xodus out of Cuba, putting the stability of the Caribbean at risk.

Twenty years ago, amidst the wreckage of the Special Period, U.S. Congress and the Executive Branch tightened sanctions with the hope of capitalizing on Cuba’s difficulties. American policy missed the chance to align itself with the humanitarian interests of Cubans and their leadership muddled through. As U.S. sanctions became more restrictive, we ceded the playing field to allies and competitors—Spain and Brazil, China and Venezuela—who are still in Cuba today, investing and trying to help its economy grow.

While the fate of Cuba’s economic reforms rests primarily with the government and the Cuban people, actions taken by President Obama, however limited, are now playing an important supporting role. But the

United States can do more. We have a new opportunity to be seen by Cuba’s people and its future leaders supporting their efforts to build a new economy and to help the Cuban people lead more prosperous lives. The greatest contribution our country can make now is to demonstrate we want the reforms to succeed, because we want the Cuban people to succeed. If this were a core principle of our democratic policy, a series of logical steps could then follow.

First, President Obama and other U.S. policy makers should acknowledge  that Cuba’s reforms are real; that this program opens the way to a greater role for the market, and the changes are likely to exact great hardships on the Cuban people. They should also acknowledge that the reforms represent an important beginning. Until that all happens, our ambivalence plays into the hands of hardliners in Cuba who oppose reform or rapprochement with the United States. Second, Cubans lack cash and credit to make full use of their newly granted right to form businesses. The embargo and its byzantine sanctions prevent U.S. banks and developers from financing investments in Cuba. By loosening restrictions on travel and remittances, President Obama  mobilized the financial capital and support of a good portion of the Cuban American community on behalf of Cuba’s economic revival. There are additional executive decisions the president can take to ease the flow of financing to Cuba and to spur demand for the activities the emerging private sector is performing.

For example, the president could further loosen restrictions on U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. Although repeal of the statutory bar against tourist travel to the island would require an Act of Congress, unlikely in this political climate, President Obama could use his executive authority to open and expand categories of opportunities for Americans to visit Cuba.


President Obama can, for example, order general licenses provided to freelance journalists, professional researchers, athletes who want to attend international sports competitions in Cuba, persons engaged in humanitarian activities, private foundations doing research, and business-related travel for authorized activities such as telecommunications,informational materials, and some marketing. He could also broaden the licensing for advisors from firms who could assist the Cubans in safe drilling and environmental protection as Cuba explores for oil in the Gulf of Mexico (as CDA recommended in the 21st Century Report on energy).

There is a broad consensus extending from the U.S. travel industry to the international human rights community that travel to Cuba should be expanded: travel is a constitutional right of U.S. citizens and has the added virtue of providing U.S. businesses broad opportunities. For Cuba’s citizens, it provides a source of profits and jobs for small businesses.

We also encourage the Executive Branch to clarify remittance expansion rules established in January 2011. President Obama has said any American is permitted to send remittances to an unlimited number of qualified Cubans of up to $2,000 per year each, but guidelines for sending remittances to non-family members are vague and need to be better defined. The regulation has no mechanism to open the door to Americans without family ties who wish to contribute remittances to Cubans they do not know and, if they could, no means for accountability exists for U.S. citizens to see if their donations were making a difference. Neither does the rule say whether the U.S. government allows Cuban recipients to seek or aggregate remittances from U.S. citizens. And answers are also needed from the Cuban government—it could identify recipient institutions which could distribute remittances to Cubans in need. Cuba should also be removed from the U.S. State Department list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. This designation subjects Cuba to sanctions including restrictions on U.S. foreign  assistance; controls over exports of certain dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

Cuba’s presence on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism is both substantively wrong and harmful to the Cuban economy, because it punishes Cuba for legal trade and financial transactions and deprives its people access to modern technology. The president can remove Cuba unilaterally from the terror list. He should do so.

The International Financial Institutions (such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank), have provided useful support to countries undergoing economic transitions but are off limits to Cuba because of U.S. objections. The U.S. should allow Cuba to have access to their experts and advice.


Our final recommendation is to stop funding the USAID Cuba program. The U.S. government wastes millions of dollars each year to bring about the type of economic and political transition it sees fit for Cuba but the effect of the program increases suspicion and tension between the two governments. A failure of the program in 2009 resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of Alan P. Gross, a U.S. subcontractor. It is impossible, under the current circumstances, for USAID to take part in meaningful programs welcomed by the Cuban government, such as those that Brazilian and Spanish development agencies carry out. “Development assistance,” USAID’s actual mandate, should be discussed bilaterally between the two countries, leading to the establishment of programs agreed upon by both countries (as is done in the rest of the world). It will take time for trust to be restored, but it’s in the interest of both countries to start now.

In the final analysis, ending the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba ought to be a foreign policy priority of the United States. As Steve Clemons, editor at-large of The Atlantic, noted: “Failure of the U.S. to finally snuff out the last vestiges of the Cold War in the U.S.-Cuba embargo signals impotence in American strategic vision and capability. Those who support the embargo undermine the empowerment of Cuban citizens, harming them economically and robbing them of choices that could evolve through greater engagement—exactly what we have seen in transitioning communist countries like Vietnam and China.”133

In the interim, these recommendations could make an important difference.They would put the interests of the United States into alignment with the humanitarian interests of the Cuban people, send a long overdue message of encouragement to the advocates of reform on the island, and demonstrate that our country is finally ready to move beyond Cold War policies of the past and modernize our approach toward Cuba for the 21st Century.

None of these actions would sit well with the hardest of the hardliners in the Cuban American community or their representatives in Washington. Their terms of surrender for Cuba, as Phil Peters pointed out in his Cuban

Triangle Blog, are written into the statutes of the U.S. embargo. In Congress, legislators including   Representatives Mario Díaz-Balart, David Rivera and others, are trying to reverse President Obama’s travel reforms, dialing back family travel and remittances to the levels imposed by President Bush. They will certainly fight actions that loosen restrictions to help push along Cuba’s economic reforms.

Nevertheless, we believe that the political dynamic of the Cuban American community has already shifted—many have moved from supporting isolation and aggression toward the island’s government to building on family ties and helping their relatives prosper and live more autonomous lives in Cuba’s new economic environment. The potential for home ownership in Cuba, and the U.S. expansion of travel and remittances, are enabling Cuban Americans to invest in the goal  of helping Cuba succeed. But this effort should go far beyond the Cuban family. It should become the motivating force behind U.S. policy.

These changes are in the broad national interest of the United States, and it is time for our policy makers to respond affirmatively and creatively to the process of reform underway in Cuba today.

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2 Responses to Center for Democracy in the America: New Analysis of U.S. Policy towards Cuba

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