Fulton Armstrong*

CENTER FOR LATIN AMERICAN & LATINO STUDIES 4400 MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE, NW WASHINGTON, DC 20016-8137 (202) 885-6178 FAX: (202) 885-6430 www.american.edu/clals

Complete Article Here: Fulton Armstrong, Policy Brief,  US-Cuba Policy Brief 


“Democracy promotion” has been one of the most contentious aspects of U.S. policy toward Cuba—and one of the most counterproductive—but it doesn’t have to be either. With a little effort and flexibility, Presidents Obama and Castro can take the edge off this irritant and even make it mutually beneficial.

Like American “exceptionalism,” the concept of democracy promotion is ingrained in U.S. policy culture—and is unlikely to fade as a stated objective. Although consensus on the criteria for “democracy” has never existed, the desire to promote it reflects a widely held perception that democracy is better for countries’ internal governance, regional stability, and U.S. interests. U.S. policymakers and scholars cite the post-World War II transformation of West Germany and Japan into flourishing democracies as evidence. Many argue that U.S. programs, such as secret assistance to Poland’s Solidarity movement, were critical to the collapse of the authoritarian governments that made up the “Soviet Bloc.” The U.S. Congress created the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its four constituent units in 1983 and gave them generous budgets with which to promote democracy. These organizations and their programs have become as bullet-proof as any in Washington. NED says it is “on the leading edge of democratic struggles everywhere,” and it receives little scrutiny by Congress or the news media.

Democracy promotion—albeit in different forms—has been a main element of U.S. policy toward Cuba for decades.




Ultimately, the key to successful democracy promotion in Cuba will be for the U.S. government to let the successes of people-to-people relations—as a legitimate manifestation of the two countries’ interests—guide the relationship. By all accounts, experience since President Clinton first authorized people-to-people exchanges in 1998 has been that the interaction has been pragmatic, constructive, respectful, open—and mutually beneficial. President Obama’s steps to increase the flow of people and goods across the Florida Strait have created important opportunities. He and President Castro should trust their citizens to develop the historic roadmap that will define the relationship into the future, and American leaders should have particular trust that democracy promotion is encoded in the American people’s DNA and will manifest itself through the normal course of people-to-people exchanges. Both the United States and Cuba stand to benefit.

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