Tag Archives: US-Cuba Relations

U. S. – CUBA RELATIONS I N T H E BIDEN ERA: A Case for Making Engagement Resilient as a Means of Providing Long-Term Support for the Cuban People

Complete Article: U. S. – Cuba Relations in the Biden Era  


This paper makes a renewed case for engagement with Cuba as the best way for the United States to advance its national interests, reassert its regional leadership, reduce resistance to reform within the Cuban government, and promote a freer, more prosperous future for the Cuban people. It also argues that the United States should continue to highlight Cuba’s democratic failings and support actors across the spectrum of Cuban society who work to ensure that greater economic and civic
freedoms are guaranteed on the island.

The United States and Cuba must learn from both the successes and missed
opportunities of their last period of détente. As President Joseph R. Biden Jr. looks to fulfill his pledge to return to a policy of engagement with Cuba, both countries must strive to make the normalization of relations resilient in order to insulate progress from unpredictable political cycles. Getting there will require both governments to negotiate cooperation agreements and facilitate private sector economic arrangements that can sufficiently cement diplomatic relations and socio-economic integration between the two countries. In many instances, progress may only be achieved through individual but parallel policies that both reduce exposure to codified
U.S. embargo sanctions and generate the political space necessary for the U.S. Congress to lift them. For Cuba, this means taking advantage of the next four years to advance meaningful economic liberalization and guarantee greater rights for Cubans both at home and abroad. For the United States, it means abandoning its centerpiece policy of regime change and allowing Cuba’s future to be determined by and among Cubans themselves.

This may seem like a daunting task, but circumstances are still conducive for meaningful diplomatic breakthroughs between the historic Cold War adversaries. The devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have prodded Cuba to finally overhaul its dual-currency system and commit to further market liberalization. Cuban authorities have an opportunity to signal to their citizens, the Cuban diaspora, and Washington that they are finally willing to bring their country into the 21st century. But effective follow-through is less likely if the United States continues to be seen as
attempting to exploit the crisis by maintaining blanket sanctions under the illusion that further pressure will cause the Cuban government to break.

Thus, we recommend that the Biden administration pursue a multi-pronged approach to get bilateral relations immediately back on a more constructive track, regain control of the narrative, and incentivize further reforms in Cuba. Prioritizing early moves that have a clear and visible impact on the lives of Cubans on the island and abroad will help restore public support for engagement among Cuban-Americans. The new administration should also place equal emphasis on addressing some of the more intractable issues that divide both governments early on.

Track 1: Restore Support for the Cuban People as a Policy Priority and Rebuild Trust
a. Reverse policies that have unduly harmed the Cuban people. This includes, but is not limited to, lifting restrictions on commercial and charter flights, ending remittance caps, restoring consular services in Cuba, restarting the Cuban Family Reunification Program, reinstituting the five-year multiple-entry visa for Cuban nationals, and revising banking and finance regulations to ensure the continuity of formal remittance transfers and correspondent banking in Cuba.
b. Restore support for the Cuban private sector as a policy priority.
c. Resume and bolster public health cooperation with Cuba to combat Covid-19.
d. Restore and strengthen working-level diplomatic ties by appointing an
ambassador to lead U.S. Embassy Havana (or a chargé d’affaires with
ambassadorial rank if the Senate is unlikely to confirm an ambassadorial
appointment), initiating bilateral talks to fully re-staff the U.S. and Cuban
embassies with security guarantees, and resuming bilateral cooperation on
national security issues.
e. Implement additional confidence-building measures—like ordering an
immediate apolitical review of Cuba’s re-designation as a State Sponsor of
Terror, updating and restoring the 2016 Presidential Policy Directive “United States-Cuba Normalization”, and once again waiving Title III of the Helms- Burton Act—that improve the climate for success on higher-profile, longer- term impediments to normalization, such as those identified under Track 2.
f. Create, through recurring public events, private consultations and official visits to South Florida, feedback mechanisms whereby the Biden administration can engage the Cuban American community on Cuba policy and gain input from a diversity of Cuban American community leaders and members in return.

Track 2: Tackle the “Tough Stuff” and Make Normalization Stick Through High-Level, Direct Diplomacy
a. Designate a Special Representative for Cuba or other high-level
administration official(s) to negotiate cooperation agreements, private sector economic arrangements, and roadmaps for resolving long-standing disputes between the United States and Cuba, with the aim of deepening socio- economic ties between both countries. Breakthroughs in negotiations on U.S. property claims, the Venezuelan crisis, and private sector trade can build momentum and shift the calculus for normalization on Capitol Hill.

Track 3: Respond to Openness with Openness
a. As the Cuban government moves to recognize greater rights for its
citizens and nationals, and opens opportunities for U.S. and diaspora direct
investment, respond with U.S. economic openings allowed by executive
b. In tandem with progress made under Track 2 and/or Track 3(a), seek
congressional support for repealing counterproductive codified Cuba
sanctions, as well as for other targeted initiatives that broaden forms of U.S. assistance and support to the Cuban people beyond democracy promotion alone.

Cuba, for its part, must overcome internal resistance to a more open relationship with the United States and be willing to make changes that will safeguard bilateral relations regardless of which U.S. political party is in power. The Cuban government has long opposed demands for concessions involving their internal affairs or foreign policy. Yet normalization would benefit from less emphasis on process and more emphasis on results. Whether Cuba takes steps toward guaranteeing greater economic and civic
freedoms as a result of bilateral negotiations or internal reforms, the fact remains it must take them if it wishes to free itself from the vicissitudes of U.S. politics.

Meaningful progress in state-diaspora relations, legal investment in the island’s private sector, and guaranteeing greater rights for all Cubans to participate in their county’s economic, political, and public affairs would materially reduce Cuba’s exposure to the dynamics of the Helms-Burton Act and other embargo laws. It would also help to generate the political momentum needed for the U.S. Congress to repeal these statutes once and for all. While standing on principle that it will not compromise its sovereignty, Cuba can and should make internal reforms that are in the interest of the Cuban people and have the corollary benefit of paving a sustainable road to full normalization with the United States. Reality requires movement and energy on both sides to achieve a more lasting rapprochement that can withstand further stress tests in the relationship that are bound to emerge along the way.

After 2020, the window for achieving significant progress toward full normalization may be finite, and the costs of not doing so could be severe. Failure to make relations stick this time around could entrench another generation of Cubans and Cuban Americans on both sides of the Florida Straits in prolonged patterns of mutual suspicion and hostility.

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The U.S. should stop punishing the people of Cuba for their government’s crimes.

Note: Even US conservatives recognize the absolute failure and stupidity of the embargo on Cuba. A.R.

February 17, 2022

Doug Bandow

Six decades ago the Kennedy administration imposed an embargo on Cuba. A dozen American presidents have enforced the island’s economic isolation, substantially tightening controls in recent years. For a time Washington even cited Havana as a state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. campaign, observed Mauricio Vicent of El Pais, is “without doubt the longest punitive measure ever imposed on a country in modern history.”

Washington’s efforts were reinforced by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which ended outside subsidies for the island. Cuba’s GDP shrank by more than a third during what was called the “Special Period.” Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez later stepped in, but Caracas’s economic collapse ended its bountiful subsidies as well. Through it all U.S. policymakers, Florida Cuban expatriates, and vote-seeking Republican politicians collaborated to wage economic war on the island.

Now, finally, the communist government has fallen. Political prisoners have been released. Castro family and friends have fled. Elections have brought to power officials promising to dismantle the socialist economy. The incoming government even proposed expanding Guantanamo Bay for the U.S.

Only kidding!

Washington’s policy has completely and utterly failed.

Fidel Castro has died and Raúl Castro has retired, but the communist government remains and includes several Castro family members. The jails are bulging after protests in July, with hundreds arrested and many simply disappeared without notice to their families. Trump administration sanctions, left in place by President Joe Biden, continue to cripple the private economy, which had been expanding and undermining government authority.

While it was expected to at least roll back the Trump administration’s measures, which hurt private entrepreneurs in Cuba more than government apparatchiks, the Biden administration has done nothing. Some Democrats speculate that the administration is waiting for the midterm elections to pass, or perhaps even for Biden’s reelection, just as President Barack Obama held off until his second term to act. Of course, Biden may not get a second chance.

The embargo may be the most complete, longest, and most enduring policy failure in American history. In 1959 Fidel Castro led a revolution against a U.S.-backed strongman, Fulgencio Batista. Castro proved to be even more despotic and turned to the Soviet Union for support. Washington imposed an embargo, which has metastasized through subsequent regulations and laws. The embargo was proposed, the outgoing Eisenhower administration admitted, to impoverish the Cuban people. The State Department’s Lester Mallory urged action that “while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Decades later, Fidel Castro is dead and brother Raúl is formally retired. The presidency and party leadership have devolved upon the colorless functionary Miguel Díaz-Canel, who retains the founders’ willingness to suppress dissent and enforce obedience. Alas, the reality of Cuban communism does not reflect the rosy assessments of the happy lefty tourists who wander the island in search of a collectivist paradise.

Ever since Lincoln Steffens proclaimed of the Soviet Union, “I’ve seen the future, and it works,” progressives have visited new dictatorships hoping to spy the long-awaited utopia. Fidel Castro eventually became an enduring revolutionary hero. Where better for lefty intellectuals to vacation than Cuba for a guided tour?

Even today, many on the left excuse the repression of Castro’s regime. Cuban officials might occasionally make a mistake, they say, but most blame can be reliably placed upon the U.S. Last July Cuban demonstrators turned out shouting libertad! and were promptly dispatched in the usual communist fashion. Yet left-wing commentators were uncomfortable that the Cuban people desire what most people elsewhere desire: liberty.

Despite its remarkably good public relations, Cuba remains a dictatorship. Last year Freedom House rated Cuba toward the bottom of its global freedom rankings, deeming the country “not free” and giving it just 13 of 100 available points for its political and civil liberties. Explained Freedom House: “Cuba’s one-party communist state outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2019 that included the introduction of a new constitution.”

The latest report from Human Rights Watch covered last year’s events, including the dramatic summer protests:

The Cuban government continues to repress and punish virtually all forms of dissent and public criticism. At the same time, Cubans continue to endure a dire economic crisis, which impacts their social and economic rights. … The government employs arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics, independent activists, political opponents, and others. Security officers rarely present arrest warrants to justify detaining critics. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors may use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of what they call “delinquent” behavior.

All this despite six decades of the U.S. generally increasing economic sanctions. Only President Barack Obama broke that pattern, rolling back some penalties and reestablishing full diplomatic relations. The Cuban people loved him for it. When I visited in 2017, cars still sported decals with Obama’s picture from his visit the previous year. The government underestimated his popularity. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez complained about Obama’s “deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture, and our symbols” and desire to use economic appeals to force political change.

However, President Donald Trump cared more about Cuban-American votes than Cuban lives and imposed additional sanctions, even adding a new twist, allowing U.S. lawsuits against foreign investors in Cuba. Human-rights activists long had criticized the embargo as counterproductive, used by the regime to excuse its failings and justify its crimes. Cuba’s small businesspeople and their employees, who invested or worked in tourist-friendly industries—restaurants, Airbnbs, and taxis—were even more critical. By discouraging U.S. visitors, Trump wrecked the nascent public sector, which at its height provided 40 percent of the island’s jobs.

Airbnb owner Julia de la Rosa complained to me that “So many people opened businesses for American tourists” who then were prohibited from coming. Workers had to return to unproductive state employment, strengthening the Castro regime’s control. In short, sanctions worked no better in Cuba than in Venezuela, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Russia, whose governments refused to abandon their most important political objectives despite U.S. economic pressure.

Cubans expected Biden to return to the reform path. After all, he had pledged to “try to reverse the failed Trump policies that inflicted harm on Cubans.” Instead, after the July protests, he added new sanctions “to bolster the cause of the Cuban people.” And that was just a start, he warned: “There will be more, unless there’s some drastic change in Cuba, which I don’t anticipate.” Biden matched Trump in pious hypocrisy, announcing “we hear the cries of freedom coming from the island. We’re holding the regime accountable.”

Alas, the Díaz-Canel government did not fold. In fact, the invincibly ignorant Cuba hawks—most notably Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Robert Menendez—did the communist regime a favor by discouraging contact with America. Collin Laverty of Cuba Educational Travel, which develops trips to conform with U.S. law (and organized my second visit), observed: “If you want to create more space for debate, expanding the entrepreneurial class is one way.” Indeed, after encouraging the development of private business in a desperate attempt to spur the economy, the regime came to fear the rapid increase in private sector firms and cracked down.

Some on the left agree. Antoni Kapcia, who has written sympathetically of the Cuban revolution, noted:

I’ve always argued that if an American president really wanted to destabilize the Cuban system, they would get rid of the embargo, or promise to get rid of the embargo. To some extent, this is what Barack Obama did, at least in the sense of saying the established policy had failed and slightly easing some restrictions, although he certainly didn’t lift the embargo altogether. But most of the US presidents have done precisely the opposite, and tightened it, or at least continued the involvement. That gives the system and the leadership an alibi in Cuba. But it also plays into nationalism.

John F. Kennedy might be excused for not knowing any better when he embargoed the new revolutionary state. Joe Biden has no such excuse. Cuba’s continuing oppression of its people is a tragedy. However, after six decades of futile economic warfare, the U.S. should stop punishing the Cuban people for the sins of their government. Biden should live up to his campaign promise to empower “the Cuban people to freely determine their own outcome, their own future.”

Early morning 2011: Cuban emigration applicants awaiting entrance to the US “Interest Section”
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Fidel Castro once called it ‘a tangled ball of yarn,’ and after six decades, Washington’s keystone regime change policy still hasn’t worked.

RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT. https://responsiblestatecraft.org/ February 3, 2022
William LeoGrande

February 3, 1962, marks the sixtieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Proclamation 3447 imposing an “embargo on all trade with Cuba” to punish Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government for its “alignment with the communist powers,” the Soviet Union and China. Despite having failed to bend Havana to Washington’s will over the past six decades, the embargo remains the centerpiece of the U.S. policy of “regime change.” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lester D. Mallory explained the strategy in 1960: “Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba…denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

The anniversary of the embargo offers an occasion to delve into its complexities in order to better understand what Fidel Castro once called “a tangled ball of yarn.” 

What exactly is the embargo against Cuba?

“The embargo” is shorthand for a complex patchwork of laws and regulations that comprise the oldest and most comprehensive U.S. economic sanctions against any country in the world. Although President Eisenhower imposed some economic sanctions on Cuba in 1960, the current embargo began when President Kennedy proclaimed a ban on all trade with Cuba in 1962, and a year later invoked the Trading with the Enemy Act to extend the embargo to prohibit all transactions (trade, travel, and financial) unless licensed by the Secretary of the Treasury (at the president’s direction). Regulations governing implementation of the embargo and the licensed exceptions are codified in the Treasury Department’s Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR).

Several other statutes govern elements of the embargo:

—  The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 authorizes humanitarian donations of food and medicine, and the sale of telecommunications services and medical supplies, albeit subject to detailed restrictions. It also prohibits trade between the subsidiaries of U.S. companies abroad and Cuba.

— The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 inscribed the embargo into law until Cuba becomes a multi-party free-market democracy and pays compensation for property nationalized by the revolutionary government. It also gives U.S. citizens, including naturalized Cuban Americans, the right to sue in federal court anyone, in the United States or abroad, who is “trafficking in” (benefiting from) nationalized property, and blocks the officers of foreign trafficking companies from entering the United States. 

— The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TWEA) legalized the sale of agricultural commodities to Cuba, but only for cash in advance. It also prohibits travel to Cuba for tourism, defined as any travel not already licensed at that time. 

— The so-called “Berman amendment” (named for sponsor Rep. Howard Berman) exempts artistic works and informational materials from the embargo.

— The Trump administration’s designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of international terrorism under the Export Administration Act of 1979 triggered a variety of economic sanctions, although most are already in place under the broader embargo. 

— Both the Trump and Biden administrations have imposed sanctions on Cuban individuals under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2012, which freezes the U.S. assets and denies entry to the United States of persons guilty of corruption or serious human rights abuse. 

Why did the United States impose the embargo?

The embargo is sometimes justified as a response to Cuba’s nationalization of U.S. property in 1960, which amounted to over $1 billion in investment. However, the embargo was not imposed until 1962 as part of President Kennedy’s policy to destabilize the Cuban government through a combination of economic sanctions and covert paramilitary attacks. Since then, U.S. presidents have cited various rationales for continuing the embargo, ranging from Cuba’s partnership with the Soviet Union, to its support for revolutionary movements in Latin America and Africa, its human rights record, and its socialist system.

How has the embargo changed over time?

Every president has modified the embargo by using his licensing authority to loosen or tighten aspects of it. Take travel, for example. President Jimmy Carter lifted all limits on travel to Cuba in 1977. President Ronald Reagan reimposed a ban on most types of travel in 1982.  President Bill Clinton loosened travel restrictions by creating the people-to-people educational travel category in 1999. President George W. Bush eliminated people-to-people travel, President Barack Obama restored it, and President Trump abolished it again. Congress has also modified the embargo by statute. The most important change was the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act which inscribed the embargo into law. At present, the embargo’s impact is especially severe because President Trump added a series of new, expanded sanctions and President Biden has left those additional sanctions in place.

Why does Cuba call it a “blockade” rather than an embargo?

The Cuban government calls the embargo a blockade (el bloqueo) because its extraterritorial provisions restrict Cuban commerce with other countries. The United States tried to make the embargo multilateral from the beginning. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson pressured the OAS into formally adopting a commercial and diplomatic embargo against Cuba, which lasted until the mid-1970s. Most European countries also limited their commercial ties with Cuba in response to U.S. pressure. Although the embargo cannot prevent other countries from trading with Cuba, it makes such commerce difficult: 

— The embargo prohibits the subsidiaries of U.S. companies that operate in other countries from trading with Cuba. 

— It prohibits other countries from exporting to Cuba any product with more than 10 percent U.S. content. 

— It prohibits foreign financial institutions from handling any U.S. dollar transactions that involve Cuba (so-called U-turn transactions). 

— It allows U.S. citizens who lost property after the Cuban revolution to sue in U.S. federal court anyone, including foreign companies, who do business with Cuba involving that property.

— It prohibits entry into the United States of any officers of foreign companies and their family members if those companies are doing business with Cuba that involves property previously owned by U.S. citizens.

— International financial institutions are required to conduct costly “enhanced due diligence” before engaging in transactions involving countries designated as state sponsors of international terrorism, which currently includes Cuba.  

— Multilateral international financial institutions cannot provide assistance to Cuba without losing a portion of their U.S. funding.

Is the embargo legal under international law?

Supporters argue that the embargo is legal because the United States has the right to decide whether or not it wants to trade with another country, and the embargo is justified by Cuba’s nationalization of U.S. property without compensation. Opponents argue that the embargo constitutes coercion intended to force regime change in violation of the OAS Charter and the UN Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States. The UN Declaration recognizes “the sovereign and inalienable right of a State freely to determine its own political, economic, cultural and social systems,” and imposes on all states the duty “to refrain from any action or attempt in whatever form or under whatever pretext to destabilize or to undermine the stability of another State.” The consensus of international opinion is that the embargo is not consistent with international law, as reflected by the fact that last year,  for 29th time, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of an annual resolution calling on the United States to lift the embargo. In 2021, the vote was 184 in favor, 2 opposed (the United States and Israel), with 3 abstentions.

How can the embargo override U.S. citizens’ constitutional right to travel?

Although the Supreme Court has recognized a right to travel in Kent v. Dulles (1958), it is not absolute. In two cases, Zemel v. Rusk (1965) and  Regan v. Wald (1984), the Court rejected challenges to the embargo’s restrictions on travel to Cuba, holding that the president has the authority to limit travel on grounds of national security. If you are a “person subject to U.S. jurisdiction” (i.e., a U.S. citizen, resident, or other person within the United States regardless of your nationality) you can only travel to Cuba under one of the 12 categories of travel licensed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

Can Cuba buy food and medicine under the embargo?

Yes, but not freely or easily. U.S companies can export agricultural commodities to Cuba only if the Cuban government pays cash up front. No credit-based sales are allowed, which is not the way international trade normally works. U.S. companies can sell medical supplies to Cuba “only for the use and benefit of the Cuban people,” only if they are not used for biopharmaceutical purposes (for example, manufacturing vaccines), and only if the U.S. government certifies these requirements are met. These requirements are so onerous that many companies decide not to sell to Cuba rather than comply with them—a recent example being the company that decided to cancel a contract to sell Cuba ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Is the embargo responsible for Cuba’s economic problems?

In part, yes. The Cuban economy suffers from a number of chronic structural problems stemming from its adoption of a Soviet-style central planning model in the 1970s. Although it is pursuing market-oriented reforms, its structural weaknesses persist. They make Cuba especially vulnerable to external economic shocks and pressures, of which the embargo is the most significant and persistent. The Cuban government estimates that the embargo costs it over $3 billion annually in extra expenses it incurs trading with other partners. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America estimated that the embargo has cost $130 billion (in current prices) since it was imposed, or roughly $2 billion annually on average. 

Would the embargo end automatically if the president failed to renew it every year?

No. The statutory authority for the embargo under the Trading with the Enemy Act would lapse if the president failed to extend it every September as required by law, but the codification of the embargo under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act would still remain in place.

Can the president lift the embargo unilaterally?

Legally, he probably could. Politically, he probably wouldn’t. Attorney Robert Muse and others have argued that because there are no limitations on the president’s licensing authority specified in either Trading with the Enemy Act or the CACR, the President could license the embargo out of existence in its entirety by simply authorizing a general license for all transactions with Cuba. The argument against this interpretation is that such an exercise of authority would violate the clear intent of the law since the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act places specific conditions on lifting the embargo. Muse responds that the law is an unconstitutional infringement on the president’s authority to conduct foreign policy, which President Clinton suggested in his signing statement. Politically, a president would have to be willing to risk a confrontation with Congress to take this step and thus far, every president has accepted the interpretation that the embargo can only be lifted under the terms of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act or after its repeal.

How long will the embargo last?

As the embargo’s longevity suggests, there is no sunshine provision that would automatically end it. The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act prohibits lifting it until the Cuban government has become a multi-party, free-market democracy, and until all the property of U.S. citizens, including Cuban Americans, nationalized after 1959 is either returned or compensated. The continuing influence of conservative Cuban Americans in the Republican Party and their electoral strength in Florida has transformed the embargo from a foreign policy issue into a matter of domestic politics. Consequently, Congress is unlikely to repeal the embargo in the foreseeable future.

But a realist president willing to declare openly what most foreign policy analysts acknowledge—that the embargo is a counterproductive failure—could use his (or her) executive authority to license broad categories of commerce and exchange, leaving the statutory embargo an empty shell.

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Pavel Vidal Alejandro


Este estudio evalúa la sensibilidad de las series históricas del crecimiento del PIB cubano y de otros indicadores macroeconómicos a los giros (flexibilizaciones/endurecimiento) del esquema de sanciones estadounidenses en las últimas tres décadas, empleando como fuente de información las variaciones en los flujos de comercio de bienes, visitantes y remesas e indicadores financieros del período 1994-2020. Si bien se evidencia que un endurecimiento de las sanciones reduce el crecimiento del PIB cubano, también se ve que los impactos afectan significativamente el consumo de las familias y las dinámicas de las ventas y el empleo del sector privado, sin apreciarse un efecto significativo en los indicadores de la economía estatal. Las remesas son el fujo de mayor peso dentro del intercambio económico total Cuba-EEUU (el 8,3% del PIB cubano), con un impacto estadísticamente significativo en la trayectoria del consumo de hogares y mercados privados.


Las sanciones económicas se definen como acciones que uno o más países toman para limitar o poner fin a sus relaciones económicas con un país objetivo en un esfuerzo por persuadirlo de que cambie sus políticas. Las sanciones pueden adoptar muchas formas: aranceles, controles de exportación, embargos, prohibiciones de importación, prohibiciones de viaje, congelación de activos, ayudas, cortes y bloqueos (Morgan, Bapat y Krustev, 2009).

La literatura sobre el impacto económico de las sanciones es amplia y heterogénea, tanto en metodología, presupuestos teóricos, estrategias empíricas y bases de datos empleadas como en resultados y conclusiones (Özdamar y Shahin, 2021). Si bien la mayoría de los estudios encuentra que las sanciones tienen un impacto negativo sobre la tasa de crecimiento del PIB del país sancionado, los flujos de inversión extranjera y sus finanzas internacionales, los efectos varían dependiendo del tamaño y dependencia entre los países involucrados, de la naturaleza unilateral o multilateral de las sanciones, de la participación de EEUU y/o de Naciones Unidas, entre otros factores. Algunos ejemplos recientes de esta literatura son Caruso (2003), Neuenkirch y Neumeier (2015), Besedeš, Goldbach y Nitsch (2017), Gurvich y Prilepskiy (2015), Hatipoglu y Peksen, (2018), y Bayramov, Rustamli y Abbas (2020).

Los países que imponen sanciones también incurren en costes económicos, al restringir sus transacciones, aunque pueden ser relativamente pequeños, especialmente en casos de sanciones unilaterales para economías grandes como la de EEUU (Farmer, 2000). Otra literatura intenta entender la probabilidad de permanencia de las sanciones (McGillivray y Stam, 2004) y encuentra que los cambios de liderazgo en los países involucrados son el mejor predictor de la duración de una política de sanciones. En cuanto a su naturaleza multilateral o unilateral, Miers y Morgan (2002) concluyen que el primero no es más efectivo que el segundo, como usualmente tiende a pensarse, sobre todo por lo difícil que resulta la coordinación entre varios implicados. Özdamar y Shahin (2021) llaman la atención que algunos temas como las criptomonedas y el flujo de emigrantes todavía no han sido debidamente estudiados dentro de la literatura sobre el impacto económico de las sanciones.

Cuando se menciona a Cuba en los estudios internacionales sobre sanciones, casi siempre se la usa como ejemplo de fracaso de estas políticas. El mismo consenso existe en la mayoría de la literatura que aborda el caso cubano detenidamente (LeoGrande, 2015; Von Burgsdorff, 2009; Lopez-Levy, 2011; Dominguez, Hernandez y Barbería, 2017; Alzugaray, 2017; Zimbalist, 2021; Mesa-Lago, 2021; Rodriguez, 2021).

Zimbalist (2021) concluye que: “el embargo y el esfuerzo de Estados Unidos para derrocar al gobierno de Castro han estado vigentes desde 1960 y han fracasado en todas las formas posibles. Obligaron a Cuba a arrojarse en brazos de la URSS, proporcionaron una excusa para los fracasos económicos de su revolución y para su control político estricto de la población, elevaron la reputación de Castro como nacionalista y líder de los países del tercer mundo que buscan una relación más justa e independiente con las superpotencias. Y fracasaron, por supuesto, en deshacerse de él. Si ha tenido éxito en algo, ha sido en hacer más difíciles las vidas de los cubanos. Y es aborrecible decir que tal resultado es un éxito, aunque muchos políticos norteamericanos parecen pensar de esa manera”.

Lopez-Levy (2011) destaca que, históricamente, dos argumentos principales han justificado la política de sanciones contra Cuba. Durante la Guerra Fría, Washington afirmó que la alianza del gobierno de La Habana con Moscú y su comportamiento internacional constituían una amenaza para su seguridad nacional. Tras la caída del Muro de Berlín el argumento principal ha sido que el régimen cubano viola los derechos humanos de sus ciudadanos, si bien ello no siempre ha coincidido con la política exterior hacia China, Rusia o Arabia Saudí. El embargo refleja en gran medida la influencia de una facción del exilio en apoyo a esta política para lograr un cambio de régimen.

Rodríguez (2021) señala sobre el controvertido tema de las indemnizaciones cuyo monto, de acuerdo con el valor en libro de las propiedades norteamericanas nacionalizadas, ascendía a 1.800 millones de dólares, pero que el cálculo del gobierno cubano sobre el perjuicio económico causado por el bloqueo a la isla se calculó hasta 2018 en unos 134.499 millones de dólares. El gobierno de La Habana reconoce las reclamaciones de EEUU por las propiedades nacionalizadas, pero no las de los cubanos emigrados.

Por su parte, Mesa-Lago (2021) apunta que “el embargo, aunque importante, no es el mayor problema que sufre Cuba, ya que posee relaciones comerciales con al menos 70 países e inversiones de muchos de ellos, en especial de Canadá (en los sectores turísticos o minero: explotación de níquel y petróleo), España (turismo también), China (diversos campos) y Venezuela (crecientes hasta 2014). Indudablemente tiene efectos negativos, como los requisitos que ha de cumplir la banca extranjera en sus transacciones para evitar sanciones de EEUU, el sobreprecio en la compra de mercancías de ese país, que se realiza a través de terceros, y los mayores costes de flete. El mayor problema que afronta Cuba es su “ineficiente sistema económico e incapacidad de generar bastantes exportaciones para pagar sus importaciones”.

A pesar del esquema de sanciones, un cierto flujo de comercio, remesas y visitantes se ha venido produciendo entre EEUU y Cuba, sobre todo desde los años 90, con mayor presencia en las dos décadas siguientes, con diferentes intensidades dependiendo del momento político. En relación a las remesas, Duany (2021) refiere que los cubanos residentes en EEUU han financiado buena parte de la modesta recuperación de la economía cubana desde la década de 1990. Los datos disponibles sugieren que éstas constituyen una fuente de ingresos fundamental en Cuba, quizá tan importante como en la República Dominicana, México, El Salvador y otras naciones latinoamericanas y caribeñas. En cuanto al sector turismo y viajes, Perez y Perelló (2021) resaltan que la reducción de las prohibiciones a los viajes de norteamericanos en el período de Barack Obama permitió mostrar el posible escenario de las visitas y turismo desde EEUU hacia Cuba en un clima de distensión política.

Esta información sobre la trayectoria cambiante de los flujos de comercio, visitantes, remesas y finanzas son el punto de partida del presente estudio para aproximar el impacto económico de las sanciones sobre el crecimiento económico cubano y sobre otros agregados macroeconómicos. Con las estimaciones no se busca aproximar el coste total de las sanciones. Tampoco se intenta valorar todo el beneficio que pudiera traer a la economía cubana el levantamiento futuro de todas las sanciones.

La estrategia empírica busca examinar la sensibilidad de las series históricas del crecimiento económico y de otros indicadores macroeconómicos a los giros (flexibilizaciones/endurecimiento) del esquema de sanciones en las últimas tres décadas, empleando como fuente de información las variaciones en los flujos de comercio de bienes, visitantes y remesas y de indicadores financieros. Además de estimar el efecto sobre el crecimiento del PIB, se desagregan los impactos específicos a través del canal comercial, de visitantes y de remesas, y se separan los impactos para indicadores de la economía estatal y del sector privado. Este último resultado contribuye al debate en cuanto a la posibilidad de diseñar acciones de sanciones económicas que sólo impacten al gobierno sin dañar el sector privado y las familias o, en cambio, diseñar acciones que beneficien al sector privado sin beneficiar al gobierno.La segunda sección de este trabajo resume los principales eventos políticos y legislativos que han implicado giros en el esquema de sanciones desde los años 90. La tercera sección examina los acontecimientos e indicadores más relevantes de la coyuntura económica actual. La cuarta sección describe los datos usados para las estimaciones y examina la trayectoria del valor del intercambio económico entre ambos países, presentes a pesar de las sanciones. La quinta sección explica los modelos econométricos y su especificación bajo la lógica de restricciones de balanza de pagos. La sexta sección discute los resultados relacionados con el impacto de las sanciones en el crecimiento del PIB, los canales de transmisión y el impacto diferenciado entre el sector estatal y el sector privado de la economía cubana. La séptima sección evalúa la robustez estadística de los resultados, empleando como alternativa a los modelos de vectores autorregresivos (VAR). Las conclusiones comentan las implicaciones fundamentales de los resultados econométricos para el debate actual sobre la política de sanciones estadounidenses contra la economía cubana.

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COUNTERPUNCH, November 22, 2021

Stephen Kimber – John Kirk

Original Article: Protest in Cuba: Why It Failed

The news was…. There was no news.

On November 15, the US media primed us for a repeat of the events of July 11 in Cuba — only more massive and more dramatic.

In July, tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets to express their frustrations with their government and, more generally, the state of their country and its economy.

In the lead-up to this month’s announced protests, Archipiélago — a broad umbrella of dissident groups led by well-known dramatist Yunior García — boasted a Facebook group of 37,000 members. It publicly identified rallying points around the island where demonstrations would begin that day at 3 pm.

But nothing much happened. Organizers asked Cubans to take to the streets to demand radical changes in the government, but only a handful responded. They invited Cubans to bang pots later that night to show the world their frustration. Even fewer did. Despite predictions of violence and vandalism in the streets, CBS Miami reported only 11 people arrested, with another 50 barricaded in their homes by government agents and supporters. By the next day, García himselfwithout telling any of his fellow dissidents, decamped to Spain.

What went wrong?

The media knew — or claimed to: “By suppressing protest, Cuba’s government displays its fear of the people” (Washington Post); “Cuban government quashes planned march by protestors” (NBC News); “Cuba Crushes Dissent Ahead of Protest” (New York Times).

The media was not totally wrong. The Cuban government does have a long history of repressing dissent, which it claims is largely fomented by the US, and which it considers an existential threat. (Those claims aren’t wrong either, though their implications rarely get explored in the media.)

Certainly, some Cubans were dissuaded from demonstrating by the large police and military presence on the streets.

But that alone doesn’t explain the lack of outcome.

What did the US media, which generally parrots Washington’s malign interpretation of anything that happens in Cuba, miss in its myopia?  Plenty. Start with some significant events that actually did happen in Cuba on November 15.

On that day, for example, the country’s critically important, pandemic-ravaged tourism industry reopened to fully vaccinated international visitors after 18 brutal months of COVID-19 shutdown. In the first week, international flights to Cuba were scheduled to increase from 67 a week to over 400.

That became possible because Cuba has brought COVID under some level of control again, thanks in part to a massive Cuba-wide vaccination program using vaccines developed in its own labs. Cuban vaccination rates are among the highest in the world. And the number of COVID cases has decreased from a daily average of 10,000 in the summer to 243 the day of the planned protest.

Not coincidentally, November 15 also marked the much-delayed return to in-classroom learning for 700,000 Cuban children, a major return-to-normal milestone that helped buoy spirits. So too did a series of free concerts and art exhibits to celebrate the upcoming 502nd anniversary of the founding of Havana.

Beyond those markers, there were other pragmatic reasons for Cubans to feel more hopeful as protest day dawned.  Venezuela, the major supplier of oil to the island, increased its supplies from 40,000 barrels per day in August to 66,000 in November. Power has become more stable, with fewer blackouts, and the cooler weather has helped ease pressure on the grid.

It is also fair to note that the Cuban government — caught napping in July — learned lessons too. But not — as the US media would have it — simply how to intimidate and control its citizens.

Cuba’s leaders acknowledged many of the frustrations that led to the July protests were legitimate and set about making changes, particularly for women and young people, and those in marginalized zones in larger cities. There are 62 projects in Havana alone as job creation, infrastructure development, housing repair, all became priorities.

The government launched additional economic reforms too, offering greater freedom for self-employment, access to hard currency credits for the private sector and opportunities to collaborate with foreign investment partners. Over 16,000 self-employment projects have since been registered, 416 requests to establish small and medium-sized enterprises approved.

At the same time, the Cuban government launched a massive media campaign to make the case to Cubans and the world — rightly again — that much of what ails the Cuban economy is still the result of the ongoing, never-ending US embargo and US-financed efforts encouraging right-wing regime change of the sort promoted by Miami-centred dissident groups like Archipiélago.

None of this is to suggest Cubans are suddenly universally satisfied with their government or with the pace of change. But it does indicate Cuba’s November “normal” appealed more to Cubans than Yunior Garcia’s call to the barricades.

And that should make us all question what we read and see in the media. Cuba is far more complex, its citizens’ views far more nuanced, than the simplistic media caricature suggests.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez:

“It is clear that what I called a failed operation — a political communication operation organized and financed by the United States government with millionaire funds and the use of internal agents — was an absolute failure,” Rodríguez said in an interview with The Associated Press.

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WOLA, Washington Office on Latin America

by Isabella Oliver and Mariakarla Nodarse Venancio

Original Article: Fear of Repression Foils the March

Unlike the events on July 11—when thousands of Cubans took to the streets and largely spontaneous demonstrations spread rapidly across the nation—the demonstrations scheduled for Monday, November 15 did not take the Cuban government by surprise. Members of the civic group Archipiélago, the main organizers behind this demonstration, had notified authorities back in October of their intention to march on on this date to call for the release of political prisoners and protesters still detained after the July 11 protests, and to advocate for the respect of the rights of all Cubans and the resolution of differences through democratic and peaceful means. The government was prepared and for weeks, they harassed, intimidated and smeared the organizers of the march. On Monday, “acts of repudiation,”[1] heavy surveillance by state security agents, and cripplingly policed streets made sure streets in Havana—and the six other provinces where the new set of demonstrations were to take place—remained empty. Fear and the physical impossibility to leave their homes are the main reasons for the low turn-out of Cubans on November 15.

Men hang Cuban flags over the windows of opposition activist Yunior Garcia Aguilera’s home in an attempt to stop him from communicating with the outside, as he holds a flower from a window, in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Ramon Epinosa)

The proposed demonstrations came after the events of this summer, when Cuban authorities sought to contain the largely peaceful demonstrations that occured on July 11, using tear gas and excessive use of force, which resulted in the death of one demonstrator, Diubis Laurencio Tejada, and the arbitrary detention of several hundreds of people—many of which remain deprived of their liberty in violation of their right to due process under the Cuban constitution and international law.

While the Cuban government has the right to protect itself against foreign interference—and the concerns about U.S. involvement with opposition groups are understandable—it should not infringe on the human rights of its citizens. The human rights enshrined in the Cuban constitution are universal, and need to be guaranteed to all, regardless of  political preferences. Article 56 of the Cuban constitution grants its citizens the right to demonstrate, but the government deemed the November 15 march illegal, alleging that it was attempting to undermine the socialist order and that the organizers had financial ties to the U.S. However, just as the Cuban government allows and encourages pro-government demonstrations, it should respect the freedom of expression and the right of assembly of those who disagree with it.

State media have focused their coverage on the country’s reopening to tourism and the return of elementary students to school after months, which also occurred on November 15. In the case of the protests, it has once again been social networks, independent journalists, and foreign correspondents who offer information about what is happening on the island to those attempting to be heard.

On November 15 itself, images showed largely empty streets, except for police and military vehicles. Some of the organizers complained their homes were surrounded by state security agents, police officers in plain clothes, and government supporters chanting slogans and insults so they couldn’t go out. Others said they were warned by police that they would be arrested for contempt if they forced their way onto the streets. According to the New York Times, at least 40 people were arrested, although the Archipiélago group claims this number is closer to over 100.

Between Sunday, November 14 and Tuesday, November 16, Yunior Garcia Aguilera, the best-known member of Archipiélago, was prevented from leaving his apartment, as he had planned to stage a solo march through Havana that day carrying a white rose, as a sign of peaceful demonstration. Security forces and government supporters surrounded his house, and his phone and internet services were interrupted. He was seen waving a white rose from an apartment window while displaying a sign reading “My house is blocked,” when government supporters hung a giant Cuban flag from the roof of the building covering his windows to keep him from communicating with anyone outside. The flags were still there Monday and a guard stood at the door, while the phones of García and other coordinators of Archipiélago group remained without service. After no known communication from him since early Tuesday, Garcia Aguilera announced on Wednesday that he had arrived in Spain with his wife, in circumstances that remain unclear.

Growing social movements are a sign of a rapidly changing Cuba

In November 2020, a coalition of about 300 people made up of artists and industry workers (which later became known as 27N) met in front of the Ministry of Culture to request a dialogue with the highest authorities after state forces stormed the headquarters of the Movimiento San Isidro (MSI) in Old Havana on November 26. During this raid, authorities evicted those who had declared a hunger strike, with some refusing even liquids, in protest of the detention and the judicial process against one of its members (rapper Denis Solís). In January 2021, after the government had shown no interest in engaging in dialogue with civil society, a number of the participants of the 27N gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture only to continue to face the authorities’ unwillingness to listen. In April, people once again gathered in Calle Obispo to protest in a show of support for the leader of MSI, Luis Manuel Otero Alcanta, after authorities forcibly interrupted his hunger strike to take him to the hospital.

The civic march for change, and more broadly the Archipiélago group, inserts itself in a rapidly changing Cuba. During the past year, groups like MSI and 27N have seen increasing support among the youth, whom have been finding spaces both online and in public spheres to call for an end to violence as a response to artistic expression that is not aligned with the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), to demand respect for fundamental rights, and an end to political repression.

Although the July 11 protests were not the first expression of political disagreement to have happened in the past year, they were definitely the first of such scale, and they marked a before and after in the realm of public dissent with the status quo in Cuba. It was no longer only artists and intellectuals, but the broader citizenry protesting as thousands of Cubans took to the streets. The demonstrations were a manifestation of both economic and social grievances that are deeply intertwined. Protesters were seen asking for food and medicine, deeper economic reforms that would improve Cubans’ daily lives, and more freedom and political change.

How Current Conditions Contributed to Displays of Dissent

The island, which had kept the COVID-19 pandemic under control in 2020, saw infections skyrocket this summer, with daily COVID-19 cases tripling in the course of a few weeks and deaths spiking to record highs, which pushed health centers to the point of collapse. On top of that, Cubans are currently facing serious shortages of basic goods and medicine. In addition to that, a series of economic reforms introduced by the Cuban government this year (such as currency reunification, which most observers agree were necessary) have not only created additional harsh impacts in the short-term, but were implemented at a particularly difficult time. These factors have triggered inflation and increased the frustration of the Cuban people. One of the main sources of discomfort is the dollarization of the economy and the difficulty to access food and basic necessities— a process that had been marketed since the end of 2019 in foreign currencies—which have placed a larger sector of the population in a very precarious economic situation and amplified already existing inequalities. The return of long power blackouts, that take Cuba back to the 1990s and the so-called special period, add to Cubans’ irritation and uncertainty. When procuring food and basic goods becomes the number one concern for a family, it shifts from being an economic crisis to being a social crisis.

The Biden-Harris administration has voiced support for the Cuban people’s right to protest and has condemned the ongoing repression, yet it continues to downplay the role of U.S. sanctions in fueling Cuba’s humanitarian crisis by not acknowledging that sanctions contribute to the severe and undue suffering of the Cuban people. Supporting human rights in Cuba and empowering the Cuban people also means removing the barriers that exacerbate the economic, health and social crisis. Restrictions on remittances, including caps on the amount and measures that have made it impossible to wire remittances from the U.S. to families in Cuba, have limited the purchasing power of many, banking regulations have made third country purchases more difficult, and onerous rules governing medical sales have had an especially devastating impact during the pandemic.

While the Cuban government managed to avoid mass protests with a wave of repression and heavy security presence that discouraged the participation of the ordinary citizens that powered the summer demonstrations, the desire of young Cubans to be heard has not disappeared. On Tuesday, Archipiélago issued a statement celebrating the bravery of all those that protested in one way or another, and extending the Civic “March” for Change until November 27—a date which is no coincidence—calling for the release of political prisoners; respect for the rights of all Cubans to assembly, demonstration, and association; the end of acts of repudiation and all violence among Cubans for political reasons; and the beginning of a transparent process for the resolution of differences through democratic and peaceful means.

Cuban authorities should refrain from violence and repression, and immediately release those detained unfairly. In order to move forward, it is important for the Cuban government to recognize the need for a peaceful dialogue that includes the plurality of voices we are currently seeing among Cuban citizens, including artists, journalists and civil society actors among others in order to truly allow freedom of expression. For its part, the Biden-Harris administration has a responsibility to take concrete and swift actions that will alleviate the humanitarian and economic crisis beginning with the removal of specific licenses required to send medical supplies, restrictions on sending family and donative remittances, and restrictions on travel.

[1] Acts of repudiation (actos de repudio) is a term Cuban authorities use to refer to acts of violence and/or humiliation towards critics of the government.

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The Communist party has banned the planned string of pro-democracy marches, saying they are an overthrow attempt

The Guardian, November 10, 2021

Original Article: Cuba braces for unrest

The Cuban playwright Yunior García has shot to fame over the past year, but not because of his art. The 39-year old has become the face of Archipelago, a largely online opposition group which is planning a string of pro-democracy marches across the island on Monday.

The Communist party has banned the protests – which coincide with the reopening of the country after 20 months of coronavirus lockdowns – arguing that they are a US-backed attempt to overthrow the government.

García and other organisers say the protest is simply to demand basic rights for all Cubans. Over syrupy black coffee and strong cigarettes in the living room of his Havana home, García said he hoped to channel the “peaceful rebelliousness” that he believes all Cubans have inside them.

“I believe in a diverse country and I think we have to completely do away with the one-party system which limits too many individual rights,” he said.

Such talk is anathema to Cuba’s rulers who are already struggling to contain a simmering social crisis which earlier this year triggered the largest anti-government protests for decades.

Supercharged US sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic, a surge in social media use and a younger generation hungry for change have left the Communist party reeling.The Biden administration has continued with Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, which since 2017 has hammered the island with more than 200 sanctions aimed at choking hard currency inflows.

The result has been an economic crisis that rivals the so-called Special Period, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“The Special Period was a piece of cake compared to this,” said Umberto Molina, 71, waiting in line outside a pharmacy. “There was medicine and you didn’t have these never-ending queues.”

In July, mounting frustrations exploded on to the streets in an unprecedented rash of protests – and a hardening of positions. Cuban special forces beat demonstrators and hundreds were imprisoned. Washington responded by imposing new sanctions.

“When the Cuban government feels more threatened by the US, its tolerance for internal dissidence goes down,” said William LeoGrande, professor of government at American University in Washington DC. “All governments, when they feel under attack, become less tolerant of internal opposition,” he added, pointing to the US Patriot Act following 9/11.

This week, the foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, vowed that the protests would not go ahead. “We will not allow it,” he said. “We will use our laws, our constitution and the strictest adherence to the principles of our socialist state of law and social justice.”

On Thursday, García, said that he would march in silence and holding a white rose on Sunday, but it was not clear if this amounted to a scaling back of Monday’s protests.

“We are not willing to have a single drop of blood spilled, on either side of this conflict,” García said in a Facebook post.

In his interview, García, 39, said he was well aware of the risks he was facing.

“History is full of people who have gone to prison for struggling for their rights,” García said, offering José Martí, the 19th-century Cuban intellectual and independence fighter, as an example.

Like Martí, García says he opposes “foreign interference” in Cuban affairs. But while Martí saw the US as a “monster” to be kept at bay, García takes a different tack.  After he met with the head of the US embassy in Havana and a former US army captain, the Communist party released video of the encounter, and labelled García a “political operative”.

García said he discussed censorship on the island and the US embargo (which he opposes), but he denied taking advice. Nobody in Archipelago, he said, takes so much as “a cent” from foreign governments.Tolerance of dissent on the island, which increased under Obama years, is nosediving. Activists say more than 600 are still in prison.

A gamut of strategies have been employed to prevent Archipelago activists from organising: García’s mobile phone line has been cut, two coordinators have been fired from their state jobs, and activists’ families have been interrogated by state security.

That the protests are scheduled for the very day that Cuba is supposed to go back to normal after a long lockdown, with tourists returning and schools opening, has only heightened the stakes.

The government has planned a “National Defence Day” for later next week, and menacing photos have emerged of government supporters wielding batons in preparation.

“There is a quite properly widespread desire … that Cuba should move steadily and quickly, and as soon as possible, towards a true democratic system, and that the rights of peaceful protest and full freedom of expression be finally and properly respected by the state,” said Hal Klepak, professor emeritus of history and strategy at the Royal Military College of Canada.

“However, it is simply unrealistic and contrary to all logic, to think that the Cuban state, besieged, attacked and under quite savage economic warfare conducted by the greatest power in the history of the world … can allow such rights to flourish.

“As San Ignacio de Loyola, echoing the same conclusion as Machiavelli in such circumstances, said: ‘In a besieged city, all dissent is treason.’”

Such realism is little solace for young activists yearning for the democracy.

Daniela Rojo, a single mother with two young children , said she was raised to “speak softly and avoid problems”. But after being jailed for 27 days following the July’s protest, she said she was determined to march on Monday for her children’s sake.

“I want them to grow up in a country where they can express themselves freely,” she said.

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ACERE – Posted on November 8, 2021

Original article: LIFT SANCTIONS

November 8th, 2021
Contact: Elena Freyre (786)683-8241 cubaid7@yahoo.com allianceforcuba@acere.org HAVANA –

On November 8th, 247 Cuban private entrepreneurs, businesses and cooperatives sent a letter to President Biden denouncing the harmful impact that U.S. sanctions have had on their livelihoods. Despite campaign promises to reverse failed policies of prior administrations, President Biden continues to maintain the 243 sanctions against Cuba that the Trump administration added to the embargo. President Biden has yet to make any policy changes that would alleviate the severe economic crisis affecting all Cubans, including Cuban businesses. As the letter notes, “existing U.S. policy towards Cuba greatly affects our day-to-day business operations and cripples our ability to thrive.”

These private business owners and entrepreneurs work in wide-ranging economic activities, including hospitality, manufacturing, technology and agriculture. They represent a sector of Cuban society that the Biden-Harris administration has stated is a priority area for U.S. support. Yet, as their letter to President Biden states, the unwillingness to lift sanctions against Cuba continues to severely impede their businesses’ ability to survive. The signers of the letter note that it is “particularly cruel” of the Biden-Harris administration to maintain hostile sanctions in the midst of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Cuban businesses issued a direct appeal to President Biden to normalize relations, which would help them attain the economic prosperity they are striving to build.

Oniel Díaz, a founder of Cuban private business consulting firm, AUGE, stated that he signed the letter “because with sanctions and the blockade [embargo], the possibility of a prosperous and efficient economy will always be a distant horizon, despite current economic reforms by the Cuban authorities.” Dianelis García, from DIAKA, an interior design private firm, said: “Any measure that limits and prevents the development of Cuban entrepreneurship is discriminatory. The blockade against Cuba must end.” Another signatory, Abel Bajuelos from 3D printing microenterprise, Addimensional – one of the more than 400 new private small and medium enterprises – defended that “any initiative to end the unjust blockade deserves support.”

The Cuban people and Cuban businesses continue to bear the brunt of these unilateral coercive measures, which have long been determined to be illegal under international law.​​ The business owners and entrepreneurs noted with dismay the decision of the Biden administration to pay more attention to the demands of a minority among the Cuban American community who opposes engagement, rather than the majority of moderate voices who support normalization, and to whom he owes his campaign promises. As the letter noted, “[President Biden] administration’s policies should not be dictated by how much adversity and suffering they can cause to Cubans, but by how much they can improve our ability to prosper.”

When Biden was vice president during the Obama administration, he helped with a groundbreaking effort to overcome decades of hostility, charting a path of normalization for the benefit of peoples and businesses in both countries. “Reforms in U.S. policy made during your tenure as Vice President allowing for increased travel, telecom services and banking helped us substantially. We dream of the return to those days, when engagement was the official U.S. policy, producing an economic boom that benefitted us all,” states the letter.

Signatories of the letter urge President Biden “to work with the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo and to take action immediately to increase travel, trade and investment, especially given how the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy, including in Cuba. We urge you to take the following immediate actions: 1) reestablish a path for remittances; 2) open travel for those subject to U.S. jurisdiction; 3) reopen the embassy in Havana; and 4) remove Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism.”

Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect (ACERE), Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE), Puentes de Amor, Latin American Working Group (LAWG), Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) are supporting this initiative by Cuban private businesses. These organizations have organized a webinar today, Monday, November 8th 1:00-2:30 PM EST, where four of the Cuban business owners who signed the letter will be explaining how U.S. sanctions negatively impact their businesses and why they signed the letter. The webinar will commence with Special Guest Jim Wedeberg, founder of Organic Valley dairy cooperative, and Professor of Government at American University, William LeoGrande discussing current status of U.S. Cuba policy. Facilitated by Geoff Thale, an independent analyst of Cuba and Central America, the webinar is an opportunity to hear first-hand from various Cuban business owners, including the CEO of the first private firm to be created in Cuba under recently passed legislation, and find out how U.S. sanctions hurt Cuban businesses, their employees and families. Registration is free and open to the public at https://tinyurl.com/yv4cxx7b.

The letter to Pres. Biden and list of signatories can be found here in English and its original Spanish version: https://acere.org/sector-privado2

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Cuba Study Group, October 28, 2021
Manuel Cuesta Morúa

Manuel Cuesta Morúa

Original Article:  A “Third Way” Cuba Policy?

As noted in the introduction written by the Council on International Relations to Charles A. Kupchan’s book How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace, in his 2008 inaugural address, Barack Obama promised nations “on the wrong side of history” that the U.S. would “extend a hand if they were willing to open their fists.”

Thus began an intellectual presidency, which certainly constitutes a strategic presidency. With its impressive historical documentation, Kupchan’s book provided Obama with a set of assumptions and theses that helped guide his policy towards Cuba.

Two assumptions in this book are worth summarizing. The first is that the stability of international relations is not decided by the type of regime a country has. The second is that economic relations are not as important as diplomacy when reducing tensions and seeking geopolitical accommodations with countries in conflict.

Obama’s policy towards Cuba was designed from these two assumptions. That a policy of unilateral concessions appeased the enemy, and that a strong investment in a friendly narrative, respect for sovereignty, and offers of cooperation would be more productive to achieve the goals of democratization, which Obama left in the most effective hands: that of the Cubans.

Isolation, combined with a policy of harassment and attrition, had not led to the stated goal of U.S. foreign policy toward the Island. This was the strongest argument against the critics of a policy shift that began with the exchange of prisoners, the removal of Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list, and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations.

To be fair, Obama actually modified his message, bringing it closer to Kupchan’s intellectual vision. He did not wait for the Cuban government to open its fist, instead introducing changes without the latter modifying its internal and external policy one iota.

In my view, and in the case of Cuba, the Obama policy’s greatest strategic success was to overwhelm the Cuban government on three fundamental levels: in that of its intentions, in that of its will to change, and in that of its language. Its impact on Cuban society has been irreversible.

The policy that preceded it lacked vision; confident that the harsh exercise of power would put an end to the regime. For 62 years, the Cuban government has been ostensibly on the verge of crumbling every four years. Obama’s policy focused on the medium and long term, and for that very reason it was strategic.

Did he fail? No. Although the type of regime does matter in any conception of foreign policy—a necessary correction to Kupchan’s postulates—a consequence perhaps not foreseen by the author, but which I assume was intuited by Obama, is that such a policy could put an end both rhetorically and practically to the identification and perception of the Cuban people and government as enemies of the United States. If the Cuban government continued (continues) to place itself in the convenient role of the enemy, this was no longer true with its people. And this is the most important result in terms of the US’s strategic goals, which not even the return to tough policy under Donald Trump could reinstate: the possibility of masking the conflict between the Cuban state and Cuban society behind the conflict between countries reached its limit with this formulation of foreign policy. Cuba opened up, and society took the lead.

The hard exercise of power continues with the logic inherited from the times of John F. Kennedy: instant democracy, hence the idea of ​​restoring the past, and the United States playing a leading role in this transcript. Quid pro quo demands on Obama’s policy are born out of this logic, just as his policy sought to break with it. Obama inaugurated another era. Cubans were the ones who must advance the changes, and the United States can only be there for what it can and should do: to assist and support the process. The pace of change depends on factors that the United States cannot and should not try to control. There are constraints that the North American power must abide by based on the structural limitations of its system; this is what the hard-liners recognize to their chagrin every four years. After every electoral cycle, they always conclude that its up to the Cubans. They see abandonment “a lo Kennedy” when in reality it is the best invitation to assume control of our destiny.

Obama’s approach recognized that quid pro quo policies as a diplomatic game or foreign policy go beyond the limits imposed by a given time period, especially when it comes to regime change. He later demonstrated this with his policy towards the Arab Spring, mainly in Egypt. However, hardliners demand results within a fixed period from a policy that was repeatedly repurposed over time.

It is on this enduring and far-reaching foundation, which was put to the test here in July, that the Joe Biden administration could and should build a revised “third way” with Cuba, with an approach that connects its foreign policy with the nature of governing regimes. The Cuban government is an actor and factor of regional destabilization, with new formulas that can be confused with the mechanisms of democracies and at the same time uses them. Democratic regimes are the key to stable peace, the most salvageable of Francis Fukuyama’s thinking. This cannot be ignored.

Alongside a dialogue on security issues in the region—including immigration, combating drug trafficking, and climate change—blanket sanctions should be replaced by individual sanctions at the beginning of this new post-Donald Trump political term, which are already being applied in some cases. This would continuously weaken strong identities in Cuba, like the ones between the country and nation, and the state and government, which in turn strengthens the citizenry. Miguel Díaz-Canel will have a very difficult time identifying as, or confusing himself with, the nation.

Re-establishing and invigorating people-to-people diplomacy is another imperative. Soft power, a policy applied by all Chinese administrations toward Cuba, was revealed as the best option to undo an artificially constructed enmity between the two countries. One cannot forget that the United States and Cuba have been historical enemies for at least three generations, a rooted narrative that served as propitious terrain for an unvoluntary war.

A third step in this new matrix should raise political recognition for the opposition and civic recognition for civil society. From backroom conversations, which is the usual diplomatic style that gives place to democratic alternatives, it is important to move to a more public and formal stage of dialogue. I think this is more important than resource aid, and takes advantage of the regime’s growing legitimacy and legitimization vacuum, which was accelerated after July 11. There should be no doubt that the Cuban government is a government of the minority.

A fourth element involves the empowerment of the private sector, both in terms of training and connections, which is essential for the creation of the middle classes. I am not so optimistic to think that the middle classes themselves will lead to democracy. What does seem evident is that they promote economic and social pluralism and ease the necessary tension between the State and autonomous economic agents.

A fifth angle to de-bilateralize the democratization agenda. What Obama started can be updated today with the North American proposal for a global democratic alliance to curb the global spread of autocracies. In this sense, a commitment to, and aid for, the democratization of Cuba is part of the proposal to re-democratize all societies. On a different scale and in different dimensions, democracies need to re-democratize. The issue of Cuba could be rethought within this new framework.

As a sixth point, it is convenient to consider the vision of change in Cuba as a process. Cuba has been closer to democracy in the last six years, despite Donald Trump, than at any time in the previous 56 years. Cuba’s prolonged dystopia is related to two interconnected and mutually reinforcing factors: the supposed invasion by the American superpower on the island’s southern and Caribbean border, which thankfully never came, but in turn fueled the Revolution’s infallibility as a peripheral power. This had a paralyzing effect on both global diplomacy and internal debate. The exportation of conflicts, their causes, and many potential suggestions for change obtained its raw material in each U.S. electoral cycle.

The Cuban regime has always had an added strategic advantage with this logic: selling the diplomatic narrative that the debate for democracy in Cuba is a debate for sovereignty between two states with equal recognition in the United Nations. With this, it has managed at times to denationalize the democratic discussion and halt not only democratic action, but also threats of reform within the regime.

A process mindset, on the other hand, accelerates democratization, paradoxical as it may seem, and authenticates change. This is because only one process is capable of involving its recipients, which are the Cuban people. This eliminates the paralyzing obstacles caused by harsh nationalist takes on diversity and plurality. The social outbreak on June 11 (11J), which exposed the deep rifts between society and the government, can now be channeled through an intelligent strategy of democratic change that fuses an inclusive movement with a broad social base.

Seventh. It is crucial that political language gradually appropriate what in Colombia they call the “mechanism of disarming words.” Harsh rhetoric almost always serves to hide conceptual and strategic weaknesses in political designs. I would say more: soft rhetoric is more accurate, goes deeper, and avoids the defensive psychological distractions generated by toxic insults between and within countries. Most importantly, insults are not practical for resolving conflicts. Soft rhetoric could fill in many absences. The case of Venezuela comes to mind, where strong, binary, and radical discourse has drowned out more than one possibility for concrete advances. As an old international relations professor told me: you only get to the root through moderation.

This change in language is essential to interact from abroad with a more diverse and plural Cuban society, with dissimilar interests, with a new generation that has risen rapidly to the public stage, and with an elite whose sometimes visible tensions and fragmentation reflect the underlying currents of change. Like never before, words must be actions.

Finally, how to approach the embargo issue in this dual scenario with post-Castroism on one side and a Democratic administration in the White House on the other? The discussion about the embargo is still relevant. My opposition of it dates back to 1991. It is part of my political and ideological identity. Beyond this, the conversation must be calibrated and balanced for several reasons.

There is a logical asymmetry between the campaign against the embargo led by the Cuban government and the complex political process that can lead to its elimination. If control over the embargo were in the hands of the U.S. executive branch, such a campaign would have political coherence and consistency because the embargo’s elimination would be viable. This is well known, but what is lost is that the Cuban government is also aware of it and uses it for reasons other than the ostensible interest of removing the embargo. The embargo works perfectly as a political and diplomatic distraction to hide the government’s own responsibilities and freeze democratic diplomacy within multilateral organizations such as the United Nations. Does the Cuban government have a group of lawyers in Washington that works systematically with Congress, on both sides of the aisle, to pass legislation that removes the embargo? If it does, they are not doing their job well. If it is trying but not succeeding that means they are not doing their job well either. And if it hasn’t tried, it means that it prefers to spend more money on propaganda than on achieving specific political goals.

In that narrative, the embargo also serves the government by clouding its structural insufficiencies in areas as important as meeting the basic needs of the economy. And the fact is that the embargo has not prevented, nor does it prevent, the importation of basic goods from the United States, the dynamics of which are well hidden in public discussion. The questions that constantly arise are: is the Cuban government really interested in lifting the embargo? Does it really help it? I have my doubts. Hence the calibrated analysis, independent of the ethics of the policy, which requires us to look at through a political lens.

Calling for the democratization of Cuba should not be linked to the elimination of the embargo. If Obama’s policy demonstrated something, which in principle must be maintained by Biden, it is that reforms in Cuba have no obstacles other than the political will of the government. If the July protests left any clarity, it is that an already open Cuban society wants and understands that change is possible regardless of the United States. If we say and assume that the solution to the Cuban problem corresponds to and is the exclusive business of Cubans, we should not confuse facilitating conditions with necessary ones. In my perspective, there are only two reasons to oppose the embargo. One responds to the multilateralism of the international order and the other is ethical. And granted, the latter is a political arena par excellence. Or it should be.

For the rest, a coalition from an active political center is what we are lacking. It must be diverse and plural like Cuba but focused on rational and mature solutions for our multiple challenges, as well as inclusive enough to accommodate various currents, which are fewer or at least less visible, but with the capacity, knowledge, and disposition for a realistic exercise of political imagination. We deserve it.

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Washington’s active support for dissidents puts everything in peril, most importantly, the people it wants to help


William LeoGrande

Original  Article: Back to Confrontation with Cuba

In a speech to the Communist Party Central Committee on October 25, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel singled out the U.S. Embassy for “playing an active role in the efforts to subvert the internal order in our country.” Then he issued a warning:

“Faced with these behaviors, we will not stand idly by. We are determined to confront the subversive and aggressive work of that diplomatic representation,” adding “We have the experience of many years of diplomatic and operational work with the United States under the guidance of the historical leadership of the Revolution.”

The United States and Cuba are on a collision course over U.S. diplomats’ support for “democracy promotion” programs, and Cuban dissidents may end up as collateral damage, spending years in prison as a result.

Cuban officials were already frustrated earlier this summer by President Biden’s failure to keep his campaign promise to lift the punishing economic sanctions imposed by President Trump. Then on July11, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, spontaneous protest demonstrations erupted across the island, fueled by shortages of food, medicine, and fuel, and by people’s anger at the government’s failure to meet their needs.

Washington reacted by denouncing the arrest of protesters and imposing targeted sanctions against a number of senior Cuban officials in the military and police. In addition, President Biden pledged to step up support for dissidents on the island, signaling his embrace of the regime change strategy that has animated Washington’s policy for the past 62 years, with a brief hiatus during President Obama’s final two years.

In September, a group of Cuban artists and intellectuals calling themselves the Archipelago Project joined with traditional dissidents to call for nationwide “Marches for Change” on November 20, later moved to November 15, the day Cuba is scheduled to reopen its tourist industry. The government responded to this challenge by declaring the proposed marches illegal and threatening criminal charges against the organizers. The dissidents are not backing down, setting the stage for another confrontation.

It appears that the July 11 demonstrations have resurrected Washington’s pipedream that the Cuban regime is on the verge of collapse, and that the November 15 demonstrations will be a step toward its demise. By wholeheartedly endorsing the demonstrations, the Biden administration is  throwing gasoline on an already volatile situation and giving the Cuban government ample ammunition to accuse the dissidents of being mercenaries paid and directed by United States.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Havana, though still understaffed because the “Havana Syndrome” injuries U.S. personnel suffered in 2016-2017, has taken a leading role supporting dissident activists, pushing the boundaries of what’s normally allowed under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The Cuban government thinks U.S. diplomats have pushed well past those boundaries. Tension around this issue is nearing a breaking point.

Díaz-Canel’s October 25 warning about the behaviour of U.S. diplomats echoes the one Fidel Castro issued in 2003, another moment when Cuban officials felt under threat in the wake of the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq — and amid semi-serious joking in Washington that Cuba would be next. As President George W. Bush intensified sanctions and stepped up support for dissidents, the U.S. diplomatic mission (then an Interests Section) served as a support base for regime opponents.

On March 6, 2003, Fidel Castro denounced the Interest Section as “a breeding ground for counterrevolutionaries and a command post for the most offensive subversive actions against our country.” But rather than close the mission, as the Bush administration hoped he would, Castro ordered the arrest of over 100 dissidents with whom U.S. diplomats had been in contact. Seventy-five were subsequently convicted of receiving U.S. support in violation of Cuba’s foreign agents laws and  sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to twenty-eight years.

There has been little real diplomatic engagement between Cuba and the United States since 2017, but the Cuban government is not likely to close the U.S. embassy in response to its support for dissidents. After all, the last time relations were broken (in 1961) it took 54 years to restore them. Instead, as Díaz-Canel hinted, the government is more likely to follow the “guidance of the historical leadership” and once again punish the people Washington has been helping.

In the past decade or so, the Cuban government had moved away from sentencing dissidents to long stints in prison, instead pursuing a strategy of harassment and short-term detentions to discourage opposition activity. But Cuban officials are feeling under siege from the combined forces of COVID, economic shortages, discontent spreading on social media, U.S. sanctions, and U.S. funding for dissidents. In this environment, the Biden administration’s aggressive support for anti-government activists runs a serious risk of provoking Cuban officials to resume handing out heavy prison terms for those receiving U.S. aid.

President Biden has a long history of justifiable skepticism about the feasibility of nation-building and regime change schemes — a realists’ recognition of the limits of U.S. power. But his deeply held belief that U.S. foreign policy should promote human rights and democracy collides with that realism when a small country like Cuba is involved. Realism gives way to the temptation to deploy overwhelming U.S. power to overthrow unfriendly regimes, especially in “our own backyard.” Yet the long history of U.S. efforts at regime change in Latin America and beyond offers ample evidence that interfering in the internal affairs of other countries —even when it succeeds — rarely ends well for either U.S. interests or the people we presume to help.

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