White Paper on U.S. Policy Towards Cuba
More than fifty years have elapsed since the Cuban revolution that brought Fidel and Raul Castro to power. Despite the succession of authority to his brother Raul, Fidel Castro remains the longest reigning dictator of the 20th and 21st centuries. U.S. policy towards Cuba, as codified in law, allows for the U.S. to begin to normalize relations with Cuba upon the fulfillment of three essential elements: (1) the unconditional release of all political prisoners; (2) the recognition and respect for the fundamental human, political and civil rights of the Cuban people; and (3) the development of a pathway towards internationally supervised free and democratic elections. These specific objectives transcend political parties and have been advocated in one form or another by every U.S. President since Jimmy Carter.
While it is important to recognize that democracy cannot be imposed from abroad, international support has been fundamental to every successful pro-democracy movement from the American Revolution of the 18th century to the former Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution of the 20th century. U.S. support for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society has been an essential element of the legal and moral foundation of U.S. policy and is enshrined in the Cuba Democracy Act of 1992 and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (“Libertad Act”). As such, support for Cuba’s growing democracy movement -- a bottom-to-top approach -- is critical to exerting the type of pressure that can bring about genuine democratic change on the island.
Strong Bipartisan Consensus - There exists a strong bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Congress in support of current U.S. policy towards Cuba. The two Cuba-related votes in the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress illustrate overwhelming support for the essential elements of this policy: 1. Assistance for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society (See H. Amdt. 351 to H. R. 2764 passed by a vote of 254-170 and S. Amdt. 2694 approved by a voice vote, which restored the previous Administration’s request for $45.3 million in Economic Support Funds for Cuba) and, 2. Support for maintaining sanctions against the Cuban regime (See H. Amdt. 707 to H.R. 2419, which was rejected by a vote of 182-245 and would have eased agricultural sales provisions under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, “TSREEA”). The Obama Administration has a unique opportunity to build upon this consensus and firmly stand with the Cuban people and their legitimate aspirations for freedom. An unequivocal affirmation of the basic tenets for substantive engagement with the Cuban regime would and an important message to the people of Cuba and to the international community that the U.S. remains unwavering in its pursuit of fundamental rights and democracy for the Cuban people.
Clear Intentions – While speculation grows about the Obama Administration’s Cuba policy, as a presidential candidate then Senator Obama was very clear about his policy intentions. During a campaign speech on inter-American relations, Senator Obama stated “my policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: Libertad [that means freedom]. And the road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with the liberation of Cuba’s political prisoners, the rights of free speech, a free press and freedom of assembly; and it must lead to elections that are free and fair.”1 While supporting the repeal of measures on Cuban-American travel issued by President Bush in 2004, President Obama has stated that he thinks the embargo should be kept in place as “it provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: If you take significant steps towards democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin to normalize relations.”2
Raul Castro is Not a Pragmatic Reformer - Despite unfounded reports regarding Raul Castro’s inclination for adopting a Chinese or Vietnamese economic model in Cuba, his actions (or lack thereof) prove the contrary. Raul Castro has continued the failed economic policies of his brother and although he has made minor concessions to Cuba’s negligible number of elite consumers like purchasing cell phones, computers, and DVD players, he has made no real significant change aimed at economic liberalization. Raul Castro has ushered in several campaigns against government waste and corruption mostly as a means to divert attention from the regime’s systemic inefficiency and lay the blame for declining production on corruption and greed. Cuba remains dependent on tourism and handouts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Economic activity remains almost exclusively controlled by the state. Small private vendors are regulated out of a shrinking domestic market. Whether Raul Castro will take any steps in the direction of genuine economic reform remains to be seen, to date, his track record remains dismal.
I. A Bottom-to-top APPROACH TO Change
Since Fidel Castro partially transferred power to his brother Raul, policy observers, European and Latin American diplomats, and the international media has widely speculated on identifying hardliners and reformers within the Cuban regime. The conventional wisdom was that Vice President Carlos Lage was a closet economic reformer and that Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque was a political hardliner. Perez-Roque’s credentials had been on the rise since Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos quietly began telling fellow diplomats last year that Perez Roque was an agent of change.3 Last month, Raul Castro summarily dismissed both figures, along with eight other senior officials, for “abuse of power.” Both wrote identical mea culpas published in Granma, Cuba’s state newspaper, and had been internationally considered critical players in the succession of power from the so-called “historicos” to a younger generation of revolutionaries. They were popularly expected to take the revolutionary mantle into the next decades. Unfortunately, for all the trappings of a legitimate government, Cuba remains governed by a Stalinist regime in the mold of North Korea, essentially managed by a very small cabal. Leadership positions are completely fungible, no official is indispensible, and everything is done for the sake of maintaining power. Unlike Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, hardliners are indistinguishable from reformers; everyone is wearing several layers of political disguise. Under these circumstances, U.S. policy should not focus on so-called reformers or pragmatist or seek to substantively engage in useless dialogue with Cuban bureaucrats, who are in fear of their livelihoods. While continuing to use sanctions to vigorously target regime leadership and deny its repressive apparatus additional resources, the U.S. should concentrate on a bottom-to-the-top approach, which would vigorously assist Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society in their efforts to develop a democratic alternative. Bottom-to-the-top pressure on Cuba’s leadership is fundamental to any change scenario.
Independent Civil Society and the Democracy Movement - Almost immediately after Castro began imposing a totalitarian model on Cuba, courageous men and women conspired to advocate for their fundamental rights. However, the modern roots of the current peaceful civil society movement on the island can be traced to the late 1980s/early 1990s. Groups like the Cuban Committee for Human Rights (“CCPDH”), composed of former revolutionaries and socialists, saw developments in Eastern and Central Europe and devised a new way to oppose the regime through the defense of human rights. These human rights movements mushroomed into independent professional associations, including attorneys, economists, trade unionists, journalists, etc. As they further atomized they also began to align together. One such umbrella organization Concilio Cubano, declared its support for “… the struggle for a peaceful and non-violent transition to a democratic state of law – rejecting all hatred, violence, or revenge, and equally embracing all Cubans everywhere.”4 The Cuban government’s response to this group was ferocious. Anticipating their first national meeting on Feb. 24, 1996, they arrested most of its leading activists, accusing them of being puppets of the CIA. Moreover, they successfully executed a plan to shoot down the Brothers to the Rescue planes flying in international waters murdering three American citizens in the process. By pulverizing these aircrafts and arresting Concilio leaders, the Cuban authorities diverted attention from its internal political situation by transforming it to a U.S.-Cuba confrontation. Concilio’s demise did not end the democracy movement in Cuba. On the contrary, it continued to grow
Forging Unity of Purpose - In June 1997, Vladimiro Roca, Félix Bonne, René Gómez and Marta Beatriz Roque, four of Cuba’s leading dissidents wrote “The Homeland Belongs to All of Us,” a document elaborating a concept of nationhood beyond the revolution to include all Cubans, including those opposing the regime and those in exile, based upon the concept of freedom and liberty. The Archbishop of Santiago, Pedro Meurice Estiu, echoed this theme in a homily during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in January 1998 drawing sustained applause from a crowd of some 150,000. Archbishop Meurice spoke “of a growing number of Cubans who have confused the homeland with a single party, the nation with a historical process, and culture with an ideology.”5 As Pope John Paul II listened, Archbishop added, “The poorest among us are those who do not have precious access to freedom.” The Archbishop embraced Cubans living abroad as being part of "one people" seeking "a unity that can never be the result of uniformity.”6 The earlier manifesto as well as the Pope’s visit created a favorable environment for the forthcoming “Agreement for Democracy,” a landmark statement of more than 120 Cuban civil society groups, both in Cuba and in exile, agreeing on a ten-point plan for Cuba’s transition to democracy. This Agreement signed in February 1998 serves as a significant consensus amongst diverse groups and ideologies on a future vision for democratic governance.
Democracy Movement Proves Resilient - In 1997 Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet created the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights to advocate for the establishment of democracy, the release of all political prisoners, and expose the Cuban government’s forced abortion policies. Biscet, an Afro-Cuban and follower of Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, was given a three-year prison term in November 1999 for organizing a press conference with the Cuban flag displayed in an inverted vertical position, as a sign of distress and protest for human rights violations in Cuba. In May 2002, the Christian Liberation Movement, led by Osvaldo Paya, submitted a petition signed by over 11,000 Cubans to the National Assembly seeking a referendum on permitting fundamental freedoms, private enterprise, and amnesty for all political prisoners. Article #88(g) of the Cuban Constitution of 1976 puports to allow citizens to propose laws if 10,000 persons who are registered to vote support the proposal with their names, national identification numbers, addresses, and signatures. The Varela Project captured tremendous international attention and Paya received numerous prestigious awards and support from distinguished leaders, including former Czech President Vaclav Havel. In March 2003, the Cuban regime unleashed another massive crackdown on dissent. In what became popularly knows as Cuba’s Black Spring, many of the Varela Project activists where arrested and handed down to jail terms exceeding 25 years. Dr. Biscet, who had been released in 2002, was also re-arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison for holding education workshops on human rights and peacefully civil disobedience.
Democracy Movement Continues to Grow – Despite adversity, Cuba’s democratic opposition has dramatically continued to grow and extend outside of Havana. “Steps to Freedom,” a publication by the Cuba Democratic Directorate that has been tracking opposition activity for more than a decade, reports a 64-fold increase in “acts of civil disobedience” from 1997 to 2005 (from 44 acts to 2768). The Directorate also reports a shift in pro-democracy activity away from Havana toward other key population centers in the country.7 Furthermore, pursuant to the Black Spring, the mothers, sisters, daughters, and other relatives of those arrested formed the Ladies in White which, to this day, conduct a weekly public procession outside of Santa Rita Catholic Church in Havana demanding the release of their relatives. Other courageous Cubans, such as Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antunez,” who at a young 42 years of age has already served over 17 years as a political prisoner, consistently confront the regime on a daily basis in demand of fundamental freedoms. Antunez, a former sugar-can cutter from the Central province of Santa Clara, was originally sent to prison for standing in a public square and calling for democratic change. While in prison, Antunez founded the Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prisoner’s Movement, dedicated to denounce Cuba’s inhumane prison conditions and promote civic resistance. Beyond being harassed and beaten continuously, Antunez has already been detained eight times since his release. Antunez was also one of the signatories of 2007’s “Unity for Liberty,” which similar to the “Agreement for Democracy” of 1998 set forth fundamental principles for a democratic transition and was signed by all leading members of Cuba’s democratic opposition.8
Increased US and International Assistance Needed - Since 1996, with the passage of Section 109 of the Libertad Act, the United States has been openly assisting human rights activists in Cuba and those seeking a democratic change on the island. The first USAID grant for Cuba was issued under the Clinton Administration. U.S. support for civil society grew significantly beginning in 2004 and, simultaneously, private support from exiles to civil society groups on the island has also grown exponentially. Current U.S. law permits unlimited support by individuals and non-governmental organizations (“NGO’s”) to the independent civil society in Cuba and travel to the island for that purpose.9 Such support is vital to the health of Cuban society and for the prospects for democratic change on the island. Few would dispute that without bottom-to-the-top societal pressure, change is unlikely. The Cuban government quickly made the correlation between the activities of the opposition in Cuba and increased U.S. assistance. We have seen that in closed societies like Cuba, where the State exerts totalitarian control, it is difficult for democracy movements to organize. Therefore, one only needs to look at the relative strength of civil society in Burma or Belarus versus North Korea to understand the significance of outside help.
Democracy Cannot Be Imposed But Supported – The history of the pro-democracy movement in Cuba demonstrates that it is homegrown, rooted in democratic values and worthy of our support. The U.S. is not imposing its will, but rather supporting those that are struggling for freedom. The Cuban people are the protagonists of this struggle; the U.S. and the international community can simply serve supporting roles. There is a long history of support and solidarity for democratic movements, U.S. support for the Solidarity labor movement in Poland during the Cold War being one of the most memorable in recent history. Other countries have their own traditions and growing history of international support fro pro-democracy movements. The Czechs consistently support democrats in Cuba, Burma, and Belarus; Polish support was critical to the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine; the Dutch and the Swedes assisted the Chileans in their democratic struggle against General Agusto Pinochet; and EU countries have been important contributors to strengthening the pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe.10 Most importantly, the models of change in Eastern and Central Europe as well as in other countries, such as South Africa and Chile, all feature a mobilized civil society as the critical ingredient for successful democratic change. In contrast, countries like Russia, China, and Vietnam, which carried out top-down reforms, with relatively weak civil societies, have successfully resisted democratization.
Recently, President Obama signed the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which included $20 million in U.S. assistance for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society. The U.S. should continue to enhance programs focused on traditional and non-traditional sectors of civil society, such as:
- While maintaining support for long standing dissidents and families of political prisoners, programs should more effectively reach out to non-traditional groups like university students, underground artists, unemployed and disaffected youth, Afro-Cubans, independent labor organizations and other socially marginalized groups.
- The U.S. should support programs that facilitate professional training and university studies for Cuban students in former totalitarian countries or countries undergoing democratic transitions.
- A larger proportion of U.S. assistance needs to be channeled directly to civil society for activities on the island that support the rule of law, democratic governance, development, and vocational and professional skills, which are vital for a democratic transition.
II. TechnologY: INFORMATION in support of CIVIL SOCIETY
While the regime and its defenders blame the U.S. for Cuba’s woeful record on providing its citizens Internet access (internet penetration in Cuba is among the lowest in the world), the facts tell a different story. Nothing in U.S. law prohibits Internet connectivity for the Cuban people. The Cuban Democracy Act specifically authorizes transactions related to telecommunication services under specific circumstances.11 In 2002, the Bush Administration licensed a U.S. company to connect Cuba to an existing fiber optics cable in the Atlantic. That authorization remains valid.12 Furthermore, the U.S. has twice offered to license NGOs and faith-based groups to provide Internet ready computers to the Cuban people if the regime ended their Internet restrictions. Internet connectivity is not an obstacle for a minority of regime loyalists, but the overwhelming majority of Cubans are denied access and subject to an information blockade. Just this year, Ramiro Valdes, Cuba’s Minister of Information and Telecommunications, proclaimed, "the wild cult of new technologies can and must be controlled.”13
U.S. policy must go further to support the Cuban people’s right to receive and impart information, such as:
- The U.S. should provide specific licenses for U.S. companies to negotiate Internet and telephone provider agreements with the Cuban authorities, provided that these agreements are at fair market rates and benefit the Cuban people.
- The U.S. should permit those NGOs that form part of the U.S. initiative to support democracy on the island to provide cell phones, satellite telephones and internet equipment, digital video cameras and camcorders, computers and peripherals, mp3 players and similar equipment, to Cuban civil society without the need for a license.
- The technological items permitted in packages from Cuban-Americans to their relatives on the island should be expanded beyond cell phones, which were permitted by the Bush Administration last year, to include other categories of technology.
- The US should provide a general license for US relatives to directly pay for satellite services for their relatives in Cuba.
- The Obama Administration should reinitiate efforts to establish regular mail service with Cuba, which has been continuously rejected by the Cuban authorities.
- The U.S. should consider additional ways to increase information flows to the island, including airborne broadcasts in international waters, as well as support for TV and Radio satellite receivers and subscriptions.
- An independent board should be reconstituted to help enhance the quality of programming for Radio and TV Marti.
- The Administration should take all necessary steps to help achieve third country radio and/or TV broadcasting into hard to reach areas of Cuba, such as the easternmost provinces.
III. HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE TO THE CUBAN PEOPLE
Current law allows the U.S. the flexibility to provide humanitarian support the Cuban people, while seeking to prevent the exploitation of American generosity by the regime’s authorities. The American people are in fact the largest providers of humanitarian aid to the Cuba, and the island’s top supplier of food. In 2007, the American people provided $240.5 million in private humanitarian assistance in the form of gift parcels filled with food and other basic necessities ($179.4 million), non-agricultural humanitarian donations ($20.6 million), and medical donations ($40.5 million). The United States Government also authorized $3.65 billion in sales of agricultural products ($3.621 billion) and sales of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals ($20.6 million).15 The Cuban Democracy Act encourages the donation of humanitarian supplies to the people of Cuba, including medicine, food, and clothing. This is not a recent phenomenon, for almost two decades the U.S. has consistently been the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Cuba by far surpassing the European Union, Canada, or any Latin American country.
Hurricane Assistance - In the aftermath of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, the U.S. made repeated offers of assistance to Cuba. These offers were declined by the Cuban regime. In an unprecedented move, the U.S. even offered to unconditionally provide relief supplies directly to Cuba authorities at a value of up to $6.3 million. These supplies were composed of family emergency shelters and household kits, which could assist up to 48,000 Cubans affected by the hurricanes. The U.S. also offered to fly emergency relief supplies and to send a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), which would have generated millions more in U.S. aid. All offers were similarly rejected and, ultimately, the U.S. used existing Cuba grantees and other relief organizations to channel its assistance.
Humanitarian Activities - Another aspect of U.S. humanitarian assistance to Cuba are the licenses issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”) for a plethora of humanitarian activities by Americans wishing to help the Cuban people, such as including individual and group requests for licenses authorizing transactions such as medical and health-related projects; construction projects intended to benefit legitimately independent civil society groups; projects involving formal or non-formal educational training, including adult literacy and vocational skills; community-based grass roots projects, projects related to agricultural and rural development that promote independent activity; and projects to meet basic human needs. Under current law, Treasury licenses travel for persons supporting humanitarian projects or providing support for the Cuban people, including engaging in activities of recognized human rights organizations or activities related to humanitarian projects that benefit the Cuban populace.16
- The Administration should support current U.S. law, which permits travel for humanitarian projects benefiting the Cuban people, while opposing unilateral changes to the regulations that may allow for tourist travel under the rubric of humanitarian assistance.
- The Administration should consider developing pre-disaster agreements with NGOs and international organizations, currently working in Cuba or likely to work in Cuba, in order to be rapidly prepared for these disasters. While many of these organizations are pressured successfully by the Cuban regime, during disasters, not to accept U.S. aid, preexisting arrangements with international relief agencies, as well as international organizations, might be helpful.
- The U.S. must be cautious that its assistance is not used as a political tool by Cuban authorities to reward regime loyalists and/or punish non-conformists.
IV. Diplomatic Strategy
Cuba’s potential transition to a modern democratic state offers great opportunity for U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere. Cuba has enormous economic potential, and a future government, committed to democratic principles and good governance, could propel it out of its current economic misery and political malaise. That would be good news for both Cuba and the United States, which would benefit from increased trade revenues and a new crop of foreign consumers. Furthermore, the loss of unconditional Cuban support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian network would be a significant blow to his designs and could be an important step in reversing a trend that has seen democracy weakened throughout the region.
High Level Diplomatic Engagement is Essential – Consistent high-level diplomatic engagement by the Administration on Cuba policy matters to our Latin American and European allies. During the 2007 and 2008 U.S./EU Summits, the lack of political and civil rights in Cuba was referred to in the final declaration as an area for mutual cooperation. The last few years, pursuant to the official transfer of power amongst the Castro’s, the U.S. ramped up its diplomacy on Cuba. The effort included the previous President, the Secretary of State, Members of Congress from both parties and others. The focus was initially on the former Eastern and Central European countries and on partnering with NGOs to establish a network of transition experiences to share with Cuba’s pro-democracy movement. U.S. officials, including an Under Secretary of State and the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, traveled to most EU member states and met regularly with their diplomatic representatives in Washington to discuss Cuba policy -- forging a substantive dialogue. Despite some diverging views, particularly with the Spanish government, the overall European and American approaches to supporting political prisoners, civil society, and a democratic transition, share many similar elements.17 Moreover, European civil society has dramatically stepped up its involvement in Cuba and support for its pro-democracy movement. The Obama Administration has a real opportunity to take this diplomacy to the next level and reach out to Latin America and Asia, where previous U.S. efforts have been less successful.
- President Obama and Secretary Clinton should immediately reach out to Central and Eastern European nations, other EU members, and Latin America to discuss a strategy that provides solidarity for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement, while simultaneously pressing for economic and political reforms aimed at encouraging free and fair multiparty elections. EU Common Policy and the U.S./EU Summit Declarations provide a good framework to build upon.
- The U.S. should further encourage governments and NGOs from former communist countries, to develop a “toolbox” of democratic transition experiences they can share with Cuba’s civil society.
- A dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba will not substantively alter conditions for the Cuban people. Instead, the U.S. and the international community must strongly support a potentially transformative dialogue between the Cuban authorities and all sectors of Cuban civil society, including the pro-democracy movement.
- Secretary Clinton should persuade EU Commissioners and other high level EU diplomats to meet with civil society leaders when they travel to the island. Such meetings would provide solidarity and recognition for the pro-democracy movement.
- Secretary Clinton should encourage the Europeans to apply the benchmarks they established for Cuba in their June 2008 Ministerial Meeting.
- The U.S. should encourage Latin America to formulate an approach towards Cuba, which puts some pressure on the regime to open up political space, and, at minimum, free political prisoners.
- The Obama Administration should announce at the upcoming April Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago that the U.S. does not oppose Cuba’s entry into the OAS but that adherence to the principles and practices of the Inter-American Democratic Charter needs to be a pre-requisite for admission.
- The U.S. should encourage the OAS to formulate a plan to assist Cuba in achieving a transition to democracy and coming into full compliance with the Charter.
Historically, USINT has been a difficult post for diplomats to serve in because of the intelligence threat posed by Cuba. However, there are a host of other issues that haves made the situation of U.S. diplomats even worse. Former retired U.S. Ambassador Everett Briggs enumerated examples in a recent Miami Herald Opinion Editorial. These challenges include: the delayed delivery of diplomatic pouches; improper scrutiny of official shipments; unreasonable controls on visits by consular officers to imprisoned U.S. citizens; limits on the number of temporary duty personnel sent from Washington to perform maintenance on USINT equipment; mandatory vetting of all local hires by the Cuban government; and barring USINT personnel from shopping anywhere except at one of Cuba's ''dollar'' stores, where they are required to pay a 250 percent sales tax on consumer items.
Ambassador Briggs notes serious morale issues at USINT as a result of frequent, and often prolonged, denial of water and electric power to the thoroughly ''bugged'' U.S. diplomatic homes, not because of bureaucratic mismanagement, but as a deliberate policy of harassment. Ambassador Briggs notes that even more demoralizing are the occasional home break-ins, sometimes with damage to personal property, that go uninvestigated and unsanctioned. He also cites the complete lack of reciprocity; “…while Cubans violate international diplomatic norms with impunity, back in Washington, the diplomatic immunity of Cuban diplomats is scrupulously respected, and they are afforded all the privileges granted to other foreign representatives.”22 The U.S. should address these issues by:
- Exposing how USINT diplomats and facilities are being treated and demanding an end to all harassment, permission for USINT to conduct its own hiring and purchasing, the elimination of all unwarranted taxes on USINT diplomats, unrestricted access to American citizens, visas for USINT personnel, and the end of interference with U.S. diplomatic facilities, such as the diplomatic pouch.
- Applying reciprocal treatment to CUBINT diplomats and having them enjoy the same rights and restrictions as USINT diplomats.
- Challenging the Cuban regime to lift internal travel restrictions on U.S. diplomats. In return, the US could lift internal travel restrictions on CUBINT diplomats in Washington, D.C.
V. HISTORY OF Economic Isolation
The U.S. currently imposes a myriad of sanctions against totalitarian and proliferating regimes, including Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria. These targeted sanctions have been designed to deny funds to the members and supporters of rogue regimes while reaching out to the people of those societies. Enforcing these sanctions is always challenging, but Cuba -- by far -- poses the most difficulty. Cuba’s geographic proximity to the U.S. provides numerous opportunities and appeal for trade and tourism, while the presence of a large expatriate community provides already provides a flow of people and goods between Cuba and the United States. U.S. policymakers have determined that, in order to have any impact, sanctions against the Cuban regime must be comprehensive. At the same time, the U.S. has sought to reach out to the Cuban people. Note that there are relatively few North Korean expatriates sending remittances back to their home country, and there is not a line of U.S. tourists waiting to travel to Pyongyang. However, Cuba, because of its proximity and well-endowed beaches, certainly is a draw. It is also true that the severity of U.S. sanctions have reflected the historical enmity between the Cuban regime and various U.S. Administrations. After all, the vast nationalization of U.S. business in Cuba in the 1960s, as well as the proximity of a sworn enemy of the U.S., is historically unprecedented.
The foundations of current sanctions towards the Cuban regime are the Trading with the Enemy Act, Cuba Democracy Act, the Libertad Act, and the CAFC recommendations. Most importantly, Sec. 102(h) of the Libertad Act codified all economic sanctions in force against Cuba on March 1, 1996, thereby limiting the President’s authority to ease (restrictions can be tightened) restrictions without the consent of the U.S. Congress.23 The definition of sanctions in the Libertad Act is broad and includes all statutes or regulations relating to trade, travel, and all transactions involving Cuban assets under any provision of law. The sanctions are intended to deny the regime funds that could be used to oppress its own citizens, while at the same time providing opportunities for engagement with the Cuban people. The Libertad Act provides a series of conditions for providing assistance to Cuba, and establishing diplomatic relations with the regime. In response to a massive crackdown, the Black Spring of 2004, the U.S. decided to tighten a series of loopholes in the Cuban Asset Control Regulations. Yet, both former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush have offered to take steps in easing sanctions or seeking Congressional action to ease sanctions if the regime provides for the immediate release of political prisoners and begins taking substantial steps towards democratization.24
Sanctions as Leverage – Sanctions are not merely symbolic, but represent important leverage for the U.S. in its objective to cease the regime’s repression against the Cuban people and encourage the respect for human rights. All sides in the Cuba debate recognize that lifting sanctions could mean billions in additional dollars for the Cuban regime. The U.S. must continue to hold out sanctions and full diplomatic relations as an incentive for democratic change. Both critics and supporters of U.S. policy agree that the Castro brothers will not be enticed to support democracy in Cuba. Sanctions are an important tool for pro-democracy forces in their difficult struggle against totalitarianism. Unilaterally ending sanctions with the Castro brothers in power, and without any democratic reforms, will only embolden other elements of the Cuban regime to pursue the status quo.
Challenge the Regime’s 20% Charge on Remittances - The U.S. should continue to regulate money flow and travel from the Cuban-American expatriate communities. President Obama announced, during his campaign, his intent to lift the 2004 CAFC regulations on Cuban-American travel and remittances. The 2004 measures did not reduce the allowable remittance amount sent to Cuba but rather tightened the scope of those who could receive the funds, and changed the frequency in which the remittances could be sent to the island from monthly to quarterly. Cuban American families can continue to send up to $300 quarterly to their relatives on the island.25 This translates to more than five times the average Cuban monthly salary. Yet, it is the regime that seeks to exploit every penny by taking 20% off the top, through confiscatory legislation aimed at U.S. relatives.26 This doesn’t include the additional 10% exchange fee charged by the regime to convert remitted U.S. dollars into a Convertible Cuban Peso (“CUC”) for purchases at authorized state-owned stores. The total benefit of remittances and travel to Cuba has been estimated to be over $1 billion.
Challenge the Regime to Permit Cubans with Visas to Travel to the U.S - The 2004 CAFC measures limited travel to the island from once a year to once every three years, for Cuban-American travel. Recently, Congress passed an FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations for that prevents the Department of the Treasury from enforcing the 2004 regulations on travel to the island by Cuban-Americans. Cuban-American families deserve to be reunited, but in many cases they are being held hostage by the Cuban authorities, which are fixated on punishing those that have dared to engage in some pro-democracy or human rights advocacy.27 The same humanitarians that support increased Cuban American family travel need to speak up about these cases, which have gone on for far too many years.
Family Travel Should Not Subsidize the Regime - The Administration should clarify family travel regulations to prevent “unlimited” lengths of stay, which only serve to channel U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Cuban regime. Allowing U.S. retirees to, in effect, permanently relocate to Cuba under the guise of family travel, and receive their Supplementary Security Income, as well as other taxpayer funded programs, would undermine all sanctions and allow the regime to directly take 20% of those taxpayer funded checks.
Support Genuine Educational and Cultural Exchanges with the Cuban People - The U.S. should continue to foster genuine educational opportunities that permit substantial contact between Americans and Cubans. Unfortunately, too frequently educational and cultural travel to Cuba has been used as a loophole around sanctions. In fact, almost universally, many of these programs separate U.S. students from their everyday Cuban counterparts and discourage interaction with regular Cubans. Under these circumstances, there is no free flow of ideas and information. The Administration should be cautious in not permitting this category of travel to be abused by opponents of U.S. policy. Before the 2004 CAFC report, educational institutions --whether accredited or not -- engaged in unregulated agreements with travel companies for travel to Cuba.28 University travel was a lucrative business for all parties involved, including the regime, instead of a real educational opportunity. It was simply a way for U.S. tourists to travel to the island.
No Subsidies to the Cuban Regime - The passage of TSREEA in 2000 facilitated agricultural sales to Cuba. However, advocates, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, now seek to promote policies that would allow taxpayer money to be used to subsidize the totalitarian regime. TSREEA essentially provides U.S. farmers with “cash in advance” from the Cuban regime, for sales of agricultural products to the island. The definition of agricultural products is already broad and includes items such as lumber and newsprint.29 The irony is that, unlike European farmers and international banks, Cuba has actually been paying U.S. farmers in hard currency for these purchases. In fact, the regulations against financing these transactions have placed U.S. farmers in a privileged position with respect to others. The Administration should not lift restrictions on private or public financing of these sales. The US is already Cuba’s largest food supplier so any commercial benefit would be relatively minor, while the potential negative consequences would be significant. If cash is not required in advance, there is a substantial risk that the Cuban regime may refuse to pay or become delinquent on their payments. Recent press reports indicate the Cuban regime has defaulted in their debts to commercial partners like Japan, Canada, Spain, and the Paris Club.30 Furthermore, if the Cuban government does not pay, U.S. farmers could deduct these losses, or would likely be compensated through legislation for these losses; in effect, the U.S. Treasury would be underwriting this risk. As the recent economic crisis has proven, if U.S. banks make such loans, U.S. taxpayers would ultimately be responsible. Finally, U.S. loans would likely help the Cuban regime temporarily improve their dismal international credit rating and obtain additional financing to fuel its repressive apparatus.
There is ample evidence to suggest that a democratic Cuba, ninety miles from our shores, would be less likely to engage in activities supporting terrorism31, and would be more inclined to cooperate with the U.S. on security issues. One need only look at the deteriorating security cooperation with Venezuela and Bolivia, and speculate on the type of relationship the U.S. might have with the Cuban authorities, if it decided to unilaterally embrace the current regime. While Cuba may cooperate on specific cases, overall they are likely to continue to be hostile to U.S. security interests, and view most U.S. requests for cooperation with deep suspicion. Cuba has a long track record of being the refuge of last resort for fugitives from U.S. justice accused of committing violent acts to overthrow governments or acts causing death and serious bodily harm. Cuba has not renounced violence and revolution as a tool for social change.
Avoiding Politicization of State Sponsor of Terrorism List – The U.S. must avoid the temptation to use the State Sponsor of Terrorism list as a negotiation chip to engage the Cuban regime in dialogue. The U.S. need not risk the integrity of the terrorism list, and U.S. national security, to placate Cuba. Unfortunately, there is recent precedent to use the list as a means to improve bilateral relations. Case in point is North Korea, where the U.S. ignored evidence that North Korea was helping Syria build a nuclear reactor and proceeded to delist North Korea. In return, the North Korean government promised to continue to engage in negotiations with the U.S. to end their nuclear activities. Yet, North Korean promises remain unfulfilled. Recent moves, including the expected test firing of a missile capable of reaching Hawaii and as well as other threats by Pyongyang, are yet another indication that North Korea remains as belligerent as ever. The delisting of North Korea allowed that regime access to international banks and other resources.
Murdered Americans – A non-negotiable condition for delisting Cuba as a state-sponsor of terrorism must be the resolution of all cases relating to acts of state terrorism against U.S. citizens. This would include the Brothers to the Rescue pilots that Cuba authorities murdered over international waters in 1996. As in the case of Libya, Cuba must be required to admit its culpability and liability for the murders and provide full compensation and restitution to the victims’ families, as well as submit the pilots who pulled the trigger, and others involved in the conspiracy, to face justice.
VII. Migration Policy
Pursuant to the regime-induced exodus of rafters in 1994, the Clinton Administration set current U.S. migration policy towards Cuba. Direct negotiations with Cuban regime officials led to the 1994 Migration Accords (“Accords”) that commit the U.S. to issuing a floor, or quota, of 20,000 visas for Cubans seeking to resettle to the U.S. The Accords calls for Cuba authorities to accept Cubans picked up at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard, and take measures to prevent uncontrolled migration. It commits the Cuban regime to refrain from seeking retribution against individuals fleeing the communist country and to allow USINT to monitor migrant returnees.
As a way of implementing the Accords, the Clinton Administration developed the “wet foot/dry foot policy,” continued by the Bush Administration, which allows the U.S. Coast Guard to return Cubans to the island as long as they do not reach U.S. soil. Those that do not reach land are interviewed on U.S. Coast Guard vessels to determine whether they have a well-founded fear of persecution. All Cubans that step on U.S. soil are permitted to stay. Despite the intense repression on the island, the U.S. Coast Guard interviews yield few individuals that qualify under the well-founded fear standard. Those that are determined to have met the requirement are not admitted into the U.S. but are sent to Guantanamo for further processing and resettlement in third countries - often years after waiting in the refugee camp. Those that make it to U.S. soil can adjust their status, under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, after a year of residing in the U.S. While, arguably, the same conditions that prompted the U.S. Congress to pass the Cuban Adjustment Act exist today, the large increases in Cuban-American travel to the island may undermine the Act’s permanency.
Migration Accords Broken - Years of migration talks between Cuba and the U.S. notwithstanding, the Clinton and George W. Bush Administrations have reported that the Cuban regime has failed to fully honor their commitment under the Accords. For several years, the U.S. Department of State, in its report to Congress on the implementation of the Accords, has concluded that the Cuban regime is in violation in a majority of areas, and has created impediments to the safe, legal, and orderly migration of Cubans to the U.S. Major issues include: (1) Cuban government denial of exit permits to otherwise eligible Cubans approved for resettlement to the U.S.; (2) Cuban government restriction on travel of USINT personnel to monitor the well-being of Cuban migrants returned by the U.S. Coast Guard; (3) the Cuban regime’s refusal to take back criminals ordered removed from the U.S.; and (4) credible reports of retaliation by the Cuban regime against returning migrants and their families.32
- The U.S. should communicate its intention to the Cuban authorities not to fulfill the 20,000-visa quota until such time as the Cuban regime comes into compliance with the Accords.
- Refugee cases and immediate relative petitions should be prioritized over public interest paroles issued under the Cuba Lottery Program.
- U.S. policy should be reviewed to ensure that political refugees petitions are handled in an expeditious and fair manner. The U.S should aim to close all refugee camps in Guantanamo and develop a more credible process to ensure that all migrants picked up at sea or on land get a genuine interview, evaluating their particular circumstances to determine if they have a well- founded fear.
Principal contributor, Joaquin E. Ferrao, Esq., served as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of State from 2005-2009. Mr. Ferrao’s portfolio included representing the U.S. in the Community of Democracies process, and supporting other global democracy and human rights initiatives. Mr. Ferrao is an expert on U.S.-Latin American relations having served both in the Bureau for Western Hemisphere Affairs and as Alternate Representative to the U.S. Mission to the OAS.
1 Sen. Obama Speech, “Renewing U.S. Leadership in the Americas” Miami, FL, May 23, 2008 at http://www.barackobama.com/2008/05/23/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_68.php
3 Carlos Alberto Montaner, “Raul Castro, or the Art of Decapitating Adversaries” Miami Herald, March 11, 2009 at http://www.miamiherald.com/1044/story/944500.html
4 Orlando Gutierrez and Carl Gershman, “Can Cuba Change?: Ferment in Civil Society” Journal of Democracy 20 (Jan. 2009): 39-45.
5 See Celestine Bohlen, “The Pope in Cuba: The Overview: Pope, Openly Challenging Castro, Is Pressing for Release of Prisoners” The New York Times, Jan. 25, 1998 at http://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/25/world/pope-cuba-overview-pope-openly-challenging-castro-pressing-for-release-prisoners.html?sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1
7 Orlando Gutierrez and Carl Gershman, “Can Cuba Change? Ferment in Civil Society” Journal of Democracy 20 (Jan. 2009): 44.
8 See text of the “Agreement for Democracy” at http://www.fiu.edu/~fcf/demoaccord51998.html and text of the statement “Unity for Liberty” at http://www.cubasource.org/pdf/Unidad%20por%20la%20Libertad.pdf
9 See, 31 CFR Sec. 515.574 (2008)
10 See generally, Council for Community of Democracies, A Diplomats Handbook for Democracy Development Support, May 2008 at http://www.diplomatshandbook.org/index.html
11 See 22 USC Sec. 6004 (2007)
12 Ask the White House (Online Forum), Comments by Dan Fisk, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere, National Security Council, May 22, 2008 at http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/ask/20080522.html
13 “Cuban official calls for controlling ‘wild colt of new technologies,” Associated Press, February 12, 2007.
14 See Key Judgments, “Report of Inspection: Office of Cuba Broadcasting” U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General, Rep. No. ISP-IB-07-35, June 2007.
15 “Humanitarian Help for Cubans Following Hurricanes Gustav, Ike U.S. outlines emergency assistance following Hurricane Gustav and Ike” Fact Sheet, U.S. Department of State, Sept. 10, 2008 at http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2008/September/20080910155042xjsnommis0.1012689.html
16 See 31 CFR Sec. 515.575 (2008)
17 See Council Conclusions on Cuba, Council of the European Union, 2881st Agriculture and Fisheries Council, June 23-24, 2008 which call for “…releasing unconditionally all political prisoners, including those who were detained and sentenced in 2003” and for the “Cuban Government to facilitate access of international humanitarian organizations to Cuban prisons.” The Council also called on the “…Cuban government to ratify and implement the recently signed International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and urged again the Cuban Government to make real the commitment to human rights it has demonstrated through the signing of these two human rights covenants.” The conclusions further note the Councils “determination to pursue a dialogue with the Cuban authorities as well as with representatives of civil society and democratic opposition” The Council further “underlined that the EU will continue to offer to all sectors of society practical support towards peaceful change in Cuba. The EU also reiterated its call on the Cuban Government to grant freedom of information and expression including access to the Internet and invited the Cuban Government to cooperate on this matter.”
18 Most notably EU Commissioner Louis Michel, as well as other high profile EU visitors such as the Spanish and Irish Foreign Ministers declined to engage Cuban civil society or the democratic opposition during their visits as called for in the 2008 EU Council Conclusions on Cuba. It is also not clear that the EU has engaged Cuba in efforts to meet the elements or benchmarks set forth in the June 2008 meeting.
19 See Preamble of the Charter of the Organization of American States, as amended, Washington D.C. (1997)
20 See Declaration of Florida: Delivering the Benefits of Democracy, General Assembly of the Organization of American States, AG/DEC. 41 (XXXV-O/05), adopted by consensus, (2005)
21 See 5th paragraph, Declaration of Quebec City, Third Summit of the Americas, April 21-23, 2001; Note that although the Declaration was adopted by consensus the Government of Venezuela did make a reservation to the 6th paragraph affirming that “…democracy should be understood in its broadest sense and not only in its representative quality. We understand that the exercise of democracy encompasses, as well, citizen participation in decision-making and in government management, with a view to the daily formation of a process directed towards the integral development of society.”
22 Everett Elis Briggs, “Cuba must respect U.S. diplomats” Opinion Editorial, The Miami Herald, Dec. 5, 2008.
23 See 22 USC Sec. 6032(h) and See also p. 3 of the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of the Conference, H.R. 927, Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996.
24 See Remarks by President Bush on Cuba, White House, May 20, 2002; The President stated that “If Cuba's government takes all the necessary steps to ensure that the 2003 elections are certifiably free and fair -- certifiably free and fair -- and if Cuba also begins to adopt meaningful market-based reforms, then -- and only then -- I will work with the United States Congress to ease the ban on trade and travel between our two countries.” He also went on to state, “Meaningful reform on Cuba's part will be answered with a meaningful American response. The goal of the United States policy toward Cuba is not a permanent embargo on Cuba's economy. The goal is freedom for Cuba's people.”
25 See changes to Quarterly remittances to nationals of Cuba, F.R. Vol. 69, No. 115, Wednesday, June 16, 2004.
26 Since the implementation of Resolution No. 80 in 2004, and Agreements 13 and 15 in 2005 by Cuba’s Central Bank, remittance receivers in Cuba are charged a 20% “conversion fee” each time they exchange U.S. dollars for Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs). This fee is on top of commissions paid to remittance forwarders. Total fees range from 28.3%-60% of every dollar sent. See Mario A. Gonzalez Corso and Scott Larson, “Survey of Cuban Remittance Forwarding Agencies in the United States: Preliminary Finding”, Cuba in Transition, ASCE 2008 at http://lanic.utexas.edu/project/asce/pdfs/volume18/pdfs/gonzalezcorzolarson.pdf
27 For example in FY 2006, 639 otherwise travel ready Cuban individuals were denied exit permits to migrate to the U.S. even though they were approved for resettlement; from Sept. 2006 to March 2007 another 352 were denied. A recent State Department report to Congress concludes that the Government of Cuba routinely denies exit permits to families of persons it deems defectors, medical professionals, teachers, professors, and youth between 16-25 who have not completed their obligatory military service. See Report to Congress, “Cuban Compliance with the Migration Accords,” transmitted by the Department of State pursuant to Sec. 2245 of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 105-277), March 2007.
28 See, Farah Stockman, “Amherst College group sharpens their ideas during a week in Cuba” The Boston Globe April 13, 2003, p. C21 at http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/cuba/amherst.htm. Note reference to American students “swarming” to Havana by the hundreds on separate spring break trips.
29 “U.S. food sales to Cuba hit new peak in 2007” Reuters, Feb. 15, 2008 at http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN1557515120080216.
30 See “Cuba unable to pay foreign debt”, EFE, September 29, 2008; Mark Frank, “Cuban Creditors and Suppliers Fret Over Payment” Reuters Aug. 27, 2008; See also generally, “Cuba's Mortgaged Future: Castro Regime Foreign Debt, 2007” Cuba Facts, Issue 37, March 2008 at http://ctp.iccas.miami.edu/FACTS_Web/Cuba%20Facts%20Issue%2037%20February.htm.
31 See generally, Joseph Nye Jr., The Paradox of the American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go it Alone (London: Oxford University Press 2002), 147-154.
32 Report to Congress, “Cuban Compliance with the Migration Accords,” transmitted by the Department of State pursuant to Sec. 2245 of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 105-277), March 2007.