MESSAGE TO OBAMA: PRIORITIZE DEMOCRATIC CHANGE IN CUBA, DO NOT BAILOUT ITS BANKRUPT REGIME
New Report Urges Administration to Adopt a “Bottom-to-Top” Approach To Cuba Policy
Washington, D.C. — As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interests seek ties to Cuba’s regime, the Obama Administration should focus on pursuing a “bottom-to-top” approach towards Cuba policy, emphasizing support for the island’s pro-democracy movement and civil society.
“From Eastern Europe to South Africa, all successful transitions to democracy have resulted from ‘bottom-to-top’ change. In fact, even within established democracies, ‘bottom-to-top’ change has been positively embraced by electorates,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, Executive Director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, Corp.
The new report released by Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, Corp., which includes a summary compilation of “Do’s and Don’ts of U.S. Policy Towards Cuba,” highlights the tools available under current U.S. law for the support of Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society, ranging from the use of technology to humanitarian relief. It stands in contrast to reports issued last month by U.S. Senator Richard Lugar’s (R-IN) Latin America Staff Member and the Brookings Institution, which favor a “top-down” approach of unilateral engagement with the Cuban dictatorship.
The report also comes on the heels of the recent purging by Fidel and Raul Castro of 10 senior officials and Cabinet Ministers, including some popularly considered to have been “reformers” by foreign governments and policy observers, and stresses the importance of not relying on Raul Castro and his regime as being pragmatic reformers.
“In places where the U.S. has bet on “top-down” change, such as the former Soviet Union, Vietnam and China, the result has been a new breed of authoritarianism and continued repression. Our friends, families and neighbors 90-miles away deserve better,” added Claver-Carone.
Last February, Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, Corp., commissioned a poll by McLaughlin and Associates, which found that amongst Cuban-Americans, 72% support the continuation of the current U.S. trade embargo and 69% support the prohibition of tourist travel to the island.
Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, Corp. is a Washington, D.C.-based independent, non-partisan institution dedicated to the promotion of a transition in Cuba towards democracy, the respect for human rights, and the rule of law.
The most successful transitions to democracy in modern history have been the result of bottom-to-top change. Democratic transitions from Eastern Europe to South Africa, where grassroots movements were grounded on international recognition and support, stand in stark contrast to many of those in the former Soviet Union, where a top-down approach simply resulted in a new version of authoritarianism and repression. U.S. support for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement -- a bottom-to-top approach -- is critical to exerting the type of pressure that can bring about genuine democratic change. The recent leadership purge by Raul and Fidel Castro, which politically decapitated former Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque is yet another reminder of the unlikelihood of a succession of power to a new generation within the current regime. Foreign leaders and policy observers had believed the aforementioned would be capable of initiating slow but controlled changes within the regime. Reminiscent of Soviet Stalinism, the Castro brothers’ latest action demonstrates that the regime is incapable of transforming itself.
2. DO Maintain Human Rights & Democracy as the Cornerstone of U.S. Policy
U.S. policy towards Cuba should remain focused on supporting the Cuban people in their struggle for fundamental freedoms and democratic change. It’s imperative for U.S. policymakers and diplomats to stress the unconditional release of all Cuban political prisoners; the recognition and respect for the human, civil and political rights of the Cuban people; and the development of a pathway towards internationally supervised free and democratic elections.
3. DON’T Bet on Raul Castro Being the Pragmatic Reformer
Despite overwhelming expectations, Raul Castro’s first year as Cuba’s official leader, and previous two years as “de facto” leader, demonstrate a stubborn unwillingness to undertake any significant steps towards political and economic liberalization.
4. DO Support the Inter-American Democratic Charter as a Roadmap
At the upcoming 5th Summit of the Americas (“Summit”) and thereafter, U.S. diplomatic initiatives should focus on the need to ensure that Cuba commits to and adheres to the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter (“Charter”), which highlights the region’s commitment to representative democracy and was signed in 2001 by 34 out of the 35 nations in the Western Hemisphere. President Obama and U.S. allies in the region should seek a consensus at the Summit and at the Organization of American States (“OAS”) firmly establishing the Charter as the roadmap for Cuba’s official reintegration into the inter-American system. The OAS and the Summit process should develop a strategic plan to assist Cuba in this process.
5. DO Support a Transformative Dialogue Amongst Cubans
The Administration should focus its support on a potentially transformative dialogue between the Cuban authorities and all sectors of Cuban civil society, including the island’s pro-democracy movement. Unfortunately, dialogue focused on the U.S. and Cuban governments will not alter conditions on the ground for the Cuban people
6. DO Increase Support for Cuba’s Pro-Democracy Movement & Civil Society
Since the 1990s, Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society has grown exponentially and demonstrated tremendous resiliency. In closed societies, where the State exercises all political, economic and social control, from employment to information, it is extremely difficult for civil society to communicate amongst itself, much less organize. Simply compare the relative strength of civil societies in Burma or Belarus to those in North Korea in order to understand the significance of international support. For Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society to have the tools necessary to effectively make its case to the Cuban people, increased assistance, support and solidarity from the U.S. and the international community is necessary. The U.S. should particularly work in conjunction with the governments and non-governmental organizations (“NGO’s”) of former communist countries in Eastern Europe to develop a “toolbox” of democratic transition experiences that they can share with Cuba’s pro-democracy leaders.
7. DO Encourage the Use of Technology
The U.S. has been an advocate for global internet freedom. Nothing in current U.S. law prohibits transactions intended to provide internet connectivity to the Cuban people. The Administration should use the existing authority to issue specific licenses to U.S. carriers wishing to provide service to Cuba, as long as a fair market price is negotiated and the transaction benefits the Cuban people. Moreover, the Administration should eliminate license requirements for NGOs working to provide everyday technology, such as cell phones, DVDs, camcorders, computers, flash drives and printers, to support civil society. The Administration should also provide a general license for U.S. relatives of Cuban nationals to pay for the internet and satellite services of their family in Cuba, as well as to send them applicable technological equipment.
8. DO Diplomatically Engage the International Community
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should immediately reach out to Central and Eastern European nations, other EU Members, and Latin American allies to discuss a strategy that promotes solidarity for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society, while simultaneously pressing for economic and political reforms that pursue a pathway towards democratic change. EU Common Policy and the U.S./EU Summit Declarations provide a good framework to build upon.
9. DO Use Sanctions as Leverage for Change
Sanctions are an important tool of leverage for democratic change, particularly in a post-Castro era. In the interim, sanctions have the effect of denying funds to the Cuban regime’s repressive apparatus, which it would otherwise use to exert further economic and political control over the Cuban people.
10. DO Challenge the Regime to Repeal 20% Charge on Remittances
The Administration should challenge the regime to stop exploiting Cuban families and repeal Cuban laws that confiscate 20% of every dollar a U.S. relative sends to the island. Ending this profiteering would yield genuine practical effects on how much assistance Cuban families effectively receive. Cuban families already have to convert their U.S. dollars to a Cuban Convertible Peso (“CUC”), at which time the Cuban regime charges a 10% exchange fee. Therefore, the Cuban authorities immediately take 30% of every U.S. dollar that enters the island.
11. DON’T Allow Unlimited Remittances to Foment Segregation and Disparities
Unlimited remittances to the island risks dividing Cuba's democratic opposition, pitting Cubans with relatives in the United States against Cubans with no relatives living abroad. Many early exiles living in the United States today are white and have prospered. Much of Cuba's population today and many of the courageous leaders of the democratic opposition to the Cuban regime are of African or mixed-race descent; and they do not have relatives in the United States. Even with the current monetary limitations of $300 per quarter, white Cubans receive up to 250 percent more in remittances from family abroad than their Afro-Cuban compatriots. Growing income disparities may in turn become a stumbling block upon future efforts for “national reconciliation” amongst all Cubans, regardless of race, whether they remained on the island or in exile abroad.
12. DON’T Allow Unlimited Cuban-American Travel to Subsidize the Regime
The Administration should clarify family travel regulations to prevent “unlimited” lengths of stay, which only risks channeling 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 would undermine all sanctions and allow the regime to directly take 20% of those taxpayer funded checks.
13. DO Support Greater Flows of Information to Cuba
While the Berman Amendment exempts informational material from the scope of U.S. sanctions, the Cuban regime insists on its absolute control over information. Cuba continues to rebuff U.S. efforts to establish regular postal mail service between the two nations. The Administration should reinitiate efforts to establish regular mail service with Cuba. The U.S. should also consider other ways to increase the flow of information to the island, such as airborne broadcasts in international waters and support for TV and radio satellite receivers and subscriptions. An independent Board on Cuba Broadcasting should be overhauled and reinvigorated to enhance the quality of programming for Radio and TV Marti. Furthermore, the Administration should take all necessary steps to help achieve third country broadcasting into the more extreme and isolated parts of Cuba.
14. DO Support Direct Humanitarian Assistance to the Cuban People
The U.S. is currently the largest provider of humanitarian aid to the island and its principal food supplier. Last year, the U.S. even offered more than $6 million in unconditional disaster relief directly to the Cuban regime after the devastating effects on Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, and offered to send a Disaster Assessment Relief Team that would have ultimately generate millions more in U.S. assistance. The rejection of this offer demonstrated the regime’s complete disregard for the well being of the Cuban people and the need to find creative ways to channel support through NGOs and private relief groups. The U.S. must be careful that any humanitarian assistance is not used as a political tool to reward regime loyalists and/or punish non-conformists.
15. DON’T Allow Exploitation of Educational, Religious, & Humanitarian Travel
The U.S. should support travel to the island for educational and humanitarian purposes that genuinely forge substantial contact between U.S. and Cuban citizens. Unfortunately, educational, religious, and humanitarian travel to the island is all-too-often used as a guise for tourist travel. Principled travel should not become a loophole to circumvent sanctions.
16. DO Support Programs Facilitating Training and University Studies Abroad
The U.S. should support discrete programs that facilitate professional training and university studies abroad for Cuban students. The U.S. should support efforts by formerly totalitarian countries and those undergoing democratic transitions to attract Cuban students to their university programs.
17. DO Support Reciprocal Diplomatic Measures Affecting USINT
U.S. Interests Section (“USINT”) diplomats in Havana should enjoy the same rights and restrictions as Cuban Interests Section diplomats in Washington, D.C. The U.S. should challenge the regime to allow U.S. diplomats in Cuba to travel freely within the island, interact with Cuban citizens, conduct their own hiring of USINT personnel and purchasing, and end all interference with USINT facilities, including the diplomatic pouch.
18. DON’T Allow U.S. Taxpayers to Subsidize the Regime
The Administration should reject attempts to alter regulations governing agricultural purchases, the “cash-in-advance” rules, which would have the effect of indirectly financing Cuban government purchases. Similarly, allowing private credit for the bankrupt Cuban regime would place U.S. taxpayers in the position of bailout agent for U.S. banks and agricultural when the Cuban government defaults on its commitments, as it consistently has with all other international debtors.
19. DON’T Politicize the State-Sponsors of Terrorism List
The Bush Administration’s failed negotiations with North Korea demonstrate the folly of using the state-sponsor of terrorism list as a negotiation tool to improve relations with rogue nations. Instead, Cuba should be required to take the actions necessary to be removed from the list, such as resolving all acts of state terrorism against American citizens and returning all of the fugitives from U.S. justice it is harboring. Furthermore, before any delisting of Cuba is contemplated, the Cuban regime must make full restitution and compensation to the families of the victims of the shot-down Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996, which resulted in the murder of three American citizens over international waters.
20. DO Consider Revising U.S. Migration Policy
U.S. migration policy towards Cuba, including wet foot/dry foot, should be reviewed to ensure that political refugees are treated properly and that family reunification is prioritized. Under the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans picked up at sea and found to have a well-founded fear of persecution are sent to Guantanamo Bay for years-on-end until a third country decides accept them. Ultimately, 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. Cubans that reach U.S. soil are permitted to stay in the U.S. and adjust their legal status pursuant to the Cuban Adjustment Act (“CAA”). Although the reasons that led Congress in 1966 to pass CAA have not fundamentally changed, sharp increases in Cuban American travel to the island will raise questions concerning the Act’s continued viability. With respect to the 1994 Migration Accords (“Accords”) negotiated by Clinton Administration, the Cuban regime has failed to fully implement their commitments. The regime continues to persecute Cuban citizens that attempt to flee the island; they deny USINT personnel access to migrants after repatriation; and they fail to issue exit permits for Cuban citizens that have been given visas by USINT to migrate to the U.S. The U.S. should express its intention to withhold its commitment to issue 20,000 yearly visas until the Cuban regime complies with the Accords.