Council on Foreign Relations Group Calls For END to Cuba Embargo


cuban face.jpg
The Council on Foreign Relations has just released a zinger report on Latin America. It’s just fantastic, and I have to admit that I rarely find myself doing jumping jacks and running around my block in Dupont Circle in Washington after reading a CFR Task Force report. But I am.
I think that the 96-page document is stacked full of sensible thinking and proposals that on each and every page fundamentally reject the kind of self-destructive pugnacious nationalism that former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms and his chief acolyte John Bolton have helped institutionalize.
It’s just so good. The report is titled U.S.-Latin America Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality and can be downloaded as a pdf here.
I fear that CFR President and former Bush Administration senior foreign policy official Richard Haass is going to be really uncomfortable with the effusive enthusiasm that I have for the strategic intelligence of this Task Force’s work, but this is the kind of thinking we need across the entire geostrategic map — particularly on the Middle East.
The Cuba proposals are a case in point — and in the words of one person close to the effort, the group decided to go for “the full Monty” in advocating a complete break with current, failed embargo policy of the U.S.
The Task Force chaired by former Clinton Administration US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and former four-star Army General James T. Hill endorsed the following changes to US-Cuba policy:

1. Permit freer travel to and facilitate trade with Cuba. The White House should repeal the 2004 restrictions placed on Cuban-American family travel and
2. Reinstate and liberalize the thirteen categories of licensed people-to-people “purposeful travel” for other Americans, instituted by the Clinton administration in preparation for the 1998 Papal Visit to Havana.
3. Hold talks on issues of mutual concern to both parties, such as migration, human smuggling, drug trafficking, public health, the future of the Guantanamo naval base, and on environmentally sustainable resource management, especially as Cuba, with a number of foreign oil companies, begins deep water exploration for potentially significant reserves.
4. Work more effectively with partners in the western hemisphere and in Europe to press Cuba on its human rights record and for more democratic reform.
5. Mindful of the last one hundred years of U.S.-Cuba relations, assure Cubans on the island that the United States will pursue a respectful arm’s-length relationship with a democratic Cuba.
6. Repeal the 1996 Helms-Burton law, which removed most of the executive branch’s authority to eliminate economic sanctions. While moving to repeal the law, the U.S. Congress should pass legislative measures, as it has with agricultural sales, designed to liberalize trade with and travel to Cuba, while supporting opportunities to strengthen democratic institutions there.

This report throughout impresses me — and I am only bummed that I wasn’t a member of this particular CFR group, as others I have participated in haven’t come anywhere near the clarity and potential impact of this.
Something is changing in Washington, and it could be for the better. One just doesn’t see papers of this sort too frequently emanating from institutions populated by many who know that they may face Senate confirmation hearings in the future.
The membership roster of the CFR Study Group on Latin America included former US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and General James T. Hill as mentioned but also Inter-American Dialogue President Peter Hakim, futurist and strategist (and New America Foundation board member) Francis Fukuyama, National Security Network czar Rand Beers, AOL founder James Kimsey, former Republican Congressman and German Marshall Fund Senior Fellow Jim Kolbe, author and strategist David Rothkopf, Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Julia Sweig, among others. Special kudos to Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Shannon O’Neil who directed the independent task force.
— Steve Clemons


17 comments on “Council on Foreign Relations Group Calls For END to Cuba Embargo

  1. TokyoTom says:

    Steve, thanks for posting this excellent news!
    While expect Obama and McCain to pander to Cuban-American votes in Florida, this paves the way for either to make real change after the election.
    As for the report itself, I must say that it is disappointing that while pointing to the high costs to Latin American society in terms of death, violence, corruption and ineffective governance that the drug war leads to, it made no suggestions whatsoever in terms of scaling back the war on drugs or legalization. The “war on drugs” has become one of those self-perpetuating policies that benefits only those who wage the war.


  2. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    To me, the question about US policy towards Cuba or its policy tpwards Iran, either way, should no be an endorsement of the US- perceieved old norms of neoutilitarianism.


  3. Mr.Murder says:

    Until we can talk and engage our neighbors, how can we expect different results out of the hemisphere?


  4. David says:

    The CFR is a bellweather. Something significant has changed, not least the fact that the US has lost much of its clout in the rest of the Americas. Apparently some influential people have decided we can no longer get away with bullying people the way we have in the past, especially in our “sphere of influence,” which Monroe defined as the New World, and which the neocons have attempted, unsuccessfully, to define as the entire planet, to be influenced through force of arms rather than force of stature.
    Who fares better in the long run, the person who twists your arm or the person who shakes your hand? And who ultimately has more influence on you, the person you fear or the person you respect?


  5. Eli Stephens says:

    “and in the words of one person close to the effort, the group decided to go for “the full Monty” in advocating a complete break with current, failed embargo policy of the U.S.”
    A “complete break”? Wouldn’t a COMPLETE break allow ALL Americans to travel freely to Cuba, instead of only those belonging to “thirteen categories of licensed people-to-people “purposeful travel””?
    Wouldn’t a “complete break” advocate not just the elimination of Helms-Burton, but of all limitations on trade with Cuba by foreign countries and by the United States itself?


  6. Eli Stephens says:

    It will be very interesting to see if Senator Obama continues to support the type of logical proposals advocated by the CFR on Cuba.
    Why do you say “continues to support”? Senator Obama has by no means supported such proposals; the entire extent of his “support for logical proposals” extends to lightening restrictions on Cuban-Americans and no one else. In doing so he explicitly endorses the continuation of the “two types of Americans” policy – “first-class Americans”, that is, Cuban-Americans, who are allowed to travel to Cuba, and the rest of us second-class Americans, who aren’t.


  7. Andrew says:

    Dear Steve -and commentators,
    Thx for your post. I do have 2 questions though:
    1) How much weight do you think such a report will cary / what (in terms of domestic US political forces) would be needed for change to occur???
    2) It’s historically been that Latin America was the US’ backyard. Though I’m far from advocating a return to such an approach, it seems to me the US has been radically underestimating the region’s approach (diplomatically in particular). I’ve read/heard somewhere (not a great source is it) that State resources dedicated to the region are UNBELIEVABLY low. At what level would you estimate these resources?
    Thx in advance for your answers.
    I’d also be happy to have you as readers of my blog: WhatYouMustRead:


  8. Steve Hunt says:

    Thanks so much for posting.


  9. RonDumsfeld says:

    “…a fruitless and impotent policy?”
    No, the 50 years of embargoes haven’t had enough time to work. Victory is at hand. We just need to give them a few more decades; otherwise, it would be a disservice to the decades that have given their lives. We can’t cut and run now.
    (the preceding included elements of sarcasm)


  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “This CFR report signals a fundamental change. Also, Latin America is vital to our national interest template and we rarely hear about the region”
    Thats true, Steve. However, there has been sufficient coverage to enable me to determine that Chavez has a tremendously acute sense of smell.


  11. Steve Clemons says:

    Tony — I could agree with you more. This CFR report signals a fundamental change. Also, Latin America is vital to our national interest template and we rarely hear about the region.
    You and I are not always pulling the same direction, some divergence on my part. But one of the issues I keep challenging myself with is how can the US re-establish itself as a serious, engaged, globally positive force — and to do that will require some telegraphing of a change in approach.
    US-Cuba policy directly and Latin America more broadly are a key way to do this if we get a change in approach in the White House, which I hope the Obama team can bring.
    Thanks for your comments here and at TPMCafe.
    — steve


  12. WigWag says:

    TonyForesta, I agree with you that polls are far from perfect and that in this hostile environment for Republicans, things could easily change between now and November. I am just curious how you think Senator Obama can garner the 270 electoral votes he needs to win without Florida.
    One possibility would be for him to win Ohio and Pennsylvania, but given his performance in the primaries in those two states, I wouldn’t count on that. Another possibility would be to win Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Obama supporters may think thats doable, but given recent electoral history, it seems like a dubious propostion to me. Winning Florida and it’s treasure trove of electoral votes would be a huge boon to Senator Obama. I doubt that a candidate who opposes Helms-Burton can win Florida. Are you saying that you believe a candidate who won’t take a hard line on Cuba can win in Florida, or are you saying winning Florida doesn’t matter that much?


  13. Mr.Murder says:

    Helms-Burton, no reason to let the domestic tobacco growers oppose trade with a potential oil sharing source in the Gulf offshore regions.


  14. Mr.Murder says:

    US Defense Secretary urges more private US contacts with Iran The same should be said for Cuba. You could merge the themse of both these top two threads, Steve.


  15. TonyForesta says:

    Notsofast WigWag. First I challenge your logic and your polls. Polls are inherently manipulative, and deceptive.
    McCain is flip flop flip flop flipping on Iraq now. Democrats are voting two to one against republicans in the primaries, so we divide on how important FL and the antiCuba klans will be in the contest for the presidency.
    The CFR is the insiders insider group within hollowed halls of policy makers and “deciders” in the government. When insiderinsiders make a public statement reversing a fruitless and impotent policy, – it is a clear sign that the tide has changed, the worm has turned, and changes are inevitably on the horizon.
    The American people will look past the anti-Cuban klans in FL and support Obama, and the CFR in working towards ending the ridiculous, fruitless, impotent, failing, and misdirected abuses of America’s former Cuban policy, – and in the end America, and Americans, not too mention Cubans will benefit from the long overdue, and necessary CHANGE.


  16. WigWag says:

    It will be very interesting to see if Senator Obama continues to support the type of logical proposals advocated by the CFR on Cuba. He can continue to advocate a progressive, intelligent position on Cuba or he can win Florida in the Fall; those are his only two choices.
    Steve likes to point out that many Cuban Americans (perhaps even a majority) oppose the embargo. He may be right, but the Cuban Americans who feel this way aren’t single issue voters who will base their vote on that position alone. Cuban Americans who support the current policy on Cuba almost certainly won’t vote for a candidate who supports the policies recommended by CFR.
    Florida could easily be decided by 100 thousand votes or less. The candidate who loses Florida will probably lose the election. According to almost every recent poll, Senator Obama is already behind Senator McCain in almost every other swing state (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Missouri, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Nevada, Virginia; Obama is ahead in Iowa and Colorado).
    So he has a Hobson’s choice; do the right thing on Cuba or blow any chance at all of actually being elected. I guess we’ll know soon what he decides.


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