<em>Guest Post by Anya Landau French</em>: No Magic Cuba Policy


Anya Landau French joined the Lexington Institute in February 2008 as a Senior Fellow, focusing on U.S.-Cuban affairs.

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With the anti-climactic departure of Fidel Castro from power in Cuba, it appears that the United States plans to hurry up and continue waiting for change in Cuba.
The waiting may soon be over. Today, twenty-four U.S. senators, led by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), wrote to Secretary Rice (for letter click here) — as did 104 members of the House last week–urging a rethink of U.S. policy toward the island of Cuba.
“There is no magic U.S. policy that will transform Cuba,” the senators wrote. “But with Cuba facing a period of change, we have a new opportunity to seize. Our policy based on sanctions, passivity, and waiting should end. We need a new approach that defends human rights, is confident about the value of American engagement with Cubans, builds new economic bridges between America and Cuba, and seeks every possible avenue of increasing American influence.”
While it is highly doubtful that Secretary Rice will have the opportunity to heed their advice in her remaining months in office, Congress may be set to press the issue next year, when there is a new administration to work with.
Majorities in both chambers have repeatedly voted to ease current U.S. restrictions on travel to the island, and have favored facilitating agricultural exports to Cuba. Previously, President Bush strongly opposed any relaxation of U.S. restrictions relating to Cuba, and former Majority Leader Tom Delay was known to make sure any such changes would die in conference.
What might happen next year, when there is a new president and a new Congress?
Most surely, a coalition of largely farm-state Democrats and Republicans will again get behind legislation to ease restrictions on cash transfers and bilateral travel by US exporters and Cuban buyers. But this time, the president might not stand in the way of a one-way export opportunity.
A majority in Congress is also likely to ease new restrictions on Cuban American family travel and remittances to the island, whether by clarifying the 2000 guidelines for categories of allowable travel, or by refusing to fund enforcement against such travel.
While easing family travel restrictions would be considered a humanitarian act, giving preference to one group of travelers would be an untenable position. Lifting the entire (de facto) ban on travel to Cuba remains the swiftest means to extend U.S. influence on the island and preserve all Americans’ rights to travel, but it faces determined–minority–opposition in both chambers of Congress.
Yet, such opposition could be overcome, and the next president may not bother (when there are far more pressing matters in play) to veto less-expansive legislation that categorically allows and encourages people-to-people, humanitarian, academic, religious, family, and agricultural export-related travel to Cuba. All such categories of exchanges are already legal, but President Bush curtailed or ended them altogether four years ago by revising the regulations interpreting the law.
What else might the 111th Congress do? Numerous issues sitting on the back burner deserve prompt attention. Certainly there will be interest in oversight of such matters as human and labor rights advocacy, agricultural trade and other economic issues, US AID grantmaking, drug interdiction, military-to-military contacts, the US designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism and anti-terrorism cooperation, Cuban intelligence operations in the United States, intellectual property and other rights under signed conventions, settlement of U.S. claims against Cuba, return of fugitives from justice in the U.S. and Cuba, Radio and TV Marti quality and viewership, and environment cooperation to prevent damage to the Florida coastline due to oil exploration in Cuban waters.
The foregoing legislative agenda would mark a clear shift in U.S. policy toward increasing U.S. influence–leverage arguably more potent than sanctions–and protecting U.S. interests relative to Cuba. There is no guarantee that conditions in Cuba will improve as a result of a U.S. policy shift. But no matter what policy the U.S. president stakes out, it is not likely that this Congress, or the next, will put much stock in waiting another fifty years to find out.
— Anya Landau French


7 comments on “<em>Guest Post by Anya Landau French</em>: No Magic Cuba Policy

  1. Dennis says:

    Forget the excuse of American government idealogy. It has failed and did so long, long ago.
    What’s really happening here is that economic relations between Cuba and South American countries are heating up to such an extent that America corporations are missing out and they want in on the action.
    You don’t have to be a blind conservative not to see it, just an ignorant one to deny it.


  2. Dallas Taylor says:

    I think the electoral consequences of revisiting the Cuban trade embargo will continue to shrink as more and more of the radical anti-Castroistas continue to die off. From what I understand, the younger generations, born here in the states, are considerably less radical than their single-issue forebears, who, like Fidel, are getting on in years and won’t continue to pack the electoral punch they have for the last half-century for much longer. Which is probably a good thing, since America’s policy towards Cuba is, on the merits, an abject failure by any metric that counts. I fear it might take a few more years for enough of them to pass into the great beyond that it’d cost somebody the state of Florida to suggest that maybe we ought to calm the fuck down and maybe let people go see their families or chill out on the beach there for a week, but I think that, like racism, sexism, and homophobia, kneejerk anti-Cubanism is a meme that finds less and less purchase as time passes and newer generations come to prominence.
    I sure hope so, anyway.


  3. Dallas Taylor says:

    I think the electoral consequences of revisiting and relaxing the trade embargo with Cuba are shrinking, largely due to the passage of time and the inevitable dying-off of the fierce anti-Castro partisans in the Miami-Dade metro area. It’ll probably be another few years before their electoral impact is sufficiently diminished to do anything of substance, but I think the younger generations of Cuban-Americans are less likely to take such a hard line or be such single-issue voters.
    It’s been obvious for a long time now that, on the merits, the American policy towards Cuba is an abject failure, by any metric that counts. One can only hope that in the near future the policy and humanitarian benefits that would come from a warming of relations will finally begin to outweigh the kneejerk reaction against engagement that seems to have ingrained itself in the American political psyche over the last half-century.


  4. Mr.Murder says:

    You’d have to wait until an off year, before a two year mark. Negate the immediate impact whenver possible.
    The oil coming to market from normalization with Cuba and Venezuela could keep America well ahead of world markets on a leverage basis. Enough so to legitmately ease our own subsidies for certain trade items with Cuba and gain greater leverage vs. trade agreements in the futre.


  5. bellgong says:

    Warming Cuba relations means losing Florida in an election. Who wants to do that? Virtually all areas of policy and governance are held hostage to one or another group of motivated voters. Those policymakers who wish to advance debate in areas with difficult electoral implications, those sincere enough to do so despite the consequences, pay them. The noise on the other side of issues like this has got to be so loud as to force politicians to leave off the long drift sideways and act with conscience for better or worse. This is a long effort, it does not end in november this year, or ever. For this and many issues, either everyone governs – through direct citizen lobbying, and motivated voting left right and center – or no one does. That’s the nature of democracy.
    1 in 99 americans are incarcerated. Anyone want to communicate with their elected officials about it, or vote against a politician too ‘hard’ on crime? If no, why not?
    Maybe the dems can do some good work in the upcoming few years, with enough anti-Bush sentiment behind them that they can act in good faith instead of the instict for self preservation. Of course the party has drifted so far to the right, they might not recognize the issues anymore.. Anyone want to remind them?


  6. Ajaz Haque says:

    Cuba signed two accords today on Human Rights. I guess this is the beginning and it needs to be encouraged.


  7. Ajaz Haque says:

    The sanctions and blockade of Cuba for 50 years has clearly not worked. It is time to take a different approach and start easing restrictions on travel and trade so Cubans open up to dialogue for individual freedoms and more.
    Canada and many European countries have trade and tourism relations with Cuba and that has helped sutain Cubans as well as raise their standards of living. Cuba now boats some stae-of-the-art tourist resorts along its beaches – a far cry from the old buildings and cars of Havana often shown on US TV.


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