Monday, November 24, 2008

"Re-Thinking" US Policy Towards Cuba

The Brookings Institution today is releasing a new report and recommendations for US policy towards Latin-America, including Cuba. The report is titled "Re-Thinking US-Latin American Relations: A Hemispheric Partnership for a Turbulent World."

Yesterday, the Miami Herald printed an op-ed by the Co-Chairs of the report, Ernesto Zedillo and Thomas Pickering, giving readers an exciting summary of the report's recommendations, especially concerning US policy towards Cuba. Today's New York Times (by Mark Landler) adds to the excitement by giving reader's additional details on the recommendations concerning Cuba policy.

According to the op-ed by Zedillo and Pickering:

"U.S.-Cuba relations is an area where urgent reform is needed... we recommend reorienting U.S. policy toward greater economic, cultural and technological engagement with the island. These policies are meant to empower the Cuban people to bring about political change from within and on their own terms. We call for an end to restrictions on travel, remittances and communications, as well as for measures to reengage Cuba in international bodies."

Landler of the New York Times writes:

"Among the most striking recommendations is a near-total reversal in policy toward Cuba. The report advocates lifting all restrictions on travel by Americans, promoting more contacts with Cuban diplomats and taking Cuba off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism."

(The Center for International Policy has been a strong opponent against Cuba being on the US list of state-sponsors of terrorism. Read their reports on the subject here.)

Concerning US policy towards Cuba, the Brookings report is looking to be very exciting. Once it is available online, I will post the recommendations here. (The Brookings report was compiled by members of the Partnership for the Americas Commission.)

It should also be noted that earlier this year the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) also published their own policy recommendations for US-Latin America relations, including Cuba. This report, titled "US-Latin America Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality," made similar recommendations for "reformulating [US] diplomatic efforts" with Cuba. In it they argued that...

"The time is ripe to show the Cuban people, especially the younger generations, that an alternative exists to permanent hostility between these two nations and that the United States can play a positive role in Cuba’s future."

The CFR report recommended:

- Permit freer travel to and facilitate trade with Cuba. The White House should repeal the 2004 restrictions placed on Cuban-American family travel and remittances.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

Both the CFR and Brookings recommendations may have a stronger policy impact in the new Obama Administration. (The Bush Administration has made it clear that it shall not make any changes to its US-Cuba policy.) Also, these new recommendations coincide more with the attitudes of the internal oppposition movement in Cuba, as I have posted about before.

Let's hope the new adminstration will listen.