Changes in Cuba warrant U.S. policy responses

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Significant changes being implemented by the Cuban government to permanently alter the island’s economy have so far fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

A new report by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, Cuba’s New Resolve: Economic Reform and its Implications for U.S. Policy, identifies a number of measures the Obama administration should take to support and facilitate the economic reform process in Cuba. According to the report, Cuba is undergoing the most significant changes to its socialist system since the 1959 Revolution. Despite moves to increase the private sector, decentralize decision-making, increase autonomy for farmers and “a fundamental shift in economic thinking,” the Obama administration has downplayed the reforms as insufficient.

 The report concludes with specific recommendations for U.S. policymakers, including:

•    Acknowledge the reform process is real; it is opening a greater role for the market, but also likely to bring hardships on the Cuban people.  They should not allow skepticism to play into the hands of Cuban hardliners who oppose reform and rapprochement with the U.S.
•    Continue loosening restrictions on travel to Cuba to create additional demand for services and goods produced by the emerging private sector.
•    Provide greater clarity and detail for new rules allowing any U.S. citizen to send remittances to qualified recipients to boost the flow of funds especially to vulnerable Cubans who lack family supporters abroad.
•    Allow independent farms to export agriculture products to the U.S. and allow U.S. entities to contract with Cuban musicians, scholars, and artists for their work.
•    End the counterproductive and dangerous USAID program, which further toxifies the bilateral relationship and reduces space for economic and political debate on the island.
•    Remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism to eliminate baseless economic sanctions and expand Cuba’s access to technology.

This week the Brookings Institution is set to launch a new report, Reaching Out: Cuba’s New Economy and the International Response, written by Dr. Richard Feinberg. Feinberg, senior advisor at the White House during the Clinton administration, recently conducted an in-depth analysis of Cuba’s efforts over the last two decades to diversify its economic relations with states like Spain and Canada and more recently with emerging market powers like China, Brazil and Venezuela. Despite increasing ties to the international community, Cuba remains absent from the core international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the IMF and World Bank, Feinberg notes. His report identifies a gradual, step-by-step approach for rapprochement between the IFIs and Cuba, which would require U.S. support.

This Friday, November 18th the Latin America Initiative at Brookings will host the release of the new study. Feinberg will comment on recent Cuban economic reforms and offer recommendations for how the international development community, including the United States, should respond. Individuals in Washington, DC interested in attending the event can RSVP here.

Both studies identify the depth and scope of the changes occurring in Cuba and the way our allies and adversaries are engaging, both to stimulate further changes and to promote their own national interests. Unfortunately, with a presidential election looming and partisan politics high, the Obama administration has chosen to meet reforms in Cuba with skepticism and continue a failed strategy of isolation. Let’s hope policymakers in Washington will read these two reports and think hard about crafting a more adequate response to the transformation occurring in Cuba.