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House of Representatives Cuba Working Group: Principles for a Sound Cuba Policy

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The House Cuba Working Group Issues a Statement: What a Positive U.S. Cuba Policy Would Look Like

As the Administration’s Commission on Assistance to a Free Cuba prepares to issue a second report, and as founding members of the House Cuba Working Group, we offer a statement of principles for policies to serve American interests and values.
The embargo is a spent force, at odds with America’s strategic and diplomatic interests and our nation’s values.

Any hope that an ever-tightening American embargo could force political change has been wiped away by Cuba’s successful economic adjustment to the post-Soviet world. Cuba is not prosperous, but economic relations with Asia and Latin America, remittances from Cubans abroad, and development of the tourism, minerals, and energy industries have restored growth and ended the crisis of the early 1990’s.

By barring a free flow of people, commerce, and ideas, the embargo blocks contacts that would expand American influence in Cuba, including among those Cubans who will set their nation’s course after Castro leaves the scene.

The embargo is the precise opposite of the principled policies that we and the Western democracies pursued toward the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe through the Helsinki accords and other measures.

By deviating from those principles of engagement in the case of Cuba, even as we uphold them with regard to China and Vietnam, our policy blocks an international consensus on Cuba policy and mires the United States in a perpetual quarrel with countries with which we should be cooperating.

U.S. policy toward Cuba should uphold American humanitarian values.

Congress and the Administration are right to stand up for human rights in Cuba and to defend victims of human rights abuses. However, opposition to the Cuban government’s conduct should not lead to policies that hurt the Cuban people.

The new sanctions that limit or eliminate the ability of Cuban Americans to visit or assist their loved ones in Cuba are the first U.S. economic sanctions that directly target the well-being of families.

It serves no purpose in our foreign policy to send Cubans the message that reduced contact and fewer acts of charity among Cuban families will help solve their country’s political problems.

These measures place our values in question and have no strategic consequence. The Administration estimates that the new sanctions block the flow of $500 million annually in an economy that is growing, by Administration estimates, at a rate of 5.5 percent, or $2 billion per year.

American policy should heed Cuban history and respect Cuban sovereignty.

Just because Fidel Castro invokes the causes of Cuban sovereignty and nationalism does not mean that these values are not dearly held by the Cuban people. Indeed, they are deeply rooted in the island’s history, where the struggles for freedom from domestic oppression and foreign domination have been closely linked.

By declaring that “there will not be a succession” after Castro, naming a “Cuba transition coordinator” in the State Department, and issuing a detailed transition plan for nearly every aspect of Cuba’s public affairs, the Administration has led many Cubans to believe that it wants to design Cuba’s future. Cuba’s Catholic bishops stated that the Administration’s 2004 report “threatens” the Cuban nation, and nearly all dissidents expressed similar sentiments.

American policy should send signals that cause Cubans to welcome change rather than fear it.

The recommendations in the Commission’s 2004 report told Cubans that when change comes, they could be evicted from their homes by the former owners, they may have to pay for health care services, and retirees may have to return to work.

It is counterproductive for the United States to state opinions on these and other policies that Cubans alone will have to decide. These statements feed the perception that the United States is challenging Cuban sovereignty, and they increase fears among Cubans that “transition” implies loss and dislocation in their personal lives. The only ones who benefit are the Cuban propagandists who publicize these statements in articles, television spots, and billboards.

Current policies to promote “transition” place the United States at a strategic disadvantage.

Our influence in Cuba, as elsewhere, depends on communication. Greater contact with American diplomats, American ideas, and American society is a key element of the “transformational diplomacy” that Secretary of State Rice espouses.

Yet the Administration has progressively reduced communication between the United States and Cuba, in spite of its goal of influencing Cuba toward a complete political and economic transformation. This is precisely the wrong course. The Administration should encourage, rather than restrict, travel for religious and humanitarian programs, family visits, and academic and people-to-people contacts. Engagement does not equate with moral approval.

We would do well to emulate policies followed by friends and allies such as Canada, Mexico, Britain, and Spain. All stand firm on human rights while building contacts throughout Cuba’s government and society.

No one can predict how Cuba’s political future will evolve. But we can predict that regardless of America’s size and economic weight, our deliberate lack of contact and communication will reduce American influence. The time to remedy this problem is now.

JEFF FLAKE
Member of Congress

WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT
Member of Congress

JO ANN EMERSON
Member of Congress

JAMES P. McGOVERN
Member of Congress