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Why the U.S. Should be Paying Attention to Cuba

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One of the biggest complaints about the Cuban government from the exile community is that it “lacks transparency.” During a presentation given at American University by Dr. Jose R. Cabañas, the current Cuban Chief of the Cuban Interests Section (aka Ambassador) to the United States, it is clear that this new blueprint for economic reform in Cuba is quite the contrary, and actually very transparent. The “Proyecto de lineamientos de la política económica y social del partido y la revolución, (Communist Party’s Policy Guidelines for Social and Economic Reform) simply referenced as the “lineamientos” (policy guidelines), is essentially a rubric of reforms that have been proposed and approved by the Cuban National Assembly. There are over 300 reforms that have been approved and are now in the implementation phases. Some of these significant changes include the expansion of the private business sector, legalizing the sale of homes and automobiles and a implementing a less bureaucratic migration policy…

cabanasCuban Ambassador Jose R. Cabañas Photo Credit: American University

Ambassador Cabañas touched on some of the major points outlined in the “lineamientos,” such as the decentralization of the government and more provincial rights especially in the area of managing their own budgets. There is also greater interest in foreign business cooperatives/joint ventures and expanding investments in Cuba’s already well developed healthcare system, developing the private sector, as well as greater emphasis on biotechnology and information technology. More than anything Cabañas stressed that they are their own biggest critic and that transparency and public debate is one of their priorities during this entire liberalization process. The Cuban National Assembly will review and debate these policies until they see them as fit for implementation and will, in a heartbeat, bring the policies back to the drawing board if they do not accomplish their goal of economic growth. Cabañas made it a point and reiterated the importance of these lineamientos as the key to success in Cuba’s future.

Ambassador Cabañas stated that the Cuban government is very keen on establishing normal relations with the United States and desires to have the opportunity to sit down and have a dialogue as equals. Cabañas named numerous proposals that the Cuban government has sent to the U.S. State Department on topics that would be mutually beneficial to discuss, such as oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, drug trafficking, migratory agreements, and reforming the postal service among others; however, they have yet to receive a response from the State Department. “It is to our countries’ mutual benefit to establish normal relations,” said Cabañas. That is not an overstatement; Cuba is our closest neighbor to the south. Imagine all the wonderful possibilities for trade, tourism, science, and cultural exchanges to which normalized relations could open the door.  These changes happening on the ground in Cuba are gradual but real. Now it is time for our administration and members of Congress to take these efforts seriously as well. The time is now to start building a healthy relationship through dialogue.