03/18/13 - Brookings Institution - Time to Bet on Cuba
Cuba's efforts to "update" its socialist system through a series of
economic reforms just got more complicated. The death of Venezuela's Hugo
Chávez, its principal benefactor, could seriously disrupt what is already a
precarious process of maintaining top-down political control while
liberalizing elements of the economy. Raúl Castro's announcement that he
will step down in five years and the emergence of younger leaders born
after the 1959 revolution add further uncertainty to the island's future.
These new circumstances offer President Obama a rare opportunity to turn
the page of history from an outdated Cold War approach to Cuba to a new era
of constructive engagement. In his second term in office, he should place a
big bet by investing political capital in defrosting relations, an approach
that will advance U.S. interests in a stable, prosperous and democratic
Under Castro, the Cuban government has undertaken important reforms to
modernize and liberalize the economy. Cubans are now permitted to buy and
sell property, open their own businesses, hire employees and enter into
co-ops, with state-owned enterprises on a more equal footing. The updating
of the Soviet-style economic system is a gradual and highly controlled
process. But the recent legal emergence of formal, small-scale private
businesses (cuentapropistas) that can now compete on a more equal footing
with state-owned enterprises opens a window into a profound shift in
thinking already under way on the island. The reforms also offer new
opportunities for U.S. engagement.
Castro's loosening of the apron strings extends beyond the economy. In
January, the Cuban government lifted exit controls for most citizens, which
is likely to accelerate the process of reconciliation within the Cuban
diaspora. It could also result in a swift uptick of Cubans departing for
the United States, demanding a reconsideration of U.S. migration policy to
manage the increase. The gradual handoff of power to a next generation of
more pragmatic party and military leaders who will determine the pace and
scope of the reform process is yet further evidence that the Castro
generation is looking forward to securing a viable legacy.
The U.S. approach to Cuba has likewise undergone important changes since
Obama took office. Since the expansion of travel and remittances in 2009,
hundreds of thousands of the 1.8 Cuban Americans living in the United
States have sent more than $2 billion to relatives there, providing
important fuel to the burgeoning private sector and empowering citizens to
be less dependent on the Cuban state.
Much more, however, could be done. In his second term, Obama has a wealth
of policy options available to him through executive authority that would
reframe U.S. support for the Cuban people and advance U.S. national
In his second term, the president can (and should):
* Appoint a special envoy to open a discrete dialogue with Havana without
preconditions to discuss such issues as migration, travel, counterterrorism
and counternarcotics, energy and the environment, and trade and investment.
Such talks could result in provisions that strengthen border security,
protect Florida from oil spills, break down the walls of communication that
prevent our diplomats from traveling outside Havana and help U.S.
businesses export more goods, and thereby create jobs. * Authorize
financial and technical assistance to support burgeoning small businesses
and permit trade in goods and services with certified independent
entrepreneurs. * Expand the list of exports licensed for sale to Cuba,
including school and art supplies, water and food preparation systems and
telecommunications equipment. * Grant general licenses for journalists,
researchers, humanitarian organizations and others to facilitate
people-to-people exchanges. * Remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors
of terrorism, where it does not belong, allowing a greater share of
U.S.-sourced components and services in products that enter Cuban commerce.
This list is not exhaustive; the president can take any number of
unilateral steps to improve relations and increase U.S. support to the
Cuban people, as mandated by Congress. He can also expect significant
pushback from a well-organized and vocal minority of elected officials who
are increasingly out of step with their constituencies on this issue. (In
the 2012 election, Obama's share of the Cuban-American vote increased by 10
points in Miami-Dade county.) He can win the argument, however, by
demonstrating that these measures are in the spirit of the congressional
mandate to encourage a free and prosperous Cuba.
The trend toward reform in Cuba is evident and suggests that an inflection
point is approaching. Now is the time to employ a new paradigm by opening a
long overdue direct dialogue with our next-door neighbor and thereby test
the willingness of the Cuban government to engage constructively, including
on the case of U.S. citizen Alan Gross. By invoking his executive authority
to expand trade, travel and communications with the Cuban people, Obama can
continue to help them make the transition from subjects to citizens. The
moment has come to rise above historical grievances and extend that
outstretched hand he so eloquently promised just four years ago.
Original Source / Fuente Original:
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