For nearly fifty years, the United States has been expecting and, in diverse ways, actively planning for the collapse of Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba. Numerous efforts – from the botched Bay of Pigs and Operation Mongoose (a covert action program to overthrow or otherwise undermine Fidel Castro) of the 1960’s, to the post-Cold War 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act and the 2004 Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba – have failed to bring down communism in Cuba, and most especially, to bring Fidel Castro down with it. The unanticipated scenario – a stable transition from one Castro government to another – is what President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress face now.
In July 2006, then-President Fidel Castro temporarily relinquished his Presidential powers to his younger brother, First Vice President and Defense Minister Raul Castro, in order to undergo surgery. Since that time, Fidel Castro has apparently been recuperating and has not been seen in public. Cuban state media have occasionally shown photos or video of the former President meeting with visiting foreign dignitaries.
On February 19, 2008, Fidel Castro announced he would not seek or accept another term as President of Cuba. On February 24, 2008, the Cuban National Assembly formally elected Raul Castro as Cuba’s new President. The transfer of power was met by the Cuban people with a mixture of curiosity, optimism, skepticism, disappointment and disinterest. It was not met by any popular unrest or other signs of instability. January 1, 2009, the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, came and went.
In recent months, as the new Administration and Congress arrived in Washington, several important reports and essays called upon a willing Administration and Congress to confront U.S. policy failures in Cuba over the last fifty years and to adjust our approach to better match U.S. and regional interests. Senator Richard Lugar, the current Ranking Member and former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a report on Cuba policy endorsing sequenced engagement and rejecting a conditions-based policy toward the Cuban government. “By directing policy towards an unlikely scenario of a shortterm democratic transition on the island and rejecting most tools of diplomatic engagement,” the report concludes, “the U.S. is left as a powerless bystander, watching events unfold at a distance.”1
Other valuable recent assessments of Cuba policy include: the National Security Archive’s Peter Kornbluh’s and American University’s William LeoGrande’s review of previous administrations’ secret attempts to engage Cuba; the Council on Foreign
Relations’ Julia Sweig’s “Memo to the President, ” which cautions against attaching policy changes to inevitably slow democratic changes in Cuba; the National Foreign Trade Council’s Jake Colvin’s “The Case for a New Cuba Policy,” highlighting the broad
control the President still retains over the heavily-legislated U.S. embargo; an examination of shared security interests, “Nine Ways the US can talk to Cuba and Cuba can talk to US,” compiled by Sarah Stephens of The Center for Democracy in the Americas’; a report produced by a prominent group of conservative Cuban Americans, the Cuba Study Group, entitled “Lifting Restrictions on Travel and Remittances: the Case for Unilateral Action;” a selection of short, medium and long-term policy recommendations from a former top U.S. diplomat in Havana, Ambassador Vicky Huddleston, and noted advisors in Washington and Miami, “U.S. Policy Toward a Cuba in Transition: Roadmap for Critical and Constructive Engagement;” and, two hemisphere-focused reports issued last year by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution, both of which urge a dramatically different approach to Cuba as part of the larger U.S. policy toward Latin America.
This paper draws on the expertise of these and many other specialists on U.S.–Cuban affairs. It also draws on the author’s own experience focusing on U.S. policy toward Cuba, including numerous trips to the island over the last decade. It offers detailed
history and discussion on more than a dozen of the most pressing and complex issues in U.S.–Cuban relations. In each section, there are specific options for engagement that could be exercised, individually or in combination, by the Administration or by Congress that go beyond initial policy changes made by each in March and April 2009. Central to this policy review and the more than 70 options for engagement offered herein is the conclusion that current Cuba policy requires reassessment. Central, too, is an expectation that President Obama and the 111th Congress will favor policy adjustments, however small or large, that serve U.S. interests and engage the people and the government of Cuba.
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