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Last Updated:5/22/03

What Should U.S. Policy Be?

By Wayne S. Smith

Cuba's place in the world has changed dramatically over the past three years. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and most other communist states, it is now an isolated anomaly and a threat to no one. Its troops are all out of Africa; it is no longer supporting revolutionary movements anywhere in the world; its military ties to Russia are dwindling and in any event are no longer in any way threatening to the United States.

What should U.S. policy toward Cuba be now that the island no longer constitutes a security concern-- or even a foreign policy problem? Bumper stickers in Miami have been predicting the fall of Fidel Castro by year's end for the past three years or more. So far, they have been wrong, but if not last year, might not Castro's collapse come next year? Were that likely, the U.S. government might logically argue that it should do nothing other than await the inevitable. If on the other hand Castro's fall does not appear to be imminent, then a more active policy would seem to be in order. But should it be one of increased or reduced pressures? Of cautious detente or of hardened resolve not to deal with the Castro government ever?

Cuba has always been a peculiarly emotional issue in U.S. foreign policy. Unfortunately, it seems to be no less so in this post-cold-war era. Thus, dispassionate discussion of U.S. options is at a premium. Even so, the great majority of recent studies that have systematically addressed the questions from the Inter-American Dialogue's report to the recommendations of the RAND Corporation have come to the same general conclusion: that present U.S. policy is obsolete, and that the United States would be better served by reducing pressures and trying to open a dialogue with Cuba. Recent efforts to increase pressures, e.g. as embodied in the Cuban Democracy Act, have been decidedly counterproductive, as pointed up by our isolation in the United Nations, which on November 24 of last year overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the lifting of the trade embargo. More serious problems are in store if the Cuban Democracy Act is aggressively implemented. It is time for the new administration to control the damage and change direction.


Cuban internal situation

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost its principal trading partner and source of economic assistance. As a direct result, its economy has retracted by some 40 percent since 1989. In 1992, moreover, it was able to import only half as much petroleum as it once did for its normal needs. Few spare parts, tires, and other manufactured goods are reaching the island these days. Not surprisingly, then, public transportation has been cut back drastically, Cubans must do without lights several nights a week, and it becomes ever more difficult to get food crops to distribution centers in the cities, or to get exports from field and factory to dockside. Almost everything, from food to razor blades to medicines, is in short supply. No one is actually going hungry. Free medical care and education remain available, and most Cubans though by no means all have adequate housing. Even so, daily life has become an exhausting grind.

That, however, does not mean collapse is near. No matter how difficult the economic situation, the bottom line is that Castro would have to be removed by force of arms. He will not simply resign or scuttle off into golden exile. No one who knows Castro can imagine that he will do anything other than stay and fight. Who then will take up arms against him? There is no organized opposition in Cuba and not likely to be any. For one thing, it would be extremely difficult to mount such a force, for Castro's security apparatus is massive and effective. For another, whether they like him or not, Castro has dominated the political landscape for over thirty years and still has more of a psychological hold over the Cuban people than any of the Eastern European leaders ever had over their people even at the peak of their power. And, finally, however dissatisfied they may be with the present situation, Cubans on the island fear the return of the conservative exiles in Miami even more, especially as the overwhelming major ity of the population in Cuba is Afro-Cuban, while the conservative exile leaders are white. For all these reasons, while many Cubans think of leaving, and some even risk the dangerous passage to Key West in rubber rafts, few, if any, think of changing the situation by force of arms.

That includes the army. In Miami, one hears constant talk of a military coup tomorrow, but there is no more hard evidence of serious divisions in the military now than when such rumors began over three years ago. In fact, it seems most unlikely that the army, which is Castro's own creation, would move against its commander or, at least, that it would take the initiative to do so.

Overthrow, then, is most unlikely. Should the economic situation deteriorate further, food riots might snowball beyond control. But such violence would have to reach the level of a full-scale civil war before it could possibly result in the ouster of the present government. And with weapons enough to arm a militia force over 1.5 million strong already distributed among the population, a civil war would be appallingly bloody and destructive so bloody, in fact, that it is not an outcome the United States should wish to see.

One cannot exclude the possibility of such an outburst, but the most likely outcome is that the present government will simply muddle through. One leading expert, Prof. Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College, believes the Cuban economy is already bottoming out and within the next year or two may even see some slight upturn. Cuba has signed a new trade agreement with Russia, mostly at world market prices, has found some new trading partners and has tripled its trade with China. None of this comes close to replacing the massive and preferential trading arrangement it once had with the Soviet Union, but at least it should result in some increase in petroleum and other imports. Also playing to Cuba's advantage is the fact that world market prices for a number of its export commodities seem to be on the rise. Life will remain grim for the average Cuban, but perhaps soon with at least a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.


Need for reform

Meanwhile, Cuba must adjust to the world that has changed around it. The Cuban leaders will be understandably cautious in effecting change. They have seen what happened in the Soviet Union after Gorbachev gave the proverbial inch and are determined not to make the mistakes he did. In Cuba, they say, the process of change will be carefully controlled and will lead to neither a Western-style democracy nor capitalism.

Perhaps not. Nonetheless, to meet its own needs Cuba must at least move toward a mixed economy and a more open political system. The Castro government can survive, yes, but it cannot restore the Cuban economy and society to health without such changes. There are now no sister socialist republics whose economies and trading partners are compatible with Cuba's. Cuba must trade with market economies. Its investments must come from them and its other financial arrangements be with them.

Inevitably, then, it must begin to adopt some of the practices and configurations of those market economies. It may be able to maintain its social welfare system and continue some degree of centralized planning. n other ways, however, it has no choice but to change.

Change is indeed already taking place on the economic side, as evidenced by the Cuban government's willingness to begin mixed ventures with foreign private capital and to allow individual Cuban citizens to engage in private enterprise, at least in the service sector. When this latter measure (approved at the Fourth Party Congress in late 1991) is fully implemented, individual citizens will be able to open tailor shops, TV repair shops, garages and various other enterprises. Much more needs to be done. If foreign investors can organize private companies in Cuba, ought not groups of Cuban citizens be able to do the same? Cuba has a highly literate and industrious population. One has the sense that if the Cuban government gave them their head, it might well find that its citizens were capable of solving many of the country's economic problems on their own. And foreign investors would be more comfortable with a mixed economy in which Cuban private enterprise, however limited, also played a role.

They have not gone far enough, but on the economic side, the Cubans are at least moving in the right direction and the process will almost certainly take on a momentum of its own, Castro's socialism-or-death rhetoric notwithstanding. Like the Chinese, however, the Cubans have been less open to political reforms. That is unfortunate, for modern economies are based on data banks instantly available to whoever needs the information, and on the ability to make decisions quickly, without reference to some central point. Closed political systems simply do not provide that kind of foundation. Hence, if it is to compete in today's world, Cuba must open up its own.

Too, Cuba needs to reintegrate itself into the inter- American family of nations. Most of the Latin American states are supportive, but they insist that Cuba must begin to give its people a greater voice in choosing their leaders. Mexico and Venezuela could be most helpful to Cuba in its present economic crisis by providing petroleum at cut- rate prices. To do so, they would have to defy U.S. pressures. They are not likely to do that, or even to move ahead absent U.S. pressures, unless Cuba undertakes such reforms.

Prior to the Fourth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in late 1991, the Cuban government seemed open to the idea of change, though rejecting any move toward a Western democracy. It promised direct and open elections to the National Assembly and even suggested that a multiparty system was an eventual possibility. Some Cuban officials even suggested that known dissidents could become candidates, provided they complied with registration procedures. Had the government continued in that spirit and come up with a credible electoral process, most Latin American governments, including Venezuela and Mexico, probably would have been satisfied. When the necessary electoral reform law was issued in late 1992, however, it had been reduced to near-farcical terms. Candidates are not simply nominated and inscribed on the ballot after securing a prescribed number of signatures. Rather, names are put forward by the so-called popular organizations (such as labor unions and women's federations) which are then carefully screened by a Commission of Candidacies. The commission in turn presents its recommendations to the respective municipal councils, and the councils, not the people, make the final decision as to who the candidates for the National Assembly will be. Worse, there is only one candidate for each office. The people can vote or not, but they have no choice as to for whom they vote. Not only were dissidents effectively ruled out as candidates, but as of late 1992 were subjected to increasingly harsh repression.

Cuban officials argue that this is not the end of the process. The electoral system, they say, can be further reformed, perhaps even to provide a simpler system of nomination and for multiple candidates for each office. They also argue that continued U.S. pressure and hostility make these and other reforms more rather than less difficult. As one Cuban official put it, There is a direct relationship between the level of tension between Washington and Havana and the degree to which there can be internal relaxation in Cuba.


What the human rights activists say

Some argue that Castro is simply an unbending authoritarian leader who in the final analysis does not want to open up the system or lose any degree of control. It is an argument that cannot be dismissed out of hand. Castro is an authoritarian leader. That is obvious. The question is whether or not he is also pragmatic enough to understand that it is only by opening up that he can revitalize Cuba and turn it into an integrated and smoothly functioning member of the international community. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, whatever the answer to that question, most of Cuba's human rights activists, despite the more repressive measures against them, call for a reduction of bilateral tensions as the best means of creating a climate in which positive change can take place. Elizardo S nchez, of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, for example, urges the United States to lift its trade embargo and normalize relations immediately. No government is likely to negotiate or to liberalize under pressure, he points out. Thus, if the United States wants to help the cause of democracy and human rights in Cuba, the best thing it could do is to drop its efforts to pressure and isolate Cuba and instead begin a process of engagement.


The Cuban-American community

Conventional wisdom seems to be that any effort to reduce pressures against Cuba, say, to lift travel controls or the prohibition on the sale of foods and medicines, would encounter the massive opposition of the Cuban- American community as a whole. But this reflects a gross misunderstanding of the complexities of that community, which is by no means united on these issues. Recent polls indicate that while the overwhelming majority of Cuban- Americans dislike the Castro government and might favor a U.S. invasion, a bare majority would also favor (in the absence of an invasion, one must assume) negotiations be-tween Washington and Havana. Increasingly fearful of the consequences of a bloody civil war for their loved ones still on the island, more and more people in the Cuban- American community are calling for reduced tensions and negotiations.

The outpouring of support for Mario Baeza during the recent controversy over his nomination as Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American affairs is also instructive. The right-wing Cuban American National Foundation demanded that his name be withdrawn, inasmuch as they regarded him as "soft on Cuba." What seemed to be the majority of the community, however, rejected the foundation's position and expressed support for him.

Clearly, the views of the Cuban-American community should be taken into account, but they by no means constitute an insurmountable barrier to a more flexible policy better adapted to the post-cold-war period. On the contrary, if properly explained, such a policy would be well received by the majority of that community, so long as they understood that its objectives were: 1) to encourage movement toward a more open system and greater respect for human rights, 2) to improve the living conditions of their loved ones on the island, and 3) to make it easier for families to visit.


What are U.S. interests?

For almost thirty years, U.S. interests with respect to Cuba were of a security nature and had more to do with Washing ton's global rivalry with Moscow than with Cuba itself. Every Cuban action had to be analyzed within a cold-war context, i.e., in terms of whether it advanced Soviet objectives and in some way undermined our own. Early on, U.S. officials even insisted that it was not Cuba's socialist system that concerned us. Cuba's internal arrangements were its own affair; rather, what was at issue was its interventionist foreign policy and its military ties to the Soviet Union. Under the Carter administration, human rights were added to our list of concerns. We could move toward normalization, Carter indicated, if Cuba ceased its intervention in revolutionary situations in various parts of the world, and if it showed greater respect for human rights.

As recently as five years ago, U.S. officials were still saying that the obstacles to a more normal relationship with Cuba had to do essentially with Cuba's foreign policy, not with its system at home. What stood in the way of better relations, they said, was Cuba's undiluted commitment to the export of armed revolution and its close military ties to the Soviet Union.

That was what was said, but all those obstacles have now been removed and the cold-war context in which we once analyzed all Cuban actions has evaporated. Cuban troops are out of Africa. Cuba is no longer supporting revolutionary movements, and its military ties to Russia are virtually nonexistent. None of that has made any difference. Rather than reducing pressures against Cuba, the Bush administration, if anything, increased them. Clearly, then, security interests are not the key.


So, what are real U.S. interests in Cuba and what kind of outcome would best serve those interests?

1) Avoiding Damage to the U.S. International Image and to Relations With Third Countries

First of all, it is obvious that since Cuba is no longer a security concern or a foreign policy problem of any significance to us, it would now be illogical to disrupt our important relationships with other countries over Cuba. Indeed, avoiding such problems should now be the principal objective of our Cuba policy. There may have been a time when it was worth putting our relations with other governments at risk in order to pressure them to reduce their trade and financial dealings with Cuba. If so, that time has passed. Our economic relationships with Canada, Mexico and the European Community, for example, are of vital importance, far outweighing any remaining objectives we have toward Cuba. To put the first at risk in pursuit of the second would border on the irrational.

Nor are U.S. economic interests the only aspect of our international position that can be damaged. Confidence in U.S. leadership is being undermined. Europeans, Canadians, Latin Americans, and governments friendly to us elsewhere have always regarded the U.S. obsession with Cuba as slightly irrational. Most had their own disagreements with Havana and regarded it as a cold-war antagonist, as did the United States. But they (including, from 1975 forward, the Latin Americans) saw no utility in not having diplomatic relations or not trading with Cuba. They pointed out, moreover, that it made little sense for the United States to have full diplomatic and trade relations with its principal communist adversaries, the Soviet Union and China, but not with Cuba. Today, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, they find continuing U.S. hostility toward and efforts to isolate Cuba simply inexplicable and worrisome. Especially troubling to them is continued U.S. refusal to sell foods and medicines to Cuba, a refusal that appears to many as inhumane. To U.S. explanations that normal relations are impossible because Cuba does not have a democratic system and violates human rights, they counter that one is likely to do more to encourage improvements in those areas through constructive influence than through efforts at isolation. They note also that Washington has normal, even cordial, relations with a whole series of countries that are no more democratic than Cuba and whose records on human rights abuses are far worse than Cuba's. China, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and, yes, Kuwait, come immediately to mind.

In the calculations of other governments, Washington's obsession with so small a country that poses no threat to it or anyone else causes doubts about its ability to provide sound leadership in the vastly changed world of today. As a European diplomat in Washington, speak ing off the record, put it recently:

The United States talks of a new world order embracing settlement of disputes through diplomacy, full respect for international conventions, unimpeded trade, and the free movement of peoples and ideas across borders. Yet, for no compelling reason that we can see, the United States violates all these principles in its dealings with Cuba. It is not a reassuring performance, and certainly does not reflect the kind of vision and seriousness of purpose one expects of a world leader.

2) Encouraging a More Open System

The argument is not over whether to do it, but how best to do it. Most human rights activists in Cuba, as indicated above, say that a more democratic form of government could best be accomplished through reduced tensions and more normal relations. Objective evidence supports their thesis. It has been precisely during periods of relaxation of bilateral tensions that the Cuban government has shown itself most disposed to move in the desired direction. During the inchoate Carter opening to Cuba back in 1978 and 1979, for example, the Cuban government released most political prisoners then held, some five thousand, and allowed any who wished to to leave the country. And it was in 1987 and 1988, as the Reagan administration in its last two years negotiated a number of issues with Cuba, including the Angolan problem, and as the expectation grew that a Bush administration might be willing to have a more normal relationship with Cuba, that significant improvements were registered in the field of human rights. More prisoners were released, international groups were allowed to go through the prisons and interview political prisoners, and greater tolerance was shown toward the small groups of human rights activists on the island. In its human rights report for 1988, the State Department acknowledged that there had been a significant improvement. Unfortunately, the Bush administration did not act on that basis; rather, in March, 1989, shortly after the report was issued, it circulated a memorandum indicating there would be no improvement in relations with Cuba because there had been no change in Cuban conduct.

One was left to wonder why withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and the improvements in the human rights situation acknowledged in the State Departments own report did not constitute change. Whatever the answer, the Bush administration took an even harder line toward Cuba, and as it did, gains in the human rights area gave way to reversals. As one Cuban official maintained:

It is only when there is a relaxation of tensions between our two countries that we can relax at home. So long as the U.S. pursues a hostile policy toward us and we have to be concerned about external pressures and CIA efforts to subvert us internally, we must demand tight discipline and unity behind the government.

3) Economic Benefits

The United States also has economic interests in Cuba. It is a relatively small market, but for certain regions and companies, trading with Cuba could be quite lucrative. Louisiana and Arkansas used to supply the bulk of Cuba's rice imports and could again. There are a number of American companies that would be most interested in refining Cuban sugar, and the United States could profitably import a large share of Cuba's nickel production. American businessmen are interested in investing in Cuba, and, of course, the United States wants to be compensated for the goods and properties nationalized by the Cuban government back in the late 1960s.

On the latter issue, a recent statement issued by the State Department accused Cuba of refusing to pay such compensation. This was a direct misrepresentation (the kind of deceitfulness, indeed, that one hopes will be corrected by the change of administrations and new hands at the helm in the State Department). Cuba has consistently acknowledged its obligation to compensate U.S. property owners and indicated its willingness to sit down at the negotiating table. Indeed, it has long since worked out satisfactory compensation agreements with all other countries that had claims against it. Cuba would not, of course, negotiate in a vacuum. Cuban officials have consistently indicated that settlement of the compensation issue would have to be accompanied by a lifting of the embargo. They were not the first to link the two issues, however. Back in 1960, the United States imposed its embargo because Cuba had nationalized all U.S. properties. And as the two sides began discussing a negotiating agenda in 1977, it was the United States that insisted the embargo could not be lifted until the compensation issue had been worked out. In now taking the position that the reverse is also true, Cuba is simply accepting our own logic.

The bottom line is that the United States could be compensated and that trade would be of economic benefit to both countries. Indeed, a recent trade study carried out by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies estimated that trade between the two countries might go above $2 billion a year the first years after resumption of relations, and perhaps even higher thereafter. It is not an astronomical sum, but in these times of economic difficulties and trade deficits, every gain is important.

4) Avoiding the Consequences of a Bloody Explosion

Finally, if it is in the interests of the United States that the population of Caribbean countries remain in place rather than emigrate massively to the United States, that is doubly true of Cuba, the largest and closest state. A bloody civil war there would result in perhaps hundreds of thousands of refugees ending up on our shores, to say nothing of the pressures that would be exerted on the U.S. government to intervene to halt the fighting. Far better for the United States would be a peaceful transitional process in Cuba, leading over time to the kind of more open political and economic system that would be more attuned to the changed world of today and that would open the way to a better future for the Cuban people.


How not to advance our interests

A case study in how not to advance our objectives is seen in the recently passed Cuban Democracy Act, the brainchild of the ultra-conservative Republican organization, the Cuban-American National Foundation. Though proponents describe the act as a guideline for a "fresh new policy," it is in fact a rehash of what we have been doing for the past thirty years, with some minor embellishments aimed at tightening the embargo still further. It is not difficult to understand why in the heat of the campaign President Clinton endorsed the Cuban Democracy Act (sometimes called the Torricelli legislation, after Robert Torricelli, the Democratic congressman from New Jersey who introduced it). Its proponents described it in misleading terms and made false claims as to what it might accomplish. They insisted, for example, that it would not cause problems internationally, because other countries did not sympathize with Castro, and because as sanctions were to be taken against the parent companies in the United States rather than the subsidiaries incorporated abroad, it did not violate those countries sovereignty. The reality is quite different. From the beginning, other governments warned that they did see the legislation as a violation of their sovereignty. Shortly after its enactment, the U.N. General Assembly, on November 24, 1992, overwhelmingly voted against the United States in approving a resolution calling for the lifting of the U.S. embargo. The year before, a similar resolution had not even made it to the floor. Thanks to the Cuban Democracy Act, the United States was isolated, with only Israel and Romania voting with us.

There will be far more serious problems if the U.S. government tries to implement the legislation in an aggressive manner. They may indeed not sympathize with Fidel Castro, but Canada, Great Britain, Mexico and some of other our major trading partners do see provisions of the act as violations of their sovereignty and have passed blocking legislation of their own. Legal complications, disruptions in our economic relationships, and even damage to our political relations could follow. Proponents of the act have led us into exactly the kind of situation that it should be our primary objective to avoid, i.e., putting important relationships at risk over an issue that is no longer even a significant foreign policy problem. In so doing, they have done the country a disservice.

The act's proponents also claimed that the bulk of Cuba's hard-currency trade is with U.S. subsidiaries. Hence, they said, if that subsidiary trade could be stopped, it would deal a devastating blow to the Cuban economy. In fact, no more than 18 percent of Cuba's hard-currency trade is with subsidiaries. Even if the legislation were enforceable and trade with those subsidiaries could be stopped altogether, the only consequence would be that Cuba would then buy from companies that are wholly foreign-owned. It would be an inconvenience at most, a devastating blow by no stretch of the imagination. Indeed, in the event, the Cuban Democracy Act has been useful to Castro, enabling him to point to the tightening of the embargo as the cause of Cuba's economic problems, and as new evidence of U.S. hostility.

Proponents insisted too that the act was a "carefully crafted mix of carrots and sticks," and in fact at the time Mr. Clinton endorsed it, it did contain a number of carrots however minor. By the time it was enacted into law, however, they had been removed. Its sponsors claim that it for the first time opens the way to shipments of foods and medicines to Cuba. But Cubans in the United States have long been able to send packages of foods and medicine to their families on the island and medicine donations to churches and other organizations had been made well before the legislation was enacted. The act does not increase those shipments or even provide more flexible guidelines. An earlier version of the legislation aimed to lift the embargo on the sale of medicines, but by the time the bill had been put in final form, so many conditions had been added as to render the provision meaningless.

What is not meaningless is the act's intent to close off subsidiary trade altogether, 90 percent of which is in foods and medicine. Thus, while proponents talk of opening the way to shipments of those commodities, their legislation aims to do the exact opposite.

Finally, the act does not in any way expand communications between the two countries, as its sponsors would have us believe. Allegedly, it opens the way to direct mail service. The Bush administration, however, had already proposed such service. The Cuban government's response was that according to international conventions, mail had to be carried aboard regularly scheduled air service. That may or may not be a correct reading, but it remains the Cuban government's position. The act does not even address that fact and thus fails to change the existing situation in any way. The president could open the way to such mail service by negotiating a new civil air agreement with Cuba and resuming regularly scheduled air service. He has all along had the authority to do that, however; hence, again, the act in no way changes the existing situation.

In the final analysis, the Cuban Democracy Act does almost nothing that its proponents claim and will cause the United States more problems than it will Fidel Castro. Indeed, in recently rejecting the Act as unwise, former Costa Rican president and Nobel Prize winner Oscar Arias said that "[such measures] that tend to impose more sacrifice on the Cuban people are arguments that one gives Fidel Castro to continue living in the Cold War."

Fortunately, as indicated below, the Cuban Democracy Act can be interpreted and implemented in such a way as to cause minimal damage to our relations with third countries.


An approach suited to the post-cold- war era

An effective approach to the Cuban issue would begin by formulating policy measures that are carefully geared to the advancement of U.S. objectives. It is important to note also that achievement of those objectives does not hinge upon the fall of Fidel Castro, however viscerally pleasing that outcome might be to U.S. leaders. Those objectives of highest priority do not even require reciprocal measures on Cuba's part. If, for example, we wish to protect our position with third countries and erase the image of the United States as irrational bully in its dealings with Cuba, we should immediately take measures to do so, irrespective of attitudes and actions on Cuba's part. Those measures could include the following:

(1.) Interpret and implement the Cuban Democracy Act in such a way as not to violate the sovereignty of other countries or to interfere with normal trading prac tices. The act, for example, says the president "should [emphasis ours] encourage _other governments_ to restrict their trade and credit relations with Cuba."

How he encourages them, how energetically, or even whether or not he does so, is left to the discretion of the president. In the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, those relations no longer have any security implications for us or for anyone else. Even in the midst of the cold war, virtually no other government, from 1975 forward, cooperated or even agreed with our trade embargo against Cuba. Much less are they likely to do so now, with the cold war a thing of the past. Efforts on our part to force them to cooperate will simply separate us from our allies and diminish confidence in our capacity for mature leadership. The president could, however, advance U.S. objectives and at the same time be within the spirit of the law by urging other governments to restrict their economic relationships with Cuba except as those relationships might help to influence Cuba toward a more open political and economic system, an objective that serves everyone 's interests.

The president also has broad discretion in applying the provisions of the act aimed at forcing other countries not to provide "assistance" to Cuba, assistance which is so broadly defined as possibly to include normal trading practices such as preferential pricing. If implemented as broadly and aggressively as some of the act 's proponents wish, those provisions could seriously undermine the North American Free Trade Association and possibly disrupt economic relations with Russia and various other countries. In practice, the prescribed sanctions should only be contemplated in cases of outright assistance, such as budget underwriting and military aid. Nothing that relates to normal trading practices, or to humanitarian aid, should be affected.

(2.) Open the way for the sale of food and medicine to Cuba. Many Americans believed the prohibition of such sales should not have been imposed in the first place, that the United States should never be in the position of refusing to sell food and medicine to anyone. To maintain such a ban now, with the cold war over and when it is clearly the Cuban people themselves who suffer the consequences, cannot but appear inhumane.

As stated above, though the legislation does not have that effect, proponents of the Cuban Democracy Act insisted that they wished to facilitate shipment of foods and medicines to Cuba. The president should take them at their word and lift the prohibition on the sale of foodstuffs (which he has the authority to do any time he wishes). He could also make possible the sale of medicine. The act authorizes such exports, but stipulates that the president must be able to verify by onsite inspections and other means that the exported item is to be used for the purposes for which it was intended and only for the use and benefit of the Cuban people.

Under existing circumstances, the Cubans would of course reject on-site inspections by U.S. personnel. The act, however, does not say by whom the inspections are to be carried out. Hence, the president could meet the on- site-inspection provision by calling on the Pan American Health Organization, which has offices in Cuba, to monitor the utilization of any U.S. medical exports and confirm that they were benefiting the Cuban people.

(3.) Halt all military exercises in the vicinity of Cuba. Such maneuvers appear to other countries, and especially to the Latin American states, as unnecessarily threatening and reminiscent of the "big stick" policies of the past. They serve no important need and can be put on the shelf.

(4.) TV Marti should be closed. It is neither seen nor heard in Cuba. That we continue year after year to waste the taxpayers' money on such an enterprise is seen by other governments as evidence of our irrationality when it comes to Cuba. It should be closed as an economy measure. If the administration wishes to reduce the federal deficit, such utter waste as this cannot be countenanced. Its closure, at the same time, would be seen by other governments as indicative of a new pragmatism and balance.

There are other measures that should be taken with a view to encouraging greater openness in Cuban society, and beyond that, to avoiding the bloody explosion feared by all. As with the first set of measures, these should not be conditioned on any particular Cuban response. If Cuba responds positively, so much the better, but the steps should be taken even if it does not. At the very least, they would serve to make it clear that the onus for any continuing hostility and any failure on Cuba 's part to liberalize internally rests with Havana and not with the United States. They also represent our best hope, whether or not they succeed, of moving Cuba in the direction of positive change. And they would serve the humanitarian purpose of lessening the isolation of the Cuban people.

(5) Lift all travel controls and encourage Cuba to do the same, so that Cubans and Americans, subject only to normal visa requirements, can travel freely back and forth. In principle if not in point of law, denying American citizens the right to travel to another country is an in fringement of their fundamental rights that should not be continued by a Democratic administration sworn to uphold basic freedoms. Beyond that, allowing Americans freely to travel to Cuba would be an excellent way of increasing the flow of information and new ideas to the Cuban people. When one wishes to let sunlight into a house, one does not try to keep all the windows closed. Yet, that has been our approach to Cuba. Permitting American tourists to travel to Cuba would result in some revenues for the Cuban government to be sure, but the resulting political impact would be more than worth that concession. The single step taken by the United States in thirty years' time that has caused the Castro government the most difficulty was not the embargo, sabotage raids or the Bay of Pigs invasion; rather, it was the return in 1979 and 1980 of over a hundred thousand exiles to visit their families. That proved so destabilizing that the Cuban government had first to stop and then scale back the visits before resuming. This points up the fact that if there is to be any barrier to travel, it should be imposed by Cuba and not by the United States, a country which is supposed to believe in the freedom of travel and which is committed under the Helsinki Agreements to the free flow of peoples and ideas across borders.

(6.) Improve air and mail links. Washington need only negotiate with Havana a new civil air agreement so that regularly scheduled air service replace the almost daily charter flights between Miami and Havana. As charter flights are permitted, there is no objective reason not to have common carriers. And as a result of phasing over to scheduled routes, direct mail service could also be resumed.

(7.) Go ahead with the expansion of telecommunications, a measure the Cuban Democracy Act calls for but then timidly sidesteps. The equipment is already in place for such service. The obstacle is Cuban insistence that they be paid the over $80 million owed them for past phone service. Those funds are now in a frozen account. The act pointedly does not "require" that those funds be unblocked, but neither does it say they cannot be. The president should therefore instruct U.S. negotiators to work out a formula for their payment and thus open the way to a vast expansion of telephone service between the two countries. He could do so in the full spirit of the act itself.

(8.) Cultural and academic exchanges are an excellent means of increasing the Cuban people 's access to information and ideas. Performers, artists and intellectuals from both countries should tour the other. Academic exchanges should be expanded so that Cuban scholars can actually matriculate in U.S. universities and so that Fulbright scholars can study in Cuba.

(9.) Cooperation in the protection of the environment and in the interdiction of drug traffickers is manifestly in the interest of the United States. Bilateral agreements to that end should be negotiated immediately, including one providing for the periodic access of U.S. inspectors to Cuba 's nuclear power plant and the same for Cuban inspectors to nuclear power plants in the southeastern part of the United States.


For the future

Should Cuba respond positively to these steps on the part of the United States, the next step is to begin negotiating the various bilateral issues that stand in the way of a more normal relationship. These would include, first and foremost, compensation for nationalized U.S. properties and lifting the U.S. embargo. Progress on compensation would be complicated by the U.S. position that in addition to the principal, Cuba should pay 6 percent per annum on that sum, and by Cuba 's counter-claims stemming from the Bay of Pigs invasion and the thirty-year U.S. embargo. A formula informally discussed back in 1977, however, might offer a way around these complications: the United States would throw out its demand for payment of interest, and in return, Cuba would drop its counter-claims. The two sides could then get down to negotiating 1) the principal to be paid in compensation, and 2) the lifting of the embargo and the establishment of a surcharge on Cuban imports into the United States out of which that compensation would be paid. With that done, full diplomatic relations should be restored and the two sides should go on to the solution of other outstanding issues, such as the return of the Guantanamo Naval Base, for which the United States no longer has any compelling need.

Relations between the two countries may not be cordial for a very long time even after normalization, and cannot be until Cuba has transformed itself into a much more open society showing full respect for the civil rights of its citizens. But it is through a process of engagement such as that described above that the United States can do the most to encourage Cuba toward such a transformation.


ENDNOTES 1. As stated by Elizardo S nchez to Wayne Smith during a conversation in August, 1991. 2. See Guy Gugliotta, Exiles Urge Moderation Toward Cuba, Washington Post, January 19, 1993, p. 4. 3. Christopher Marquis, Candidate for Latin Post Gains Support, Miami Herald, January 28, 1993, p. 12A. 4. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, speech at Punta del Este conference, 1962, in Organization of American States, Actos y Documentos, Octava Reunión de Consulta de Ministros de Relaciónes Exteriores (OAS documents/series/F/III, 8), p. 79. 5. Statement of Michael Kozak, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, in hearings of the House Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, August 2, 1989. 6. Secretary of State Baker in memorandum of March, 1989: no improvement because Cuba had steadfastly failed to offer any concrete proposals of its own to satisfy longstanding and well-known United States concerns. 7. Washington Post, November 25, 1992. 8. Donna Rich Kaplowitz and Michael Dana Kaplowitz, New Opportunities for U.S.-Cuban Trade (Johns Hopkins University.

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