19 February 1999
(Containment achieved; help sought for civil society) (1250) By Bruce Carey USIA Staff Writer WASHINGTON -- The successful Cold War stategy of containment should now be followed by nurturing the fragile civil society that is "tentatively but persistently beginning to emerge" in Cuba, according to a report published in early January by the Council on Foreign Relations. More contacts, continuing humanitarian aid, help for an evolving economy, and careful attention to specific U.S. policy needs are the best blueprint for U.S. efforts to "contribute to rapid, peaceful, democratic transition in Cuba while safeguarding the vital interests of the United States," said the report. The Council, a New York-based research institution, sponsored the Cuba study, which was conducted by an independent task force comprised of both liberal and conservative experts. The report asserts that "U.S.-Cuban relations are entering a new era," characterized by the end of the threat of global communism and the isolation of the regime of Fidel Castro from a Western Hemisphere now firmly committed to open elections, personal liberty, and economic freedom. The task force headed by William Rogers and Bernard Aronson, both former assistant secretaries of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, further contends that this shift away from the containment policy adopted by the United States towards Cuba and the rest of the Soviet bloc for decades is a tribute to the very success of the policy -- its "natural evolution." Washington should now concentrate on "supporting, nurturing, and strengthening the civil society that is slowly, tentatively, but persistently beginning to emerge in Cuba today beneath the shell of Cuban communism," said the report. The study noted that the pace of change cannot be predicted. But its authors declared that "there is no doubt it will come." They pointed out that Castro faces the same inescapable problem as the former Soviet Union -- either allow change by permitting economic freedom that will eventually undermine his totalitarian regime, or repress economic freedom, which would be certain to foment rising public dissatisfaction. Either way, the issue for the United States is how to nurture the trend toward reform and liberalization. The authors' recommendations for assisting this progress come in five "baskets" of policies. THE CUBAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY The study said that restrictions on humanitarian visits from the United States to Cuba should be ended. "The federal government should not be the judge of how often Cuban-Americans, or any other Americans, need to visit relatives abroad," it said. Ceilings on remittances also should be raised. Currently, only $1,200 per year may be sent to family members in Cuba. This limit should be increased to $10,000 for a trial period of 18 months. The trial could be ended if it is determined that the Cuban regime has enacted taxes or other regulations to siphon off a significant portion of the money, the report said. Cuban-Americans should be allowed to retire in Cuba, and Social Security and other U.S. Treasury payments should be cleared for deposit in Cuban banks. Family reunification should be promoted. Visas for individuals seeking to visit family members in Cuba should be no more difficult to issue than visas for any other country. Direct mail service should be restored, as well, the report said. THE OPEN DOOR Targetted travel should be facilitated, such as exchanges and visits pertaining to academics, science, environment, health, culture, athletics, and religion. Some Cuban officials should be allowed to make private visits to the United States. Currently, legislators and high-ranking officials are denied entry, but allowing these leaders to see first-hand how U.S. liberty works might encourage them to make the reforms Cuba needs. Cultural collaboration also should be increased. Although more actors, musicians, and artists from Cuba have visited the United States since the Cuban Democracy Act was passed by Congress in 1992, the report noted that few from the United States have visited Cuba. Currently, intellectual property is systematically pirated by the Cuban regime, which cites the U.S. embargo as an excuse. The report recommends that U.S. companies and artists be allowed to negotiate guarantees in Cuba that would protect their copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Both countries are encouraged to regularize and comply with domestic and international copyright, patent, and trademark regimes. The United States should allow, and in some cases fund, merit-based academic, professional, and official exchanges designed to promote Cuba's transition. Direct commercial flights should be permitted between the United States and Cuba. Current spending limits on licensed travelers to Cuba of $100 per day should be lifted; the $100 limit should be imposed only on spending in state-run ventures. U.S. consular services should be expanded in Cuba, the report recommends, and reciprocity should be negotiated to end the imbalance whereby Cuban diplomats have no special restrictions in the United States, while U.S. diplomats are banned from nearly all official Cuban facilities other than the Foreign Ministry. HUMANITARIAN AID The report advocates "cash and carry" policies that would eventually eliminate all licensing with respect to donation and sales of food, medicines, and medical products to non-governmental and humanitarian institutions such as hospitals. People-to-people aid should be promoted, such as efforts by churches and non-profit institutions to assist Cubans in wide-ranging ways. These include people-to-people programs associated with "adoption" of local governmental and non-governmental organizations by their U.S. counterparts. Cuban-Americans should be allowed to claim relatives living in Cuba as dependents for income-tax purposes if other relevant Internal Revenue Service requirements are met, the report asserts. Families of prisoners of conscience should be helped by encouraging our allies in Europe and Latin America to join with the United States in providing the families with financial assistance to compensate for the financial hardship imposed by the jailing of wage-earners. THE PRIVATE SECTOR The report recommends initial steps to open up U.S. commercial activity on the island. If investors observe current legal strictures against using property confiscated from U.S. citizens, the recommendations would allow businesses that support Cuba's emerging private sector -- distribution centers for food and medical products, and cultural enterprises -- to be licensed and operate in Cuba. There would be stronger consensus in favor of substantial private investment when U.S. businesses in Cuba can hire and pay workers directly, observe internationally-recognized worker rights of free association, and provide their goods and services to Cuban citizens, the report asserts. THE NATIONAL INTEREST Greater contact with the Cuban military would be helpful as a confidence-building measure that could assure Havana of the U.S. intention to refrain from any aggressive intention. A reduction of tensions, the report suggests, would increase the possibility of Havana restoring public resources to social programs instead of maintaining a defense force far larger than required. Counternarcotics cooperation between Cuba and the United States would be beneficial to both. The report recommends that routine executive branch consultations with Congress and with a broad range of political, economic, and social institutions would build consensus on a new policy. Working groups for the next century could be formed among non-governmental institutions to analyze complex problems such as what to do with the Guantanamo Bay military facility, the effect of restoring the Cuban sugar quota, and how to integrate a free Cuba into the international financial system.