Sunday, September 27, 2009

New report recommends improved ties with Cuba

Checking the menu

Improving relations with Cuba best serves long-term U.S. interests, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a September 2007 report.
U.S. outreach to Cuba aimed at improving the everyday lives of Cubans and modest confidence-building measures with the Cuban government can help set the stage for a more productive longer-term relationship. Eventually, Cuba will transition to a form of government more in keeping with the democratic model of the Americas, and the United States must underscore its commitment to supporting democracy on the Island.
A reorientation of U.S. policy toward engagement with the Cuban people and government by no means implies losing sight of this goal—only a shift in approach toward reaching it.
Waiting, watching

The CSIS report, Cuba Outlook: Raúl and Beyond, is based on 2008 panel discussions by Cuba experts from Canada, the United States and Europe. Its key points include:
* Cuba is currently fixed in a holding pattern. The transition from Fidel to Raúl Castro is still incomplete, given Fidel’s lingering presence, which remains an impediment to Raúl’s full exercise of power.
* Prospects for the creation of a credible opposition to the government remain highly limited. Older generations of Cubans are either pro-regime or fearful that change could result in still further economic privation. Younger generations are the most highly dissatisfied with the regime but are apolitical or looking to migrate.
* The state of the Cuban economy remains the greatest vulnerability of the regime. Raúl Castro’s early reforms have been focused on enlarging food production, but these steps are insufficient in addressing the problem. Food security is a national security issue for Cuba and one that the administration must address or it risks greater popular discontent. Anger and resentment are growing due to the difficult economic times.
* Without doubt, Cuba’s economic future would be much brighter if relations with the United States were normalized. Even with current limitations, the United States is Cuba’s fifth-largest trade partner and the leading source of agricultural imports. Were restrictions to be lifted, Cuba’s economy would receive an enormous lift from investment and trade with the United States, and the tourist industry could be expected to boom.
The report also says that Raúl Castro has not met expectations of change. "Continuity remains the key theme of his regime," the report said.

When it comes to Cuba, you could say pretty much the same thing about Barack Obama. True, there have been some changes, but important pillars of U.S. policy remain. They include:
* the Helms-Burton law
* the U.S. demand that Cuba make democratic reforms before economic sanctions are loosened or lifted
* pro-democracy programs aimed at toppling the Cuban government.
The author of the CSIS report is Peter DeShazo, former director of the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

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