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The Lugar Report on Changing Cuba Policy

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, states in the Changing Cuba Policy - In the United States National Interest (pdf file) report dated February 23, 2009:

Economic sanctions are a legitimate tool of U.S. foreign policy, and they have sometimes achieved their aims, as in the case of apartheid in South Africa. After 47 years, however, the unilateral embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its stated purpose of "bringing democracy to the Cuban people," while it may have been used as a foil by the regime to demand further sacrifices from Cuba's impoverished population. The current U.S. policy has many passionate defenders, and their criticism of the Castro regime is justified. We must recognize, nevertheless, the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests.

The report, which I highly recommend you read, contains these findings:

The conclusion is that "progress could be attained by replacing conditionality with sequenced engagement, beginning with narrow areas of consensus that develop trust."

Here are the Recommendations, whose purpose would be "increased dialogue through appropriate channels, coupled with looser trade terms":

Also in the Recommendations section, in the medium term, "reviewing dropping opposition to Cuban participation in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank", in the expectation that Cuba's membership in those institutions "would increase the government of Cuba's accountability to the international community and encourage free-market reforms consistent with U.S. commercial interests." If Cuba were to sign the Inter-American Democratic Charter, it might even become eligible for membership in the Organization of American States.

A number of issues arise when reading this report:

1. No dissidents or members of Cuba's pro-democracy movement were present during the U.S. officials' meetings. No thought was given to their absence, as far as I could ascertain. There is no mention in the report as to whether representative democracy in Cuba is a goal of U.S. policy.

2. The report does not specify what actions would represent "sequenced engagement", which could be interpreted to mean a give-and-take where the U.S. makes concessions dependent on Cuba's loosening its stranglehold on the people, or simply having the U.S. make an escalated series of concessions with nothing in return.

3. Cuba's state-monopoly economy is in ruins, and its decades-long billion-dollar debt with the Paris Club of creditor nations is now close to $30 billion. These are countries who have been trading with Cuba but are not getting paid. Any extension of credit by the U.S. or American businesses would be in the expectation that it would not be paid. Timing those concessions to an economic contraction as the U.S. is enduring now would be a mistake. The U.S. is Cuba's #5 trading partner, according to Cuban government figures.

4. Economic concessions will prolong the current oppressive regime's stay in power, particularly, as the report itself recognizes, that "popular dissatisfaction with Cuba's economic situation is the regime's vulnerability."

5. The report asumes that "Given current economic challenges, any revenue gained from economic engagement with the United States would likely be used for internal economic priorities, not international activism." The Cuban regime has spent the past half-century promoting international activism. It's not clear why the report writers assume they have stopped.

6. Among the conclusions, the report states that "Reform of U.S.-Cuban relations would also benefit our regional relations. Certain Latin American leaders, whose political appeal depends on the propagation of an array of anti-Washington grievances, would lose momentum as a centerpiece of these grievances is removed." If the authors of the report are thinking of Hugo Chavez (Cuba's big benefactor), they are mistaken. Chavez, in the wake of his most recent electoral victory, will ride the wave of success and propagandize the end of the embargo as another victory against "the empire," his favorite term for the U.S.

Making substantial concessions to the current regime in Cuba would also be perceived as a reward, while withholding the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia is seen as a punishment to our strongest ally in South America.

The embargo will end someday; however, ending the embargo without preconditions would be a mistake. Under the right conditions, changing Cuba policy will be in the United States national interest, but I remain unconvinced by the report's current proposals.