The Brookings Institution’s Piccone Advises Obama to Move on Cuba

When

January 25, 2013

Details

In a memorandum to U.S. President Barack Obama published on January 17, Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for Foreign Policy, The Brookings Institution, advises the president to move toward normalizing relations with Cuba in his second term.  The memo is part of the “Big Bets and Black Swans” series of memos by The Brookings Institution, which identifies the president’s best foreign policy opportunities—and biggest potential disasters— in the next four years.

The memo addresses how Obama can impact trade, travel and communication with Cuba, how Cuba’s relaxation of travel restrictions could affect U.S. migration policy, and how Obama can overcome Congressional opposition to increase engagement with the island.

Read an excerpt from the article below:

Opening to Havana

TO: President Obama

FROM: Ted Piccone

Your second term presents a rare opportunity to turn the page of history from an outdated Cold War approach to Cuba to a new era of constructive engagement that will encourage a process of reform already underway on the island. Cuba is changing, slowly but surely, as it struggles to adapt its outdated economic model to the 21st century while preserving one-party rule. Reforms that empower Cuban citizens to open their own businesses, buy and sell property, hire employees, own cell phones, and travel off the island offer new opportunities for engagement.

Recommendation:

You can break free of the straitjacket of the embargo by asserting your executive authority to facilitate trade, travel and communications with the Cuban people. This will help establish your legacy of rising above historical grievances, advance U.S. interests in a stable, prosperous and democratic Cuba, and pave the way for greater U.S. leadership in the region.

Background:

Early in your first term, you made an important down payment on fostering change in Cuba by expanding travel and remittances to the island. Since then, hundreds of thousands of the 1.8 million Cuban-Americans in the United States have traveled to Cuba and sent over $2 billion to relatives there, providing important fuel to the burgeoning small business sector and helping individual citizens become less dependent on the state. Your decision to liberalize travel and assistance for the Cuban diaspora proved popular in Florida and helped increase your share of the Cuban-American vote by ten points in Miami-Dade county in the 2012 election.

As a result of your actions and changing demographics, families are more readily reuniting across the Florida straits, opening new channels of commerce and communication that are encouraging reconciliation among Cuban-Americans and a more general reframing of how best to support the Cuban people. Cuba’s recent decision to lift exit controls for most Cubans on the island is likely to accelerate this process of reconciliation within the Cuban diaspora, thereby softening support for counterproductive tactics like the embargo. The new travel rules also require a re-think of the outdated U.S. migration policy in order to manage a potential spike in departures from the island to the United States. For example, the team handling your immigration reform bill should be charged with devising proposals to reduce the special privileges afforded Cubans who make it to U.S. soil.

Under Raul Castro, the Cuban government has continued to undertake a number of important reforms to modernize its economy, lessen its dependence on Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, and allow citizens to make their own decisions about their economic futures. The process of reform, however, is gradual, highly controlled and short on yielding game-changing results that would ignite the economy. Failure to tap new offshore oil and gas fields and agricultural damage from Hurricane Sandy dealt further setbacks. Independent civil society remains confined, repressed and harassed, and strict media and internet controls severely restrict the flow of information. The Castro generation is slowly handing power over to the next generation of party and military leaders who will determine the pace and scope of the reform process.

Read the rest of the article here.

Click here to read “The Middle Classes and Foreign Policy: Engaging in it but not Changing it…Yet,” a web exclusive written by Piccone as part of the launch of the Fall 2012 Issue of Americas Quarterly




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