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A Blueprint for Better Relations Between the US and Cuba

SIX years have passed since the end of the cold war, but the United States and Cuba refuse to let go of policies designed years ago for circumstances that no longer exist.

The Inter-American Dialogue, the leading US center for policy research and exchange on hemispheric affairs, has sought through its special Task Force on Cuba to develop and promote new policy approaches for both governments that would reduce the hostility and dangers in the relationship and facilitate a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba.

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The Dialogue Task Force recently released its second report, which incorporates the findings of a special delegation of members who traveled to Cuba in June. The report argues that the prospects for change in Cuba are today greater than at any time since 1959, when Fidel Castro seized power. Yet current US policy neither encourages change in Cuba nor advances US national interests.

Cuban governmental policies, moreover, continue to badly serve the interests of the Cuban people. The unbending policies of the two countries - fueled by national pride - have allowed a continuing deterioration in Cuba's circumstances and have increased the dangers of violent conflict. To advance the fundamental goals of a peaceful, democratic change in Cuba, the Task Force recommends:

To the government of Cuba

* Cuba's leaders should put their claim of public support to the test by holding free and fair elections that are internationally monitored.

* Political prisoners should be freed, and the laws that repress dissent and prevent the operation of independent organizations should be repealed.

* Cuba should broaden its economic reform and adopt policies necessary to qualify for membership in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

To the US government

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US policy toward Cuba should be redirected to the objective of encouraging a peaceful, democratic change in Cuba. Cuba no longer poses a security threat to the US. The main danger to US national interests in Cuba is the prospect of prolonged violence, which could provoke mass migration and US military action. US interests in Cuba would be advanced by pursuing three concrete goals:

1. To reduce hostility in US-Cuban relations:

* The US should make it clear it has no intention of invading Cuba. It should condemn violent actions by exile groups, notify the Cuban government of US military exercises near Cuba, and encourage its military attaches to communicate with their Cuban counterparts.

* US policy should give more weight to humanitarian concerns by allowing charities to engage in all necessary financial transactions to advance their work, permitting Cuban-Americans to help relatives in Cuba, and lifting restrictions on shipments of food and medicine.

* Radio Marti should broadcast objective news, not propaganda, and should be politically independent. TV Marti, which violates international conventions, should be canceled.

2. To encourage private markets, the rule of law, and independent organizations:

* The US should exempt from its embargo all transactions that foster communications between Cubans and Americans, specifically removing all obstacles to travel to Cuba and encouraging cultural and scientific exchanges between the two nations.

* The US should encourage the World Bank and IMF to work with Cuba to establish a path toward eventual membership. This may be the best way to encourage sustained economic reform in Cuba. Washington should also support the efforts of Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria to involve the Organization of American States in reviewing Cuba's hemispheric relations.

3. To promote pragmatic exchange between the US and Cuba:

* The US should make plain that economic and political reforms by Cuba - such as releasing political prisoners, accepting UN human rights monitors, allowing political dissent, and legalizing the formation of small businesses - would be met by parallel changes in US policy toward Cuba. Both the US and Cuba should undertake a controlled process of specific initiatives, conditioned understandings, and convergent steps, all limited in scope but which together could open the way for more substantial changes.

* The US should indicate its readiness to negotiate agreements with Cuba on issues in which both countries have coinciding interests. The US and Cuba, for example, have both benefited by recent agreements on immigration, and negotiations in this area should continue. Cuba and the US would also benefit from cooperation to interdict drug traffickers, reciprocally inspect nuclear power plants, forecast weather-related disasters, and protect the environment.

The US embargo

The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act - better known as the Helms-Burton legislation - should be defeated. The legislation would injure and alienate ordinary Cubans, weaken Cuba's civil society, and retard its democratization. It would also reduce prospects for US cooperation with other countries on Cuba. We continue, however, to oppose fully dismantling the trade embargo. The embargo can serve as a practical element of policy, if it is used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Cuba.

A permanent situation of crisis around Cuba is unacceptable. Provoking an even more severe crisis is not a solution. The US should be prepared, step by step, to lift its trade embargo in response to specific initiatives taken by Cuba. The US needs to actively bargain, not passively wait or tighten the pressure without regard to the consequences.

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