Enhancing U.S. policy toward Cuba: Building blocks for a transition

papers small enhancing 1A white paper prepared by the Cuba Study Group in March of 2006 which outlines a conditional engagement policy aimed at making change in Cuba more likely. The proposal conditions the reform of specific U.S. policies on substantive and permanent reforms by the Cuban government. The Cuba Study Group has since identified reforms the U.S. government should make unconditionally and unilaterally because doing so is in the interest of the U.S. and of Cuba's civil society.     

Background and Recommendations


All communist transitions have been, to varying degrees, gradual processes that have been built over time. In fact, one can argue, that a transition is only the precursor to a more substantive and essential transformation that needs to take place. It is the transformation of society, and not simply the political transition, that should be our ultimate objective. It is important to recognize, as President Lech Walessa has clearly stated, that communism is not reformable, and thus, reforms only serve to self-destruct it over time. From Poland to China, it is evident that substantive reforms are irreversible and fatal to communist regimes. Encouraging reforms is conducive to the total transformation we seek. Although no two transitions have been alike, we should still learn from the lessons of history and emulate the pre-transition policies that facilitated them. In the final analysis, if they worked in Europe, why re-invent the wheel?

To the extent that we place pieces of those micro-processes on the table, we might be in fact enabling change by making it easier. A leading Cuban dissident, who has very aptly taken great advantage of available “spaces” describes transitions as a jigsaw puzzle, where at some point, it all comes together. In that sense, he suggests, we can best help by making sure that all the pieces are on the table.

Simply having a visual “road map” of the alternative steps that may be taken to allow Cuba to make the necessary changes, makes the process easier and, thus, more probable, and increases the likelihood of non- violence, economic success, and the political effectiveness of the process. As one leading Cuban cleric once told us, “Although most members of the ruling elite intellectually understand the need for change, no one has an understanding of what ought to be the first steps.”


We believe the best vehicle to meet these challenges may be a well thought-out policy of conditional engagement. We believe the Cuban exile community is prepared to accept a policy change that would keep the regime’s feet to the fire while encouraging meaningful change by providing political and economic rewards only in exchange for meaningful political and economic freedoms for the Cuban people. President Bush was met with thunderous applause when he suggested this very idea during a speech in Miami on May 20, 2002.

By clearly spelling out the conditions required for changes in U.S. policy, with specific attention to realistic expectations and priorities, the Cuban regime is put on the defensive and forced to explain to its own people and to the international community, its failure to accept what are obvious, reasonable conditions. Secondly, conditional engagement may in fact be the way to develop a common multilateral policy with Latin American, European and other key nations. As we have noted in our position paper entitled “Building a Common, Multilateral Cuba policy”, a common international approach would be more effective than a unilateral policy.