The report issued this week by Senator Richard Lugar regarding U.S. policy toward Cuba is a thoughtful review of the obvious failures in our policies. Its recommendations for a new, more effective approach toward Cuba are very constructive and deserve careful consideration.

The Staff Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate is the product of a two-week trip to Cuba by senior Congressional staff in January 2009. The timing of their trip and the resulting report could not be more important. Most Cuba experts agree that the change of power in Cuba and the new Administration in the United States have created one of the most important windows of opportunity in 50 years to encourage reforms on the island. In addition, public opinion in the United States and particularly in the Cuban-American exile community in South Florida now overwhelmingly favors a change in current US policy toward Cuba.

The report highlights four important weaknesses in current US policy toward Cuba: 1) it continues to undermine US efforts in the region, 2) it hurts broader national security interest by impeding cooperation with Cuba on issue of mutual concern, 3) it has provided the Cuban government with a scapegoat for its failures and 4) it ignores recent developments and impedes the US’s ability to influence the direction of policy in Cuba. The report then proceeds to describe many of the realities of modern day Cuba as observed by trip participants. Finally, the report issues a recommendation to increase the effectiveness of US policy by replacing conditionality with sequential engagement.

Opponents of the report have criticized it for being “inconsistent” and for aiming to “unilaterally lift the embargo.” While it is easy to understand how some who prefer to jump to conclusions before reading the report can make such baseless accusations, it is more difficult to understand how purported “Cuba experts” and Members of Congress can be so reckless. As for the suggestion that the report is “inconsistent” because it condemns the ineffectiveness of the embargo while maintaining that the government’s inability to meet many economic needs of the population remains a key weakness, such an argument would suggest that a goal of the embargo is to deny the Cuban population many economic necessities. These same critics however, have argued for almost 50 years that the purpose of the embargo is to “deny the regime the resources to repress the population and export revolution”, not that it is geared toward starving the population to the point that it is willing to risk rebelling against a proven oppressive and well-armed state security apparatus. And as for those who claim that the report advocates for the “unilateral lifting of the embargo,” the answer is very simple: read the report. In fact, the report states very clearly that beyond initial unilateral actions such as: elimination of restrictions on family travel, restrictions on the travel of Cuban diplomats in the US and a review of the effectiveness of several components of U.S. policy, “the timing of policy reforms and elimination of embargo restrictions would depend on the evolution of negotiations.”

The report issued by Senator Lugar is the most comprehensive and thoughtful review of U.S. policy toward Cuba to be issued by a Member of Congress in many years. Perhaps it is because proponents of maintaining the status-quo vis-à-vis Cuba are unable to articulate the reasons why they believe current policy has worked and then substantiate those claims. This is not surprising as one can hardly expect someone who has not traveled to the island to produce such a thoughtful and accurate account of the realities on the ground in Cuba today.

The report can be found at:

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