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Cuba's Future: An Interview with Julia Sweig

A top policy analyst in Washington talks about Cuba today, a post-Fidel Castro regime, key players on the U.S. side and new ideas for changes in America's approach toward its island neighbor
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Cuba, May/June 2007

(continued from page 9)

The bilateral agenda on the security front, changes on the legislative front and in addition to the travel ban, I don't see any reason to have any economic sanctions whatsoever. We're not going to sell them security-related, high-technology stuff. That's not the issue. There's a whole universe of life between the two countries that needs to be nourished.

That's it in a nutshell.

Some critics will say that the agenda that I laid out rewards 50 years of repression and dictatorship, and the last thing that the United States should do when the revolution and the regime are vulnerable is help Raúl Castro. They say that will perpetuate him in power indefinitely.

I think we've seen the mistake borne out of personalizing our policy, whether it is around Fidel Castro, or Saddam Hussein. At this point, what Raúl Castro eats for breakfast, or lunch or dinner, and what wine he drinks, or the way officials live in Cuba, is not of concern. What is of concern is that the political space inside Cuba begin to open. The only shot that the United States has, and it's not necessarily going to change anything, is to signal that we are not interested in the leadership; in fact, we are interested in the people.

Of course, all of that assumes that the Cuban government wants or would be a willing and interested participant. It's not clear to me that is the case. I mean despite Raúl's statements, this is an environment where the embargo and the hostility give the Cuban government a buffer and the shelter it needs to make the transition without the exposure to the United States that this kind of openness agenda would create.

But in a way it doesn't really matter. Although there is an embargo, the Cuban government trades and has ties with the rest of the world. But it is not an entirely open society. It picks who it wants to deal with, how and what foreign investment comes in. It will do that with the United States as well.

The agricultural purchases are a really good barometer of the strategic thinking coming out of the Cuban government, where you see political cherry-picking. I've asked these guys if they have a map of the United States deciding which company they are going to purchase from in order to embolden different members of the Congress. They laugh, and say, of course not. But I'm sure they do. They ought to. That kind of cherry-picking, as long as the nature of the regime remains as it is today, is going to continue.

But I think the important thing is the extent to which the Cuban government can use the hostility with the United States to justify repression and justify continuing to be a closed society.

CA: Do you see any signs that Raúl might have a different approach than his older brother?

Sweig: Raúl is 75. He looks like he is in good health. But he is clearly hyperconscious of his limited, temporary ability to make this thing stick. He gave a speech two or three weeks ago in which he said essentially, Let the debate begin. He said the country needs to have dissent and a real debate. The speech seemed to acknowledge that the old guys are leaving, and we are not going to be long on this earth, and a new generation is coming into power.

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