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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 3)

You have also a potential vulnerability. Go back to 1996 after the shoot-down of the planes. That incident was a product of anxious Cuban-American exiles who were worried that the White House and the Cuban government were going to cut a deal. The exiles wanted to provoke some sort of military confrontation to derail that process.

Although that cast of characters is weaker 10 years later than it was in the '90s, the fact is that we have no senior-level communication, the fact is that we have no back channels, and that means that the day that Fidel does die, if there is an effort at a flotilla toward Cuba or a refugee exodus toward the United States, there's no contact to help resolve it. The current status quo may be enough: we worry about our security, the Cubans worry about their security, and anything that falls through the cracks will hopefully not create a crisis that can't be managed.

CA: Doesn't a political vacuum like that create a higher risk?

Sweig: It's not just that. The foreign policy leadership vacuum creates a vulnerability. We are now legally in a position where for the guts of our policy to change, Congress has to make those changes.

Our November 2006 elections were important, however. Before those elections, you already had a kind of latent bipartisan majority that supported change. Now we have a congressional leadership which by and large does as well.

More importantly than that, we have to get into the politics of both parties. It's not so cut and dried. What the White House has lost is House Republican leadership that will strip embargo-loosening legislation in conference and abide by the veto threat from the White House. So that alliance is gone and it creates a space or an opening for change. The new Democratic Party leadership will be more likely to allow debate and legislation to move forward.

CA: Who are the new players on Capitol Hill?

Sweig: Let's break it down by party, and then by House of Representatives and the Senate.

In the post—Cold War era, when the debates first started on the merits of the Cuban embargo, you had a kind of anti-sanctions coalition that was backed by agriculture and the manufacturing industry and backed partially by tourism and telecommunications. It was not only focused on Cuba, but on sanctions as a foreign policy tool. The question was whether they work, whether they don't. It took place in the wake of South Africa, and it was really about Libya and Pakistan and all of the other countries subject to sanctions. Cuba had different kinds of sanctions on it.

But the voices that care about the Western Hemisphere include Sen. Christopher Dodd [D-CT]. In the early 1990s, Dodd was chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and continues to have that role. Dodd has been very important as a liberal critic of U.S. policy toward Cuba, a critic of wars in Central America, and as such, he has been vilified by some on the right in Congress and the press for the roles he has played. But I would say Dodd is probably the most important voice of the early anti-sanction school.

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