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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 8)

CA: How does the United States need to change its approach to Cuba?

Sweig: The gist of the public messages from the United States is: "Become something you are not and then we'll talk. Commit political suicide and we'll talk." Like Iran and North Korea, the Cuban regime doesn't respond to that. What incentive do they have?

I've talked a little bit about how an opening with the United States would benefit Cuba. They lived with the hostility long enough that they've gotten used to it. And frankly, with all this Venezuelan oil wealth, the political economy they are managing today is different than it was four or five years ago when the Cuban government invested an enormous amount in lobbying in this country to get an opening. They were treated horribly, and along came Chavez who has just been reelected. So they don't have the same incentive today to move too quickly.

This second Bush administration, despite more skillful public statements, has continued to work very hard to damage the Cuban regime through sanctions. There has been a mandate to clamp down on the enforcement of travel violations and they really have. And they've continued to look at ways of restricting Cuba's financial flow in the international financial system.

There has been no retreat in the enforcement of economic sanctions. There has been a retreat in the kind of language used but not in the enforcement area. The Office of Foreign Assets Control in recent years seems to be have vigorously enforced the embargo against Cuba even though there are greater terrorist threats out there in the world.

CA: How would you define an ideal, new U.S. policy toward Cuba?

Sweig: I would reinstate all of the executive regulations that were instituted in 1999 and 2000 that allowed not only Cuban Americans but Americans with academic, cultural, educational and humanitarian interests to travel to Cuba under license and to send remittances and spend money in Cuba. That could be done today by executive fiat, immediately.

Second, on the legislative front, I would move to get rid of the travel ban. It's the jewel in the crown and for that reason it won't happen overnight. That's a serious amount of heavy political lifting that would have to take place.

I don't think that ending the travel ban is important so that American tourists can go to Cuba. I think it is important because with more Americans going to Cuba freely, the kind of siege mentality that has entrapped the Cuban body politic will begin to lift. That's the kind of measure the United States can take to be helpful for Cuba's future. If you want to talk about a transition to a more open society, that signal coming from the most powerful country in the world is critical.

Third, on the bilateral front, we have a whole range of security issues that bilaterally have been largely neglected: narco trafficking, human smuggling, all the dark side of globalization and the transnational security threats. Cuba, geographically, is right in the center of the Caribbean basin, and has a huge coastline and needs resources and is favorably disposed to policing its waters. It is a conservative society and a conservative government that sees, as we did with the Gen. Arnoldo Ochoa incident in 1989, how destabilizing drugs and crime and corruption can be. [Editor's note: General Ochoa was executed for allegedly helping smuggle drug shipments from South America.] That's a natural alliance there for this or a Democratic administration.

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