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Bringing Cuba in From the Cold

Authors: Bernard W. Aronson, and William Rogers, Former U.S. Secretary of State
January 2, 1999
The New York Times


Forty years after Fidel Castro seized power it is time for the United States to reorient its policy away from Fidel Castro and toward preparing for a democratic transition in Cuba. During the cold war, the United States sought to contain the spread of Cuban-supported Communism in this hemisphere. Today, the United States must nurture and strengthen the fragile civil society that is tentatively but persistently beginning to emerge in Cuba.

Those are the recommendations of an independent task force composed of both liberals and conservatives that we have been chairmen of over the last four months. While not all members of the panel endorsed every recommendation, a broad, bipartisan consensus supported concrete steps to open up contacts between Cuban and American citizens and to enable Americans to support independent groups in Cuban society.

Our group's recommendations would lift limits on the number of visits Cuban-Americans can make to Cuba and on the amount of money they can legally send family members. This would build human contacts while helping thousands of Cubans free themselves from economic dependence on the Castro Government. Elderly or disabled Cuban-Americans could retire to the island while continuing to collect Social Security and other Federal benefits.

Like Mexican- and Canadian-Americans, Cuban-Americans should be able to claim tax exemptions for dependents living in Cuba. More generally, we favor lifting most restrictions on the sale of food and medicine and helping nonprofit organizations, religious groups and individuals to assist the Cuban people.

We support opening Cuba up to group and individual travel for cultural, religious, educational, humanitarian and athletic purposes. Americans participating in qualified programs should not need Federal permission to visit Cuba and should be free to travel on regular commercial flights. We would also ease restrictions on Cuban academics, artists, athletes and many Government officials wishing to visit the United States.

The report recommends initial steps to open up American commercial activity on the island. If investors observe current legal strictures against using property confiscated from American citizens, our recommendations would allow businesses that support Cuba's emerging private sector; distribution centers for food and medical products, and cultural enterprises to be licensed to operate in Cuba.

There would be a stronger consensus in favor of substantial private investment when American businesses in Cuba can hire and pay workers directly, observe internationally recognized worker rights of free association, and provide their goods and services to Cuban citizens. Some, but not all, of our panel's members recommend that the United States begin to engage in "confidence building" measures with the Cuban military and to explore cooperation on counternarcotics

With change coming to Cuba, United States policy should enter a new era. Rather than refighting old battles, American policy makers should reflect this developing bipartisan consensus.

Bernard W. Aronson and William D. Rogers are Democrats who served as Assistant Secretaries of State in Republican administrations. They are the co-chairmen of a Council on Foreign Relations task force on American-Cuban relations.

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