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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Staff Trip Report: "Changing Cuba Policy - in the United States National Interest"

Published February 23, 2009

Richard Lugar, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, directed committee staff member for Latin America, Carl Meacham, to "evaluate U.S. policy towards Cuba". During the trip to Cuba, staff met with government officials, clergy, diplomats, business people, international press, and Cuban citizens. The resulting report offered the following conclusions:

"In hindsight, the U.S. embargo has not served a national security agenda since Cuba ceased to be an effective threat to the security of the United States. In the immediate post-Cold War era, the cost of maintaining this policy was negligible in comparison to the domestic political benefit derived from satisfying Cuban-American groups in the United States. The USG justified the embargo policy as an incentive or inducement for negotiations with the Cuban government, the rationale being that the U.S. would lift the embargo, or parts of it, in response to reform on human rights and democracy. This narrow approach, however, has not furthered progress in human rights or democracy in Cuba and has come at the expense of other direct and regional strategic U.S. interests.

Today it is clear that a reform of our policy would serve U.S. security and economic interests in managing migration effectively and combating the illegal drug trade, among other interests. By seizing the initiative at the beginning of a new U.S. Administration and at an important moment in Cuban history, the USG would relinquish a conditional posture that has made any policy changes contingent on Havana, not Washington.

Reform of U.S.-Cuban relations would also benefit our regional relations. Certain Latin American lenders, whose political appeal depends on the propagation of an array of anti-Washington grievances, would lose momentum as a centerpiece of these grievances is removed. More significantly, Latin Americans would view U.S. engagement with Cuba as a demonstration that the United States understands their perspectives on the history of U.S. policy in the region and no longer insists that all of Latin America must share U.S. hostility to a 50-year-old regime. The resulting improvement to the United States' image in the region would facilitate the advancement of U.S. interests.

If reform in US.-Cuba policy were to occur in the direction of sequenced engagement, the impact on the region would be swift and to the benefit of the security and prosperity of the United
States. In due order, we must correct the failures of our current policy in a way that enhances U.S. interests."

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