Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

As Cuba Dramatically Changes, American Policy Reveals Its Historic Intention

Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

As Cuba Dramatically Changes, American Policy Reveals Its Historic Intention

Article excerpt

In the past year, the Cuban government under Raúl Castro has instituted a series of significant reforms that have brought deep economic and political change to the island.

Promising to develop 21st Century socialism in Cuba, the reorganization has included sweeping reforms such as legalizing home and car sales, development of a private entrepreneurial sector, leasing out state lands to individual and co-op growers, and the lessening of various state regulations. At the same time, the government continues to move ahead with its plan to release more than one million workers from public employment.

An excess of 300,000 Cubans have moved into private businesses, helping to create a vibrant emerging middle class and a change in the social contract, where now the individual no longer expects to be entirely dependent on the state for their economic well being. The shift has occurred due to Raúl Castro's pragmatic perspective of how the economy should operate. Castro's premise is that Cuba cannot be the only country in the world where you do not have to work to earn a living, and that the government should not be in the business of making shoes. To support economic reforms, officials have promoted the development of micro loans and the establishment of wholesale outlets to assist those starting out in private enterprises.

No reform has received as strong a reaction as the recent announcement by the Cuban government regarding the widely scorned bureaucratic restrictions on those wishing to travel outside the country. Cuban citizens will no longer have to apply for the tarjeta blanca exit permit, or arrange a letter of invitation from a foreigner. Cubans will now be able to to stay outside the country for up to two years without yielding any rights of citizenship. Even internationally renowned anti-government blogger Yoani Sánchez has been permitted to leave the country to conduct a world tour. Sanchez's blog, Generation Y, has garnered international recognition and awards, along with mixed responses from both sides of the spectrum for her unconditional support for ending the embargo and measured criticism of America's policy against her country.

Following the recent economic expansion came the announcement of presidential term limits in March. Raúl Castro declared he would step down from power in five years, marking the first time a Castro would not be in charge of the Revolutionary Government. Miguel Diaz-Canal, 52, was named first vice president and direct in line to follow Raúl. Despite the movement toward handing over the reins of power to new leadership, critics remain concerned over what they declared to be Cuba's continued civil rights restrictions, including the harassment of such dissidents as the Damas de Blanco (ladies in white). The group protested the arrests of 75 dissidents in 2003, many of whom were husbands of the Damas. The arrests came during a particularly tense period between the United States and Cuba, with Havana asserting that those arrested were accepting financial and material aid from the U.S. Interest Section for their support of U.S. regime change aims. Leaders of the Damas, who have been denounced publicly, as well as physically abused during their regular protest marches, have admitted to accepting funds from the U.S. Interest Section as their only means of challenging their government.

Change is enveloping this new Cuba, while in stark contrast, immobility remains consistent in American policy. Given the history of hostility towards the Cuban Revolution, it should come as no surprise that the U.S. reaction continues to diminish or deny the depth and importance of the current reforms.

Why does this strategy persist, not only in face of decades of failure, but also now that change in Cuba is so dramatically apparent? What is the force that holds U.S. policy in such a tight, uncompromising grip of intransigence?

The lack of any real encouragement from Washington should be considered entirely by design. …

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