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Friday, April 2, 2010

Cuba: Issues for the 111th Congress

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Cuba remains a hard-line communist state with a poor record on human rights. The country's political succession from the long-ruling Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl was characterized by a remarkable degree of stability. Fidel stepped down from power in July 2006 because of health reasons, and Raúl assumed provisional control of the government until February 2008 when he officially became President. His government has implemented limited economic policy changes, but there has been disappointment that further reforms have not been forthcoming. The economy was hard hit by storms in 2008 and the global financial crisis has caused further strains. Few observers expect the government to ease its tight control over the political system. 

Since the early 1960s, U.S. policy has consisted largely of isolating Cuba through economic sanctions. A second policy component has consisted of support measures for the Cuban people, including private humanitarian donations, U.S.-sponsored broadcasting to Cuba, and support for human rights activists. In light of Fidel Castro's departure as head of government, many observers have called for a re-examination of sanctions policy. In this new context, two broad approaches have been advanced: an approach that would maintain the dual-track policy of isolating the Cuban government while providing support to the Cuban people; and an approach aimed at changing attitudes in the Cuban government and society through increased engagement. The Obama Administration has lifted restrictions on family travel and remittances; eased restrictions on telecommunications links with Cuba; restarted semi-annual migration talks; and initiated talks on resuming direct mail services. The Administration has also strongly criticized Cuba's human rights situation, including the death of hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February 2010 and the repression of peaceful protests and dissent. Cuba's imprisonment of a U.S. government contactor since December 2009 could affect the future of bilateral relations. 

In March 2009, the 111th Congress approved three provisions in the FY2009 omnibus appropriations measure (P.L. 111-8) that eased sanctions on family travel, travel for the marketing of agricultural and medical goods, and payment terms for U.S. agricultural exports. In December 2009, Congress included a provision in the FY2010 omnibus appropriations legislation (P.L. 111- 117) that eased payments terms for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba during FY2010 by defining the term "payment of cash in advance," and also continued funding for Cuba democracy programs and Radio and TV Martí broadcasting. In May 2009, the Senate approved S.Res. 149, related to freedom of the press, while in March 2010 it approved S.Con.Res. 54, as amended by S.Amdt. 3552, in the aftermath of the death of imprisoned Cuban dissident from a hunger strike (two similar House resolutions have been introduced: H.Con.Res. 251 and H.Con.Res. 252). 

Numerous initiatives have been introduced that would ease sanctions: H.R. 188, H.R. 1530, and H.R. 2272 (overall sanctions); H.R. 874/S. 428 and H.R. 1528 (travel); H.R. 332 (educational travel); H.R. 1531/S. 1089 and H.R. 4645/S. 3112 (agricultural exports and travel); H.R. 1737 (agricultural exports); and S. 774, H.R. 1918, and S. 1517 (hydrocarbon resources). H.R. 1103/S. 1234 would modify a trademark sanctions, while several bills cited above would repeal the sanction. S. 1808 would eliminated Radio and TV Martí. Measures that would increase sanctions are H.R. 2005 (related to fugitives) and H.R. 2687 (OAS participation), while H.Con.Res. 132 calls for the fulfillment of certain democratic conditions before the United States increases trade and tourism to Cuba. Also see CRS Report RL31139, Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances
and CRS Report R40566, Cuban Migration to the United States: Policy and Trends.

Date of Report: March 25, 2010
Number of Pages: 75
Order Number: R40193
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