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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cuba: Issues for the 111th Congress

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Cuba remains a one-party communist state with a poor record on human rights. The country’s political succession in 2006 from the long-ruling Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl was characterized by a remarkable degree of stability. The government of Raúl Castro implemented limited economic policy changes in 2008 and 2009, and in September 2010 began a significant series of reforms to reduce the public sector and increase private enterprise. Few observers expect the government to ease its tight control over the political system, although it has reduced the number of political prisoners over the past several years, including more than 50 released since July 2010 after talks with the Cuban Catholic Church.

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 U.S.-sponsored broadcasting 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 policy with two broad approaches 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; and restarted migration talks. The Administration has criticized the government’s repression of dissidents, but it welcomed Cuba’s July 2010 announcement of a prisoner release as a positive sign. The Administration also has called for the release of a U.S. government subcontractor imprisoned since December 2009.

The 111
th Congress approved three provisions in the FY2009 omnibus appropriations measure (P.L. 111-8) in March 2009 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 payment terms for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba during FY2010 by defining the term “payment of cash in advance.” In May 2009, the Senate approved S.Res. 149, related to freedom of the press, and in March 2010 it approved S.Con.Res. 54, recognizing the death of a Cuban hunger striker. Pending legislation with Cuba provisions include: the Senate version of the FY2011 Financial Services appropriations bill, S. 3677, which extends the definition of “payment of cash in advance” for another year; the Senate version of the FY2011 Foreign Operations appropriations bill, S. 3676, which would fund democracy projects and Radio and TV Martí; and the Senate version of the defense authorization bill, S. 3454, which requires a Cuba report.

Numerous other 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 eliminate Radio and TV Martí. Measures that would increase sanctions are H.R. 2005 (related to fugitives), H.R. 2687 (OAS participation), and H.R. 5620 (Cuba’s oil development). 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

Date of Report: November 12, 2010
Number of Pages: 83
Order Number: R40193
Price: $29.95

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