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Friday, January 21, 2011

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 significantly.

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 called for a re-examination of U.S. policy. The Obama Administration lifted restrictions on family travel and remittances and restarted talks with the Cuban government. It criticized Cuba’s repression of dissidents, but also welcomed the release of political prisoners. The Administration also repeatedly 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” more broadly. While Congress did not complete action on any of the FY2011 appropriations measures, it did approve a series of short-term continuing resolutions, the last of which (P.L. 111-322) provided funding for federal agencies through March 4, 2011 under conditions provided in enacted FY2010 appropriations measures. This extended the “payment of cash in advance provision” and also continued Cuba broadcasting and democracy funding. In other legislative action, 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.

Numerous other initiatives were introduced, but not considered. Several of these would have eased Cuba 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 have modified a trademark sanction, while several bills cited above would have repealed the sanction. S. 1808 would have eliminated Radio and TV Martí. Measures that would have increased sanctions were: H.R. 2005 (related to fugitives), H.R. 2687 (Organization of American States participation), and H.R. 5620 (Cuba’s oil development). H.Con.Res. 132 would have called for the fulfillment of certain democratic conditions before the United States increased trade and tourism to Cuba.

This report reflects legislative developments through the 111
th Congress and will not be updated. Also see CRS Report RL31139, Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances, and CRS Report R41522, Cuba’s Offshore Oil Development: Background and U.S. Policy Considerations.

Date of Report: January 4, 2011
Number of Pages: 84
Order Number: R40193
Price: $29.95

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