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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cuba: Issues for the 112th 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 the release of more than 50 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 called for a re-examination of policy. Two broad approaches toward Cuba have been at the center of debate. The first would maintain the dual-track policy of isolating the Cuban government while providing support to the Cuban people. The second is 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 recently announced further easing of restrictions on educational and religious travel and non-family remittances. 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 took action on several measures that included provisions related to Cuba. In March 2009, 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 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 (P.L. 111-242, as amended), the last of which provided funding for federal agencies through March 4, 2011 under conditions provided in enacted FY2010 appropriations measures. This extended the more restrictive “payment of cash in advance provision” and also continued Cuba broadcasting and democracy funding. Numerous other initiatives were introduced, but not considered, several of which would have eased sanctions on Cuba in various ways.

Congressional interest on Cuba is likely to continue in the 112
th Congress, focused on a number of issues, including U.S. sanctions, the human rights situation, Cuba’s imprisonment of a U.S. government subcontractor, the status of Cuba’s economic reforms, and its offshore oil development. For additional information, 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 28, 2011
Number of Pages: 55
Order Number: R41617
Price: $29.95

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