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Monday, April 11, 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 has implemented limited economic policy changes since 2008. In September 2010, the government announced that it would reduce the public sector by cutting half a million jobs, but implementation has been slow and missed the original target of March 2011. The government has also expanded categories of self-employment. 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 100 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 reexamination of policy. Two broad approaches toward Cuba have been at the center of debate. The first is to 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. Since taking office, the Obama Administration has lifted restrictions on family travel and remittances, moved to reengage Cuba on migration and other bilateral issues, and, in January 2011, announced further measures to ease restrictions on purposeful travel and non-family remittances. The Administration has criticized the government’s repression of dissidents, but it has welcomed the release of political prisoners as a positive sign. Since late 2009, the Administration has continued to call for the release of a U.S. government subcontractor, Alan Gross, who was recently sentenced to 15 years in mid-March 2011.

Congressional interest in Cuba is continuing in the 112th 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. To date, several legislative initiatives have been introduced that would ease sanctions, including H.R. 255 (overall sanctions) and H.R. 833 (agricultural exports); two initiatives take different approaches toward Cuba’s offshore oil development, H.R. 372 and S. 405; two initiatives would modify a trademark sanction, S. 603 and H.R. 1166; and one measure, S. 476, would discontinue Radio and TV Martí broadcasts to Cuba. While Congress has not completed action on any of the FY2011 appropriations measures, it has approved series of shortterm continuing resolutions (P.L. 111-242, as amended), the last of which provides funding through April 8, 2011, under conditions provided in enacted FY2010 appropriations measures. This has extended the less restrictive definition of “payment of cash in advance” for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba, and also continued Cuba broadcasting and democracy funding.

For additional information, see CRS Report RL31139, Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances, by Mark P. Sullivan and CRS Report R41522, Cuba’s Offshore Oil Development: Background and U.S. Policy Considerations, by Neelesh Nerurkar and Mark P. Sullivan.

Date of Report: March 31, 2011
Number of Pages: 61
Order Number: R41617
Price: $29.95

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