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, including an expansion of self-employment begun in October 2010. A party congress held in April laid out numerous economic goals that could increase the private sector. 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 125 since mid-2010 after talks with the 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. The Administration has continued to call for the release of a U.S. government subcontractor, Alan Gross, detained since late 2009 who was sentenced to 15 years in March 2011.
Strong interest on 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, and U.S. democracy programs. The House Appropriations Committee-approved version of the FY2012 Financial Services Appropriations bill, H.R. 2434, would (in Section 901) roll back President Obama’s actions easing restrictions on remittances and family travel and (in Section 618) continue to clarify the definition of “payment of cash in advance” for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba during FY2012. (P.L. 112-10, enacted in April 2011, continued the “payment of cash in advance” provision for FY2011.) Several introduced bills would ease sanctions: H.R. 255 and H.R. 1887 (overall sanctions); H.R. 833 and H.R. 1888 (agricultural exports); H.R. 380 and H.R. 1886 (travel). Two initiatives, S. 603 and H.R. 1166, would modify a trademark sanction, while several bills already noted would eliminate that sanction (H.R. 255, H.R. 1887, and H.R. 1888). Three bills would take different approaches toward Cuba’s offshore oil development: H.R. 372, S. 405, and H.R. 2047. Two initiatives would discontinue Radio and TV Martí broadcasts to Cuba: S. 476 and H.R. 1317. One resolution would call for the return of U.S. fugitives in Cuba.
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.
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