Search Penny Hill Press

Wednesday, October 19, 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, including an expansion of self-employment begun in October 2010. A party congress held in April 2011 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 over 125 since 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 several bilateral issues, and eased restrictions on other types of purposeful travel and remittances. The Administration has criticized Cuba’s repression of dissidents, but has welcomed the release of political prisoners. 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. The House Appropriations Committee version of the FY2012 Financial Services appropriations bill, H.R. 2434, would roll back President Obama’s actions easing restrictions on remittances and family travel, while the Senate Appropriations Committee version, S. 1573, does not contain such a provision. Both bills would continue to clarify the definition of “payment of cash in advance” for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba during FY2012, while S. 1573 would also prohibit restrictions on direct transfers from a Cuban financial institution to U.S. financial institution in payment for licensed U.S. agricultural and medical exports to Cuba. The House Foreign Affairs Committee version of H.R. 2583, the FY2012 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, has provision that would require the President to fully enforce all U.S. regulations on travel to Cuba as in effect on January 19, 2009 (under the Bush Administration). H.R. 2831 would make an alien ineligible for adjustment under the Cuban Adjustment Act if the aliens returned to Cuba after admission or parole into the United States and before becoming a U.S. citizen. Several initiatives would ease sanctions: H.R. 255 and H.R. 1887 (overall sanctions); H.R. 833 and H.R. 1888 (agricultural exports); and 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, H.R. 372, S. 405, and H.R. 2047, would take different approaches toward Cuba’s offshore oil development: Two bills, S. 476 and H.R. 1317, would discontinue Radio and TV Martí broadcasts to Cuba. The Senate Appropriations Committee version of the FY2012 State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill, S. 1601, would fund Cuba broadcasting and humanitarian and democracy assistance for Cuba.

Date of Report: October 6, 2011
Number of Pages: 72
Order Number: R41617
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.