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Friday, November 2, 2012

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. A party congress held in April 2011 laid out numerous economic goals that, if implemented, could significantly alter Cuba’s state-dominated economic model. Few observers expect the government to ease its tight control over the political system. The government 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, but short-term detentions and harassment have increased significantly. 

U.S. Policy 

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 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 U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, detained in 2009, and sentenced to 15 years in prison in March 2011. 

Legislative Action 

Strong interest on Cuba is continuing in the 112th Congress. In the first session, an attempt to roll back the Administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and remittances was unsuccessful. The provision had been included in the House Appropriations Committee version of the FY2012 Financial Services appropriations bill, H.R. 2434, but was not included in the FY2012 “megabus” appropriations measure (H.R. 2055, P.L. 112-74). Both H.R. 2434 and the Senate version of the bill, S. 1573, also would have continued to clarify the definition of “payment of cash in advance” for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba during FY2012, but the provision was not included in the “megabus” measure.

In the second session, the Senate approved: S.Res. 366 on February 1, 2012, condemning the Cuban government for the death of democracy activist Wilman Villar Mendoza; and S.Res. 525 on July 31, 2012, honoring prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá who was killed in a car accident. With regard to Cuba democracy funding, the Senate Appropriations Committee version of the FY2013 foreign aid appropriations measure, S. 3241, would provide $15 million as the Administration requested, while the House Appropriations Committee version of the bill, H.R. 5857, would provide $20 million. With regard to Cuba broadcasting, S. 3241 would provide $23.4 million ($194,000 less than the Administration’s request) while H.R. 5857 would provide $28.062 million ($4.468 million more than the request). Since Congress did not complete action on FY2013 appropriations before the beginning of the fiscal year, it approved a continuing appropriations resolution in September 2012 (H.J.Res. 117, P.L. 112-175) that continues FY2013 funding through March 27, 2013, at the same rate for projects and activities in FY2012, plus an across-the-board increase of 0.612%.

Among other initiatives, two would increase sanctions: H.R. 2583 would roll back the easing of travel and remittance restrictions, and H.R. 2831 would attempt to curb frequent travel to Cuba by Cubans who have recently emigrated to the United States. 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. Eight bills, H.R. 372, S. 405, H.R. 2047, H.R. 3393, H.R. 4310, H.R. 4135, H.R. 6067, and S. 1836, 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.

Date of Report: October 26, 2012
Number of Pages: 95
Order Number: R41617
Price: $29.95

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