How President Biden Can Manage Cuba
By John McAuliff
Five years ago I stood in a mostly Cuban crowd outside of the US embassy in Havana, excitedly watching our flag be raised for the first time in 54 years. Two hours later I was at a celebratory party at the US Ambassador’s residence, a beautiful building designed but never used as a Winter White House for FDR. Scores of official and non-official Americans who had worked for normalization were there, along with diplomats from other countries. No one from the Cuban government attended because the embassy had invited a few prominent dissidents.
The path to this day had not been easy because of political distrust on both side and was a tribute to the determination of both Presidents Obama and Castro. None of us expected the future would be simple. However we never anticipated that virtually all would be undone by the election of Donald Trump.
Cuba relations will hardly be the largest problem or the first priority of a Biden Administration, but it is low hanging fruit. While minorities are loudly in favor or against US engagement with the island, most Americans, including Cuban-Americans, were quietly supportive of President Obama’s normalization path and even inclined to go further on travel.
Biden can rapidly and effectively build on Obama’s opening. He will do at least as well with personally invested Florida voters by convincing them his goal is a positive relationship with the homeland of their parents, children and other family members. He can counteract the narrowminded regression of President Trump for whom Cuba policies were little more than a favor to Marco Rubio and to Vladimir Putin.
Biden will be able to signal his concern for the well-being of the people of both nations, his desire to strengthen pro-market reforms and the need to practically counteract growing Russian and Chinese influence. His Administration will solidify a historic new chapter of post Monroe Doctrine post Platt Amendment US partnership with the hemisphere.
Biden’s campaign is already publicly critical of the latest punitive pettiness of the Trump Administration, prohibition of rare private charter flights. He has told Americas Quarterly, “as president, I will promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights”. https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2020/08/joe-biden-and-kamala-harris-on-cuba.html
Biden will certainly receive support from his Vice President. Senator Kamala Harris is among 46 bipartisan cosponsors of the Leahy bill to end all restrictions on travel to Cuba.
He can also expect an abrazo, a hug, from the First Lady whose moving cultural visit to Camaguey and Havana was portrayed in an Obama White House video. https://youtu.be/hc6NiDbVepI
four stages of opportunity that would cut the Gordian knot of six decades of
intractable mutually destructive US-Cuba relations.
1) During the campaign or right after election: Announce that immediately upon taking office he will restore Obama policies on individual and group travel licenses, cruises, flights to regional cities, remittances, import of agricultural products, specific types of investments and banking and international shipping as well as facilitation of visas for educational and cultural exchange. Clarify that Cubans granted visas for family and professional visits and for study in the US will be deemed ineligible to claim status under the Cuban Adjustment Act. (Depending on US success in controlling Covid-19, an announcement of intention allows planning for the winter season and spring semester by the travel sector and universities.)
2) Within the first year: Fully restaff an embassy gutted by a Secretary of State and President who were opportunistically intimidated by inexplicable health problems. Reopen consular authority and restore visas for immigration and family reunion visits. Support Leahy/McGovern legislation to totally end restrictions on travel and for comparable initiatives in agricultural and medical sales as well as on related financial transactions. Enable collaboration in medicine and science, including on anti-Covid research, treatment and international assistance. Return to abstention on the UN vote against the unilateral US embargo. Resuspend Title III of Helms-Burton to stop annoyance suits by Cuban Americans for property they lost before they had any claim as US citizens.
ground. To test and support economic
reforms, terminate application of the embargo to privately owned small and
medium Cuban enterprises, permitting their exports, imports and American investments. Cooperate with Cuba to confirm Canadian
research that chemical toxins not illusive sound waves caused illness of
embassy personnel and to discover who was responsible. Stop all US government funding
of projects within Cuba that are not vetted through normal diplomatic channels
with a host government.
3) Within the first two years: Align with Hemispheric and European goals by achieving through comprehensive negotiations a political settlement in Venezuela and an end to the unilateral US embargo of Cuba. Open consulates in at least one Cuban and one US city. Begin ferry service between US and Cuban ports. Support with governmental, corporate and foundation funds wide ranging cultural, educational, professional and business exchanges. Seek reciprocal dampening of interventionist hostility by state funded publications, broadcasts and social media, replaced by ongoing multi sectoral dialog about conflicting values and ideologies.
4) Within the first term: Follow the road map to restore full Cuban sovereignty of the Guantanamo base that was developed by Ben Rhodes and Alejandro Castro during Obama’s normalization discussions. Explore transforming the military outpost and prison into a free trade zone, hemispheric medical research center and cruise port.