Less than a month away from President Obama’s unprecedented trip to Cuba, the Atlantic Council hosted a public conference call featuring former US Secretary of Commerce, Carlos Gutierrez, and former Chief Economist at the Office of International Affairs at the US Department of the Treasury and Tufts University professor Michael Klein. Moderated by Peter Schechter, Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, the panelists discussed how the lack of a working financial system impacts the lives of ordinary Cubans. All three believe that building a strong financial system in Cuba begins with Cuba joining international financial institutions.

As Cuba considers financial reforms such as unifying its dual-currency system, Klein noted the benefits of using the relevant tools and technical expertise of multilateral agencies such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). “Being linked with the IDB or joining the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can often serve as a ‘housekeeping seal of approval’ for countries [with emerging economies], and that can make participants in the world capital markets more willing to supply capital,” stated Klein.

Secretary Gutierrez added the need for US-Cuban discussions promoting property rights, rule of law, and revisions in US regulations to help the island’s nascent private sector. Citing President Obama’s criticism of previous Cuba policies, Gutierrez stressed the need for lifting US trade and travel restrictions that does little to empower people’s livelihoods.
When pressed on if the United States should engage Cuba on economic issues before there are substantial gains on economic liberties, Secretary Gutierrez stated, “We are helping Cubans achieve a fundamental human right…I’d like to dispel the notion that the reforms and what we are supporting in terms of economic opening, that they are not related to human rights. I think that is a false perception…We can’t wait to get 100 percent right [political liberties] in order to move ahead with helping the Cuban people in where we can help them…we have the opportunity to help them economically, and we should do it.”