In an open letter to President Obama, Peter Schechter, Director, and Jason Marczak, Deputy Director, of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, urge that the time is now to  seize the momentum of recent policy changes toward Cuba and fully reignite relations by pushing the current session of Congress to end the embargo. Schechter and Marczak write, “It is critical to push beyond summits, terrorism lists, and even announcements of reestablishing diplomatic relations.”

In the past few months, the Obama administration has made bold announcements to shift US-Cuba policy, which have already fundamentally changed the way the two countries engage. Yet the letter makes the case that without an additional push, current US law still inhibits Americans from traveling to the country and from sending unrestricted money, slows agricultural sales, and inhibits Cuba from accessing multilateral assistance to grow its transitioning economy.

The letter provides a six-point strategy for the President: 

1)    Nominate a US ambassador to Havana.
“Push the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold a confirmation hearing to consider the nomination of a US Ambassador to Cuba […] If there is not action by the new year, make a recess appointment.

2)    Advocate the removal of the travel ban by year’s end.
“Work with Senators such as Jeff Flake and Patrick Leahy and the forty-four cosponsors of a bill to end the travel ban to build bipartisan support for its complete removal.”

3)    End the remittance cap.
“The easing of remittance restrictions could have a significant impact on the Cuban economy and on supporting the entrepreneurial spirit of Cubans […] Push Congress to remove all remittance restrictions under Helms-Burton, and, if Congress will not act, use your authority to lift the cap.”

4)    Push for greater US agricultural exports to Cuba.
 “…Allowing for the purchase of US foodstuffs on credit—like most of the world—will help feed a cash-starved island and give US farmers greater access to a nearby market currently dominated by other countries.

5)    Finds ways to support Cuba’s integration into international financial institutions.
“Access to technical know-how and to monies from institutions such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the IMF would support Cuba’s reintegration into the world economy while encouraging transparency and the nascent Cuban private sector.”

6)    Visit Cuba before the end of your administration.
“A US president has not visited Cuba while in office since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. The symbolism of such a visit—even without the dismantling of sanctions—would rival President Richard Nixon’s visit to China.”

While praising the president’s policies as having done much to reduce tensions with key regional allies that disagreed with fifty years of US-Cuba policy, the letter also raises awareness of the unintended consequences of the enduring embargo.  A full reappraisal of the broader economic opportunities in Latin America—the US’ fastest growing trade partner—cannot happen until the embargo is fully dismantled.  The embargo prolongs the ability of the Castro administration to use the United States as a scapegoat for Cuba’s domestic problems. The letter states, “For too long the United States has been a convenient crutch for the failures of the island’s authoritarian regime.” 

The Latin America Center released a poll last year showing that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of normalizing relations. Fifty-six percent agree with the wholesale proposition. In Florida, that number jumps to 63 percent support, and among Latinos, 62 percent. 

The signed letter is available here.


About the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center

Launched in May 2013, the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center is dedicated to broadening awareness of the transformational political, economic, and social changes throughout Latin America.  The Center is focused on bringing in new political, corporate, civil society, and academic leaders to change the fundamental nature of discussions on Latin America and to develop new ideas and innovative policy recommendations that highlight the region’s potential as a strategic and economic partner for Europe, the United States, and beyond.

Please email or follow us on @ACLatAm

Related Experts: Jason Marczak and Peter Schechter