WASHINGTON — Restrictive U.S. policies toward Cuba are ineffective, have failed to achieve their stated purpose of promoting democracy and should be reevaluated to take advantage of recent political changes on the island, according to the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The views of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., are appended to a report by minority committee staffers that calls for lifting Bush administration restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, reinstituting formal bilateral cooperation on drug interdiction and migration, and allowing Cuba to buy U.S. agricultural products on credit. Scheduled for release Monday, the report stops short of proposing that the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba be lifted.
A bipartisan congressional majority has long favored easing at least some of the restrictions but was repeatedly thwarted by the Bush White House and the Republican leadership. President Obama pledged during the campaign to lift the travel and remittance restraints, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in written responses to Senate confirmation questions that the administration planned an overall "review" of Cuba policy.
An administration official said Friday it was "not unreasonable" to expect that Obama would ease constraints on family travel and remittances to Cuba before he attends the mid April Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Latin America and U.S. allies in Europe maintain both diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba.
But Cuba, and Latin America in general, has so far received little attention from the Obama administration amid the turmoil of the economic crisis at home and the Afghan war and other pressing issues abroad. No director for the region has been named within the National Security Council staff, and regional officials at the State Department have remained in place.
In his letter to senators, Lugar noted that Obama's election and the replacement of President Fidel Castro with his brother, Raul, have generated debate important to U.S. security interests, "broader U.S.-Latin-American relations, and global perceptions of U.S. foreign policy."
"Despite uncertainty about Cuba's midterm political future," Lugar wrote, "it is clear that the recent leadership changes have created an opportunity for the United States to reevaluate a complex relationship marked by misunderstanding, suspicion, and open hostility."