Moving toward a Free Cuba
With a Keynote Address by The Honorable Carlos Gutierrez, Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce
About This Event

Carlos Gutierrez
As dictator Fidel Castro shuffles off the world stage, many are poised to help Cubans rebuild their nation and secure the blessings of democracy and economic Listen to Audio

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freedom. After decades of Castro’s embargo on reality, Cuba’s transition will be challenging. But the Cuban people have proven themselves to be talented and resourceful, and shedding a worn-out dictatorship will generate a burst of hope and energy. People on the island and their families abroad will shape the future of Cuba, but the United States can play a crucial, supportive role by joining the Cuban people in pressing for a genuine transition that dismantles the vestiges of a cruel police state and command economy by rejecting a rapprochement with a “successor” regime.

Cuba experts and key U.S. policymakers will gather at AEI to discuss how best to address the challenges of establishing the rule of law and democracy, helping Cuban society reconcile and recover its past greatness, and jumpstarting economic reconstruction.

8:45 a.m.
Introduction: Christopher DeMuth, AEI
Keynote Speaker:
The Honorable Carlos Gutierrez, Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce
Panel I: From Dictatorship to Democracy
Georges Fauriol, International Republican Institute
Jose Antonio Font, American Capital Partners, LLC
Roger F. Noriega, AEI
Keynote Speaker:
Caleb McCarry, Cuba Transition Coordinator, U.S. Department of State
1:00 p.m.
Panel II: Transforming Cuban Society
Frank Calzon, Center for a Free Cuba
Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, Cuban Democratic Directorate
John Sanbrailo, Pan American Development Organization
Roger F. Noriega, AEI
Panel III: Transforming the Cuban Economy
John Andersen, U.S. Department of Commerce
Juan Belt, USAID
Ralph Galliano, Institute for the Study of U.S.-Cuba Policy
Mark Falcoff, AEI
Event Summary

February 2007

Moving toward a Free Cuba

As dictator Fidel Castro shuffles off the world stage, many are poised to help Cubans rebuild their nation and secure the blessings of democracy and economic freedom. After decades of Castro's embargo on reality, Cuba's transition will be challenging. But the Cuban people have proven themselves to be talented and resourceful, and shedding a worn-out dictatorship will generate a burst of hope and energy. People on the island and their families abroad will shape the future of Cuba, but the United States can play a crucial, supportive role by joining the Cuban people in pressing for a genuine transition that dismantles the vestiges of a cruel police state and command economy by rejecting a rapprochement with a "successor" regime.

Cuba experts and key U.S. policymakers gathered on February 27, 2007 at AEI to discuss how best to address the challenges of establishing the rule of law and democracy, helping Cuban society reconcile and recover its past greatness, and jumpstarting economic reconstruction.

Keynote Speech

The Honorable Carlos Gutierrez
U.S. Secretary of Commerce

Castro's regime has left Cubans economic and political captives. Stripped of individual freedoms, Cubans have become the workers on this hemisphere's last plantation. With Castro's reign coming to an end and the Cuban people poised for change, Cuba finds itself at a critical juncture. The policy of the Bush administration has been to help the Cuban people hasten their freedom, not to legitimize any successor regime that will keep a tight grip on power. There is a common misconception that U.S. policy is making the situation in Cuba worse. Castro has fueled this misconception to keep the focus off the true problem: the shortcomings of his regime's policies.  

The focus needs to shift toward Cuban policies and the plight of Cuban laborers. While the United States has been supplying one third of Cuba's food and medical supplies and providing over $1 billion in remittances through the Commission for a Free Cuba, Castro has been exploiting Cuban workers and making Cuba's economic situation worse.

Insufficient food rations force Cubans to turn to a corrupt black market. Foreign firms pay the government in dollars for Cuban labor, which then pays the workers in less valuable pesos, pocketing the difference. As a result, the Cuban people do not benefit from foreign investment, making the American embargo neither the source of nor the solution to Cuba's economic plight. The only solution is to change the Cuban system.

It is naive to expect any changes with Raul Castro as successor; his succession would be a step backward, as it would hand total control over to the military.

The current U.S. policy is to assist in the fight for personal freedom and an open economic and political system, but it has no military or imperialist intentions.  The United States wants to help the people of Cuba transition from a dictatorship to a free, open economy by supplying emergency food, water, fuel, medical equipment, and economic assistance. But at the end of the day, the Bush administration realizes that the future of Cuba is in the hands of the Cuban people.

Panel I: From Dictatorship to Democracy

Roger F. Noriega

After five decades of oppression by Castro's regime, a transition to democracy will be very challenging. But there are reasons for optimism. Before Castro came to power, the Cubans had built a successful state. The sooner people recognize the damage Castro has inflicted, the sooner there can be a legitimate push for change.

The United States must reject the notion of Raul Castro establishing a stable regime. The priority for the Cuban people is not stability as much as deep, institutional change. By simply making unilateral accessions the United States will squander any legitimacy it has for promoting such change.

The debate should not be over U.S. policy, however; the focus must be on what is happening on the island. The United States must offer incentives to the Cuban people to push for deep reforms. A pledge to provide robust aid, develop trade relations, use U.S. businesses to establish honest commerce, and fund credible human rights organizations will send the message that the United States will stand by Cubans in promoting a legitimate democratic transition.

It is important that Cubans take the lead. For a truly legitimate state, Cuba should be run by Cubans, for the good of Cubans, under rules set by Cubans.

Jose Antonio Font
American Capital Partners, LLC

There has been a misguided anticipation that the death of Fidel Castro will result in the collapse of the Cuban totalitarian regime. His death is not a guarantee of change, and it is therefore critical that the focus of Cuban policy be expanded to include promoting a democratic transition.

There are three imperatives for closing the gap in U.S. Cuba policy. The first is to expand communications with the Cuban resistance. It is crucial that the United States support potential reformers within Cuba with sustained communication. Second, the United States must help build up democratic resistance by empowering a critical mass of people able to take charge of reform. Structured democratic opposition is the critical element missing in U.S. policy toward Cuba today. Third, the overall attitude about change within Cuba must shift; there has been a general lethargy about the possibility of change that pervades the population which the United States must try to reverse at this opportune time.

To accomplish these objectives the United States must also adopt three important funding goals. First, U.S. policy must correlate Democracy Act funding with regime change objectives. To accomplish regime change, the United States must fund and manage problems for transition reforms and initiatives under auspices of special, strategic, non-military task forces on the ground. The people who actually implement U.S. policy are the most important part of the transition, and currently there are too few human resources.

The final two funding goals will guarantee support for Cuban reformers. The United States must provide incentives for members of the nomenklatura to push for transition and accept regime change. Finally, we should logistically support actual destabilization work in Cuba. By providing incentives and support for transition, the United States can play a critical role in ending Castro's legacy of oppression.

Georges Fauriol
International Republican Institute

New regimes are often coalitions of groups and individuals whose only commonality was the desire to oust the previous regime. New governments often fall apart because they lack viable political parties with common ideologies that represent the interests of the people. As a result, internal fighting develops quickly and personal interests emerge.

In a new democracy, the rules of the game often become skewed and out of line from true democratic institutions. These weak institutions result in a dependency on strong leadership that cannot be guaranteed. A former totalitarian state has no established tradition of rule of law or constitutional structure to undergird a new government. An additional challenge is in making leaders responsive to the public after years of oppression.

Democratic transitions are homegrown, and while outsiders can play a supportive role, the actual transition must come from the citizens. Democracy cannot be manufactured abroad and exported; there must be an internal willingness to bring about the change. This poses a challenge for U.S. policymakers abroad to decide how to engage operationally.

Cuba has a long history of no free political process, making Cuba's ability to maintain a democratic transition uncertain. It is with these challenges in mind that the United States must promote a democratic transition within Cuba.

Keynote Speech

Caleb McCarry
Cuba Transition Coordinator, U.S. Department of State

The people of Cuba have long been poised for major change. The Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba was established to actively work to hasten a democratic transition there. In a report based on the Libertad Act, the U.S. government expressed a commitment to working with a transitional democratic government. The report was an effort to hasten the process, but it deliberately took a tone that was respectful of the sovereignty of the Cuban people.

A recent poll conducted by a Spanish NGO revealed that the majority of Cubans--especially young people--expect change. Since July 2006, civil society has become increasingly active, and despite the regime responding with increased repression, Cuban activists are still speaking up. The publication Steps to Freedom reported an increase of over 54 percent in civil society activity in 2005.

The United States has stepped up efforts to break the information blockade and is prepared to follow through in promises of assistance. Internal opposition has been steadily improving, and it is the duty of the United States to accompany those Cubans in the call for democracy. There must be a global effort to keep Cubans from settling for a successor regime, and the United States is ready to assist in ending Castro's oppression of the political process, bringing about free, open elections, and restoring human rights.

Panel II: Transforming Cuban Society

Frank Calzon
Center for a Free Cuba

There is no substitute for effective leadership from the United States. The United States' institutional pursuit of a free Cuba is larger than that of any other nation.  The people of Cuba are reliant on U.S. sponsored radio and TV Marti, and the Cuban government is so fearful of American broadcasts that they will do almost anything to prevent such messages from infiltrating Cuban society. The government knows the danger that the U.S. broadcasts present because Cubans still attempt to flee to the United States.

The people are bold in their discontent with the Cuban dictatorship; these sentiments are evident in the 20,000 signatures that were recently gathered in opposition to the practices of the Cuban government. Signatories will face extra repressive measures. Getting involved in politics in Cuba demands sacrifice, but the determination of the people is strong.

The solution to transforming Cuban society is not to simply lift the U.S. trade embargo. A link must exist between Cuba's domestic, internal reform policy and the foreign policy of the United States. The proper conditions, purpose, assurances, and timeframe should, and must, exist if trade relations are to become open and free between the U.S. and Cuba. If the embargo is lifted, we cannot allow companies to pay Cubans $15 per month for labor and subject the youth of Cuba to the sex trade.

Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat
Cuban Democratic Directorate

The Castro regime has a long history of repression of the Cuban people, and understanding the history of that repression is crucial in understanding the basis of the Cuban dissent.

The quest for freedom has been a theme in the resistance of the Cuban people for forty-eight years. The 1940 constitution calls on citizens to act against tyranny. Since then, the Cuban government has fought to prevent resistance leadership from effective rebellion. Policies of the 1970s and 1980s sought to identify and crush rebellion leadership but the dissident movement continued to grow. On March 18, 2003, seventy-five prominent rebellion leaders were captured and the Cuban government thought that it had put down the dissident movement forever, but the resistance movement remains strong in Cuba.

There has not been a seamless transition between Fidel Castro and Raul Castro. Discontent has risen geometrically. Gallup polls indicate that 40 percent of Cubans do not approve of the government, 75 percent of Cubans are not happy with their current level of freedom, and 91 percent of Cubans want economic relations with the United States.

John Sanbrailo
Pan American Development Organization

Steps can be taken to support and facilitate the transition of the region toward a developed society. Entrepreneurship in Cuba has been completely destroyed. There are models of internationally funded development successes throughout the world, and international development models within Latin America provide evidence that similar regional models could be successful in Cuba as well. It is necessary to stop looking at international development models in the region as failures. These models can serve as a means of achieving a new market economy in Cuba.

There may not be widespread vocal dissent from Cubans, but a lot is going on below the radar. These underground voices are the key to transforming Cuban society and establishing a working market economy and democracy in Cuba.

Panel III: Transforming the Cuban Economy

John Andersen
U.S. Department of Commerce

The U.S. government's focus is on helping the people of Cuba get their economy moving again and supporting a new democratic transitional government. All major economic indicators have fallen significantly under the Castro regime. Demographic trends are dismal. Sixty percent of productive capacity in Cuba is controlled by the military; the military is more productive than the entire private sector.

The United States must work to assist the Cuban people in guaranteeing fair elections, freedom of worship, the release of political prisoners, the formation of independent trade unions, a free press, free speech, an independent judiciary, independent political and social associations, and the right to private property.

The United States should provide assistance to Cuba but must not seek to create a transitional government according to our own interests. In order to transform the Cuban economy, the United States should provide technical assistance to facilitate improved financial systems on a macroeconomic level. We should also assist the agricultural sector by providing access to private-sector assistance. The Cuban infrastructure needs U.S. support.

Juan Belt
U.S. Agency for International Development

The power industry is most important in ensuring a positive transition in the Cuban economy. There must be good relationships between power companies and their clients. Oil and petroleum production are also areas in which Cuba can make progress in a positive economic transition. U.S. geologists believe that there are around 4.6 billion barrels of oil in Cuba or offshore in its waters.

There are a number of additional steps that must take place in anticipation of the transformation of the Cuban economic system, including market-friendly prices, established institutions, social safety nets, and positive demographic trends. Such processes will ensure that healthy markets exist and that the Cuban people are provided for.

The greatest barriers to a positive economic transition in Cuba are the lack of proper market institutions, the lack of private property rights, the crumbling power sector, and a pending fiscal crisis. However, the proximity to the United States government will ensure Cuba some level of assistance, and Cuba is ready for foreign direct investment.

Ralph Galliano
Institute for the Study of U.S.-Cuba Policy

Years of foreign investment in Cuba have not benefited the Cuban people. The key to transforming the Cuban economy is the establishment of private property rights. The direct hiring and payment of workers in this new Cuba will also be important and can occur if private property rights are extended to Cubans. The government currently takes so much of the money that the people make that any positive impacts of labor are essentially trivialized.

There are six standards that American businesses should utilize when considering relations with Cuba: the Sullivan principles, the Arcos principles, the Best Business practices, the EU Common Position, the Agreement for Democracy in Cuba, and the ING business principles. The common denominator between all of these principles is the right to possess private property.

Right now the United States is far more interested in exporting to Cuba than investing in Cuba. Positive reform in private property rights will alter this preference and enable Cuban workers to effect a transition the Cuban economy.

AEI interns Phoebe Potter and Gregory Trum Jr. prepared this summary.

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