Cuba Groups to Trump: Reversing Course Could Harm Cuban People and U.S. Interests

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today,  the highly respected Cuba Study Group led a coalition of Cuba advocacy groups, including Engage Cuba, in urging President-elect Trump and his new Administration to continue to normalize relations with Cuba. In a memo titled, "U.S. Policy Toward Cuba: the Case for Engagement," the organizations highlight that continued engagement with Cuba will create U.S. jobs and facilitate more positive change on the island. Additionally, the organizations detailed the potential negative consequences of reversing course with our island neighbor. 

The memo was sent to the president-elect following U.S. Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson's announcement that the Trump Administration will examine the policy changes toward Cuba at his Senate confirmation hearing on Wed., Jan. 11. In the memo, the Cuba groups not only encourage a comprehensive review of these changes, but also state that "a close evaluation will confirm that constructive engagement—including the reduction of travel and commercial barriers—is the best strategy for supporting the Cuban people and boosting U.S. jobs and exports."

The organizations wrote that "...further progress toward normalization stands the best chance of improving security just off U.S. shores, reducing irregular migration, enhancing the management of U.S. borders, and encouraging continued, positive evolution inside the island."

The memo states that reversing course "could have pernicious consequences for U.S. economic and foreign policy interests and the prospects of evolutionary change in Cuba. Past policies of isolation did not elicit internal reforms or lead to political opening." 

“Secretary designate Tillerson’s pledge to order a top to bottom review of our Cuba policy is a welcome development.  That review needs to be balanced and thorough," said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a national coalition of private companies, organizations and local leaders dedicated to lifting the Cuban embargo. "This report is a compelling argument against turning the clock back, and should be part of any unbiased assessment."

In addition to Cuba advocacy groups, on Thurs., Jan. 13, a coalition of over 100 U.S. agriculture groups sent to a letter urging the president-elect to strengthen U.S.-Cuba ties. On Wed., Dec. 7, 2016, over 100 Cuban entrepreneurs sent a letter to the president-elect highlighting how U.S.-Cuba engagement has benefited Cuba's growing private sector. 

An executive summary of the report and list of Cuba advocacy groups is available here. Key points are available below. 

Key points: 

Gains from Engagement

  • U.S. Job Creation. Further engagement would allow the United States to regain lost market share in emerging Cuban markets from economic competitors such as China, Vietnam, and Brazil and employ thousands of U.S. workers in agribusiness, infrastructure, tech, and tourism.
  • Cuban-American support. Lifting restrictions on remittances and travel allows Cuban-Americans to support their families in Cuba and provide critical seed funding for the island’s nascent private sector.
  • Cuba’s burgeoning entrepreneurial sector. In just a few years, Cuba's private sector has grown to account for 30% of the country’s workforce. U.S. travelers to Cuba have become the principal source of revenue for many small businesses.
  • Greater access to information. Internet access is growing, and continued engagement can further contribute to connectivity and the development of civil society in Cuba.

Unnecessary Risks of Disengagement

  • National Security. Collaboration with Cuba on counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, and law enforcement helps protect the U.S. homeland.
  • Regional Affairs. Pursuing policies of engagement have strengthened the United States position in the LatAm region. To reverse the clock would make the United States once again the “bad guy” in hemispheric affairs, precisely at a time when governments in the region are beginning to view the United States and Cuba outside of a “them or us” framework.
  • Human Rights. Following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, Cubans now have greater freedoms to travel, buy and sell property, and access the internet. It is now subject to discussion in regular dialogues between U.S. and Cuban officials, and those discussions should continue.

Future Opportunities and Issues

  • U.S. Claims. Nearly 6,000 certified claims for expropriated U.S. properties await compensation. Diplomatic discussions of these claims have begun, and they are most likely to produce positive results in an environment of improving relations. 
  • Cuba’s Leadership Transition. In November 2016, Fidel Castro died, and President Raúl Castro will step down as head of state when his term ends in February 2018. Continued engagement will allow the United States to help influence positive change when President Raúl Castro steps down.