Statement on New Cuba Sanctions
WASHINGTON D.C. – The Cuba Study Group believes the new restrictions on travel and remittances announced by the United States against Cuba last week are unwise and counterproductive. They will severely hurt the Cuban people and all sectors of civil society on the island, including dissidents and the growing private sector. While the declared intent of the measures is to improve prospects for democracy, they are likely to have the very opposite effect.
Some believe the Cuban government’s support for the Venezuelan government merits these sanctions. But they hark back to the same isolationist approach that has proven ineffective for six decades. Ultimately, changes in Cuba must come from within the island. Civil society is an indispensable catalyst to any such change, and independent actors of all kinds in Cuban society benefit directly from the access to information and resources provided by engagement with the United States.
Specifically, these new measures will weaken the Cuban people – disproportionately compared to their limited impact on the Cuban government – in the following ways:
- Remittance restrictions will hurt families and independent civil society actors in Cuba, such as dissidents, journalists, religious groups, academics, and others.
- Remittance restrictions will be particularly damaging to capital formation in the private sector, as they will disrupt much of its supply chain and will all but ruin many self-employed Cubans. This sector is already struggling from the recent elimination of multi-entry visas that allowed Cubans to travel to the United States to secure much-needed resources for their homes, businesses and projects.
- Travel restrictions will further isolate the Cuban people from the United States and will prevent U.S. travelers, the best ambassadors of American values, from direct engagement with ordinary Cubans.
- Reduced U.S. travel will also have a negative impact on private sector businesses that directly cater to these visitors.
We are also concerned about the activation of Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act, which breaks a 23-year bipartisan consensus to waive these provisions. We deeply respect those who lost properties during the Cuban Revolution and fully support their right to seek and find legal restitution for their losses. However, the full enforcement of Titles III and IV will likely frustrate that goal for most claimants. U.S. allies with businesses in Cuba have already enacted laws to protect their companies from actions derived from Helms-Burton, or have threatened suit in retaliation. Also, because they are provisions of a regime change law, the full enactment of Titles III and IV all but close the door on the prospect of bilateral claims negotiations with the Cuban government.
In the aggregate, these measures stand to further isolate the United States and weaken the potential for international cooperation on its policy toward Cuba and Venezuela. This is particularly worrisome at a time when Russia and China are expanding their influence in the region.
While we disagree with this approach, we understand and share some of the emotions driving support for it among many in the Cuban-American community. In the four years since the United States and Cuba normalized diplomatic relations, the government in Havana has done too little to foster a more inclusive environment for the diaspora to integrate itself into Cuban society. The slow pace of internal reform and tighter controls on the private sector have also bred frustration, galvanizing those who support the failed U.S. policy strategies of old.
The Cuban government must understand that taming these impulses requires creating legal frameworks for Cubans abroad and at home to more actively contribute to the island’s future. The Cuban diaspora today is filled with individuals who support friends, family, and businesses on the island. But Cuban policies continue to restrict such partnerships, leaving many opportunities untapped. Cuban civil society actors, in turn, routinely make proposals that go unheard, while domestic entrepreneurs have ambitions that, under current regulatory limitations, remain impossible to fulfill.
There is much that Cubans on the island and around the world can give, whether via investing in private and mixed enterprises, transferring knowledge across industries, volunteering time and resources for humanitarian projects, or voting in national elections. The longer Cuban officials take to formalize and welcome such changes, the longer the island’s future will remain at the mercy of American political forces beyond anyone’s control.