Case Overview, Cuba Sanctions Reform

This document provides background information and summarizes the debate over Cuba sanctions reform. The links to the left will lead you to public documents that we have found.

           Since it came to power in the late 1950s the Castro government in Cuba has been an irritant to the United States. The communist regime quickly became a client state of the Soviet Union, embarrassing the United States and raising the specter of military confrontation. The Bay of Pigs invasion by a rag-tag group of Cuban expatriates in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 raised tensions further. An economic embargo and diplomatic freeze have continued to define the United States' position toward the island nation.
           With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the situation in Cuba changed significantly and offered new opportunities for an improvement in relations between the U.S. and its Caribbean neighbor. The socialist economy in Cuba has never prospered but before it disintegrated, the Soviet Union subsidized its client state. Since the early 1990s American farm interests have been working to liberalize the economic relations with Cuba. Cuba must import food and in the absence of the aid from the Soviets, they have been forced to search elsewhere for various commodities. Despite the hostility of the United States government toward Cuba, American farmers would be delighted to sell to Cuba as other overseas markets have been more competitive. The short distance between the U.S. and Cuba gives American exporters an advantage over those from the European Union and many agriculture producers.
           Opening up more trade with Cuba has been stymied by Americans of Cuban ancestry who have lobbied vigorously against any possible assistance to the Castro regime. Many thousands of Cubans fled the island after the revolution and settled in South Florida; since that time Cuban Americans have been a force in Florida politics. Vote rich Florida is, in turn, important in presidential politics. Neither Democrat nor Republican presidents have challenged the prevailing orthodoxy toward Cuban-American relations. Anti-Castro lobbies continue to push isolation of Cuba as this country's basic diplomatic strategy. Said one Cuban-American lobbyist in Washington, sanctions "are the best way we have to pressure [the Castro regime]." He added, "Castro is on his last legs. Succession is imminent. I expect the political situation to change dramatically in six months to a year. If we keep on being patient, then the regime may collapse on its own."
           During the last decade there has been a modest relaxation of trade restrictions. Pharmaceutical sales were liberalized in 1992 and in 2000 there was further liberalization of agriculture and drug sales. Continuing restrictions on financing keep trade limited and agriculture lobbies in Washington back legislation to truly open up the Cuban market to U.S. exporters. In the 107th Congress these farm groups worked with their legislators from farm states in the hopes of getting legislation enacted. The new Bush administration, with its razor thin margin in Florida in the 2000 election and with the President's brother holding the governorship of the state, made such legislation even more unlikely to pass. The legislation went nowhere.