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Resolved: The United States should lift its embargo against Cuba (essay)

January 1, 2017
Published in Newsletter

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In 1959, Fidel Castro instigated a revolution in Cuba that resulted in the overthrow of the current government. After the revolution, foreign companies, including US companies, were nationalized and became property of the Cuban government.

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For the next thirty years, there was virtually no foreign investment in the country (Fisk & Perez, 2010). During this time, the only countries that Cuba traded with were the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union’s satellite countries. Cuba exported sugar, nickel, citrus, and electricity. Cuba imported machinery and 98% of its fuel needs (Fisk & Perez, 2010). This economic isolationism was facilitated both by Cuba’s own decision to limit foreign investment and by significant US sanctions that were placed on Cuba after nationalized the US companies.

Shortly after this revolution, the US developed a comprehensive economic embargo on Cuba. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 was the first piece of legislation that prohibited foreign aid to Cuba and it established the authority for the President to institute a comprehensive embargo. Under the authority of the Foreign Assistance Act, President Kennedy issued Proclamation 3447 in 1962, which established a total economic embargo on Cuba. The proclamation prohibited the importation of goods from Cuba and also ordered the Commerce Department to continue a prohibition on exports first established by the Export Control Act of 1949. The Cuban Assets Controls Regulations (CACR) prohibits a number of trade and financial transactions between a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and Cuba or a Cuban national (Staff, Committee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, 2012, hereinafter “staff”).

Although the acts permitted some exceptions, the US continued to legislate restrictions on trade with Cuba. Towards the end of the George H.W. Bush administration, the Cuban Democracy Act (CDA) was passed in attempt to hasten the downfall of the Castro regime. The Act banned US foreign subsidiary trade with Cuba and prohibits vessels from unloading or loading freight in the U.S. if they have engaged in trade with Cuba within the previous 180 days. Although the act substantially limits trade, it does authorize donations of food and the export of medicine and medicinal supplies, as well as telecommunications support. More than $750 million in aid has been authorized, but Cuba has not accepted all of the aid.

After two Cuban military jets shot down two US civilian planes in 1996, killing for US nationals, Congress passed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. This act is more commonly known as the LIBETAD Act or Helms-Burton. The Act increased sanctions on the Cuban government and expanded authorities to provide support to the Cuban people. This Act legislatively codified the CACR regulations as being in existence until the President determines that a transition government is in place in Cuba, though it did create exemptions for telecommunications. According to the Conference Report accompanying the LIBERTAD Act, Congress made it clear that:

It is the intent of the committee of conference that all economic sanctions in force on March 1, 1996, shall remain in effect until they are either suspended or terminated pursuant to the authorities provided in section 204 of this Act (requiring a Presidential determination that a democratic transition is under way in Cuba). It is not the intent of this section to prohibit executive branch agencies from amending existing regulations to tighten economic sanctions on Cuba or to implement the provisions of this Act.

LIBERTARD permits the President to lift the embargo if he determines that a democratic transition is underway and requires him to lift it if he determines that a new democratic government has been installed.

Although some scholars claim that the LIBERTAD Act substantially limited the Executive Branch’s authority to engage with Cuba, the Clinton administration interpreted the LIBERTAD Act to be limited to the Executive Branch’s authority to modify the Cuban Asset Control Regulations. Based on this more limited interpretation of the restraining powers of the Act, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Obama, have adjusted many elements of US policy toward Cuba using executive authority. Given potential debates that are likely to emerge regarding Congressional vs. Executive action, this is important to understand. Fisk & Perez (2010) explain:

In a 1998 letter to the General Accounting Office (GAO), State and Treasury Department officials outlined the view that the LIBERTAD language “does [not] rule out reasonable adjustments to the licensing regime consistent with the limitations on suspension or termination [of the embargo as outlined in LIBERTAD] … .” In that same 1998 report, the GAO accepted the Executive Branch’s interpretation, concluding that: “the executive branch has broad authority under U.S. law to make changes in the embargo as circumstances dictate.”  Because the LIBERTAD Act also contained a provision on remittances from U.S. nationals to family in Cuba, the Clinton Administration had a legally arguable case in revising the policy in that specific area. The latitude that is presumed to exist in the President’s ability to revise remittance policy has been determined to exist in regards to other elements of the embargo, such as revising rules on travel.

The embargo noose was loosened a bit in 2000 when Congress passed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TRSA). TRSA directed the President to end unilateral medical and agricultural sanctions against Cuba. The law required the Commerce Department to authorize the export of agricultural commodities to Cuba. However, TRSA does not allow for U.S. government or private assistance to finance these exports (Staff, 2012).

After the passage of this Act, agriculture trade between the United States and Cuba flourished, reaching more than $700 million in 2008.  In 2009, Cuban importers were no longer required to pay in advance and the trade grew even more. Sales have fallen since because of Cuba’s own regulations that prohibit entities in Cuba from earning foreign exchange. Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas have all brokered agricultural deals with Cuba in recent years (Hanson, 2013).

In 2008, the George Bush administration reduced restrictions on certain information technologies, especially involving telecommunications. This action was consistent with statutory mandates because the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 specifically authorized telecommunications, though the LIBERTARD Act prohibited US companies from investing in Cuban telecommunications; it only allowed Cubans to pay US companies for telecommunications services.

In April 2009, the Obama administration expanded travel opportunities for those with family in Cuba and increased the value of remittances that U.S. citizens could send back to Cuban families. In 2010, an estimated 1,000 people per day traveled to Cuba. As of October 1, 2010, journalists and support personnel; full-time professionals to conduct research or to attend professional meetings and conferences; those involved in the production or distribution of agricultural products, medicines and medical devices; and U.S. telecommunications service providers can all travel to Cuba. “It is also possible to travel to Cuba to pursue educational activities, including course work and academic research; to engage in free-lance journalism, public performances, and activities related to private foundations, research, or educational institutions; or to pursue activities related to the export or import of informational materials” (p. 80)

The total amount of remittance that the US has permitted to flow from the US to family members in Cuba has varied over the years. The Carter administration let the policy lapse. The Clinton administration first tightened and then loosened the rules. George W. Bush kept the Clinton amount — $1, 200 annually – but limited it to immediate family members in Cuba. The Obama administration removed the limits on the amount and frequency of the remittance and expanded the number of family members who could receive it.

So while the US has a substantial embargo on Cuba, it is not the case that the US has no commercial or diplomatic interaction with the country. The sale of food items, medical items, and some telecommunication services is permitted. US citizens are welcome to send remittances to family members in Cuba.

Starting in 2014, Obama undertook an initiative to further expand US relations with Cuba:

Mark Sullivan, Specialist in Latin American Affairs, November 9, 2016, Cuba: Issues for the 114th Congress, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43926.pdf

During its first six years, the Obama Administration continued the dual-track policy approach toward Cuba that has been in place for many years. It maintained U.S. economic sanctions and continued measures to support the Cuban people, such as U.S. government-sponsored radio and television broadcasting and funding for democracy and human rights projects. At the same time, however, the Obama Administration initiated a significant shift in policy toward Cuba beginning in 2009. As part of the policy of reaching out to the Cuban people, President Obama fulfilled a campaign pledge by lifting all restrictions on family travel and remittances. At the April 2009 Summit of the Americas, President Obama announced that “the United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba.” While recognizing that it would take time to “overcome decades of mistrust,” the President said “there are critical steps we can take toward a new day.” He stated that he was prepared to have his Administration “engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues—from drugs, migration, and economic issues, to human rights, free speech, and democratic reform.”77 In the aftermath of the Summit in 2009, there was some momentum toward improved relations: in July, the two countries restarted semi-annual migration talks that had been suspended by the United States five years earlier; in September, the two countries held talks on resuming direct mail service. The Obama Administration introduced new measures in 2011 to further reach out to the Cuban people through increased purposeful travel (including people-to-people educational travel) and an easing of restrictions on non-family remittances. Beginning in mid-2013, there was also renewed engagement with Cuba on several fronts, including direct mail service talks, resumed migration talks (that had not taken place for 18 months), and air and maritime search and rescue. In remarks made in November 2013 on policy toward Cuba, President Obama maintained that “we have to be creative … we have to be thoughtful … and we have to continue to update our policies.” He contended that “the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel doesn’t make sense.”78

Throughout the Obama Administration’s first six years, human rights violations in Cuba remained a fundamental concern. President Obama and the State Department continued to issue statements expressing concern about violations as they occurred, including the death of hunger strikers in 2010 and 2012 and targeted repression against dissidents and human rights activists. As noted above, securing the release of Alan Gross from prison in Cuba also remained a top U.S. priority. The State Department maintained that it was using every appropriate channel to press for his release, including the Vatican.

On December 17, 2014, just after the adjournment of the 113th Congress, President Obama announced major developments in U.S.-Cuban relations and unveiled a new policy approach toward Cuba. First, he announced that the Cuban government had released Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds after five years of imprisonment. The President also announced that, in a separate action, the Cuban government released “one of the most important intelligence assets that the United States has ever had in Cuba” in exchange for three Cuban intelligence agents who had been imprisoned in the United States since 1998. Media reports identified the U.S. intelligence asset as Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a cryptographer in Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence, who reportedly provided information that helped the FBI dismantle three Cuban spy networks in the United States.79

Most significantly, in the aftermath of having secured the release of Gross and the U.S. intelligence asset, President Obama announced a major shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba, moving away from a sanctions-based policy aimed at isolating Cuba to a policy of engagement. The President said that his Administration will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries. Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.

The President maintained that the United States would continue to raise concerns about democracy and human rights in Cuba but stated that “we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.” According to the President, “After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.

The President outlined three major steps to move toward normalization: (1) the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba; (2) a review of Cuba’s designation by the Department of State as a state sponsor of international terrorism; and (3) an increase in travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.

When President Obama announced his Cuba policy change, he also indicated that his Administration was prepared to have Cuba participate in the Summit of the Americas to be held April 10-11, 2015, in Panama. The White House emphasized that human rights and democracy would be key themes of the summit and asserted that Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate with civil society from other countries. Cuba’s potential participation in the summit had been a policy challenge for the Administration since it had opposed Cuba’s participation in the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Colombia.

Cuba ultimately participated in the summit in Panama, with President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro holding a historic bilateral meeting in Panama on April 11. President Obama stated that “there are still going to be deep and significant differences between our two governments,” with the United States continuing to raise concerns around democracy and human rights and Cuba raising concerns about U.S. policy. He maintained, however, that “what we have both concluded is that we can disagree with the spirit of respect and civility, and that over time it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship in our two countries.” Several Cuban dissidents attended and participated in the Civil Society and Social Actors Forum, although there were problems with a reported attack on anti-Castro protestors by Cuban government supporters just ahead of the summit and efforts by Cuban government supporters to disrupt an event in which Cuban dissidents were scheduled to speak.81

March 2016 Presidential Visit

President Obama traveled to Cuba from March 20 to 22, 2016—the first visit of a U.S. President since Calvin Coolidge visited in 1928. Before the trip, the White House set forth the goals of the visit, stating that the President would build on progress toward normalizing relations, including advancing commercial and people-to-people ties and expressing support for human rights.88

During his visit (which included Secretary of State Kerry, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, and Commerce Secretary Pritzker), President Obama announced additional initiatives, including support for collaboration between the U.S. and Cuban agricultural sectors; Cuban participation in the Administration’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative to increase student exchanges; and new partnerships in health, science, and the environment. The President attended an event with Cuban entrepreneurs to demonstrate support for the country’s nascent private sector. At the event, he noted such commercial plans as General Electric selling aviation and energy equipment, the Alabama-based Cleber company building tractors in Cuba (this project ultimately was rejected by the Cuban government), Starwood and Marriott planning to operate hotels in joint ventures with Cuba, and Carnival beginning cruise service in May. The President also attended a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team in a significant demonstration of sports diplomacy

The specific regulatory changes include the following —

Mark Sullivan, Specialist in Latin American Affairs, November 9, 2016, Cuba: Issues for the 114th Congress, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43926.pdf

The regulations included changes in the following areas:  

  • Travel and Remittances. The amended Treasury regulations authorize a general license for the existing 12 categories of authorized travel in the CACR, meaning that travelers who fall under these categories do not have to apply to the Department of the Treasury for permission. Travel agents and air and vessel carriers are also able to provide services for travel to Cuba under a general license. Authorized travelers will also be permitted to use U.S. credit and debit cards as U.S. financial institutions offer these services. Donative remittances to Cuban nationals are authorized without limit; initially the cap was increased from $500 to $2,000 per quarter in January 2015, and then it was removed altogether in September 2015. The regulations also authorize without limit remittances for certain activities related to humanitarian projects, the promotion of civil society, and the development of private businesses. In March 2016, the CACR were amended to permit individuals to travel to Cuba for individual, people-to-people education travel (previously, such trips had to take place under the auspices of an organization). Authorized travelers to Cuba, as well as U.S. travelers to third countries, can bring back Cuban products to the United States for personal use, including alcohol and tobacco products. (Also see “Restrictions on Travel and Remittances,” below.)
  • Trade and Telecommunications. The Commerce regulations expand commercial exports to Cuba of certain goods and services to empower Cuba’s nascent private sector, including authorization for certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private-sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers. To implement this change, Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) created a license exception in the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) for “support to the Cuban people,” authorizing the export without license of such items described above. This license exception also included the export to Cuba of items for telecommunications, including access to the Internet, use of Internet services, infrastructure creation, and upgrades. The Treasury regulations also revise the definition of “payment of cash in advance” required by TSRA for authorized trade with Cuba to specify that it means “cash before transfer of title” for payment. Certain goods and services produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs (as determined by the State Department) are eligible to be imported into the United States.87 In October 2016, OFAC amended authorized transactions for importation into the United States of FDA-approved Cuban-origin drugs, including marketing, sales, or other distribution. The Commerce regulations permit the commercial export of certain consumer communication devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems; previously such exports were limited to donations. They also permit the export of items for telecommunications, including access to the Internet, use of Internet services, infrastructure creation, and upgrades. An expanded Treasury Department general license authorizes transactions to provide commercial telecommunications services in Cuba or link third countries and Cuba. U.S. companies may establish joint ventures with entities in Cuba to provide telecommunication and Internet-based services and to enter into licensing agreements related to, and to market, such services. An updated general license allows for U.S. persons to make payments to a telecommunications operator located in Cuba for services provided to Cuban individuals. In January 2015, BIS revised the EAR to state a general policy of approval for license applications to export items to Cuba necessary for the environmental protection of U.S. and international air quality, waters, and coastlines, including items related to renewable energy or energy efficiency. In January 2016, BIS expanded the categories of exports that fall under a “general policy of approval” license policy to include certain items for civil aviation and commercial aircraft safety; telecommunications; U.S. news bureaus; human rights organizations and nongovernmental organizations; and agricultural commodities (such as insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides) that fall outside the scope of those allowed under the existing BIS license exception for agricultural commodities covered by TSRA. In January 2016, BIS amended the EAR to include a new category of exports for which licenses will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The new category includes items exported to state-owned enterprises, agencies, and other organizations of the Cuban government that provide goods and services for the use and benefit of the Cuban people. (For more details, see “U.S. Exports and Sanctions,” below.) In October 2016, OFAC added a general license for authorization to enter into contingent contracts for transactions currently prohibited by the embargo. It also added a general license waiving the restriction in the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 prohibiting foreign vessels from entering U.S. ports for purposes of loading or unloading freight for 180 days after calling on a Cuban port for trade purposes. BIS also generally authorized by license exception the export of certain consumer goods sold directly to eligible individuals in Cuba for their personal use.

Banking and Financial Services. The Treasury regulations permit U.S. financial institutions to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions, including payment for U.S. exports and for travel services. In January 2016, U.S. private export financing was authorized for all authorized nonagricultural export trade to Cuba. In March 2016, Treasury permitted U.S. banking institutions to authorize U-turn payments through the U.S. financial system for transactions in which Cuba or a Cuban national has an interest (whereby funds from a bank outside of the United States may pass through one or more U.S. financial institutions before being transferred to a bank outside the United States).

Physical Presence. Companies or entities in the following categories are authorized to have a physical presence in Cuba, such as an office, retail outlet, or warehouse: news bureaus; exporters of authorized goods to Cuba; entities providing mail or parcel transmission services; telecommunication or Internetbased service providers; entities organizing or conducting certain educational activities; religious organizations; and carrier and travel service providers. U.S. exports to establish, operate, or support such a physical presence are authorized under a license exception.

The US also has a diplomatic presence in Cuba. Located in Havana, the United States Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland was established by the Carter Administration in 1977. The office is staffed by State Department officials whose goal is to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba.  The Coast Guard also has a liaison office in Cuba (Staff, 2012). In 2014, Obama re-opened the US embassy in Cuba and now each country has an embassy in the other country.

And while it originally was Cuba that closed its economy and nationalized foreign companies, Cuba began liberalizing its economy and seeking trade and investment opportunities in the early 1990s. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Cuba’s economy suffered a period of economic depression because it could no longer rely on the Soviet Union for support.  In order to fend off the effects of depression, Cuba prioritized food production, reduced consumption, and began to allow some foreign investment. It also focused on developing its tourism, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical industries (Fisk & Perez, 2010).

Initially, Cuba allowed limited joint ventures and permitted some foreign investment. Investment remained limited, however, because support for it was limited and Cuba did not fully authorize ownership by foreign companies. In 1992, Cuba changed some of its property laws to allow investors to acquire long-term leases and to participate in production agreements. In 1995, Cuba passed the Foreign Investment Act which allowed for completely owned foreign enterprises and established regulations governing foreign investment. Since then, Cuba has signed 28 bilateral investment agreements with 28 foreign countries.

In February 2008, Castro’s declining health caused him to turn over control of the Presidency of Cuba to his brother, Raul. Raul has further reduced restrictions on Cubans owning their own businesses and more-freely traveling to the United States (Biles, 2013). After Castro’s death on November 25th, there is further evidence of a greater economic opening in Cuba.

It is also important to note that Cuba’s economy previously took another hit with the death of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Chavez supplied Cuba with billions of dollars of low cost oil and paid a lot of money for Cuban medical care. With the death of Chavez, Cuba was at-risk of no longer receiving this oil sold at concessionary prices, putting their economy in jeopardy (Clancy, 2013).  With Venezuela’s economy recently (throughout 2016) taking a turn for the worse, Cuba’s economy has been dragged-down.

The Resolution

This background information sets the stage for a brief discussion of the resolution. It will be brief because the resolution is mostly straightforward.

Embargo.  The “embargo” on Cuba consists of all of the legislation that has been previously discussed.

Mark Sullivan, Specialist in Latin American Affairs, November 9, 2016, Cuba: Issues for the 114th Congress, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43926.pdf

Embargo Remains in Place When the President unveiled his policy changes, he acknowledged that he does not have the authority to lift the embargo because it was codified into law (Section 102(h) of the LIBERTAD Act). However, the President maintained that he looks forward to engaging Congress in a debate about lifting the embargo. As noted above, the LIBERTAD Act ties the lifting of the embargo to conditions in Cuba (including that a democratically elected government is in place). Lifting the overall economic embargo at this time would require amending or repealing the LIBERTAD Act as well as other statutes that have provisions impeding normal economic relations with Cuba, such as the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000. For example, as noted above, TSRA denies U.S. exporters access to U.S. government support, prohibits U.S. private commercial financing or credit for agricultural exports, and prohibits tourist travel to Cuba.

There are a couple of items related to this that are worth noting:

One, there isn’t a particular piece of legislation called “the embargo.”  “The embargo” is simply a general reference to all of the legislation that has been discussed in the last quote.  “Lifting” the embargo would simply mean to repeal that legislation.

Two, none of the actions that Obama has taken “lift” the embargo.

Jacob Hornberger, Founder, Future of Freedom Foundation, August 22, 2016, Why is the Cuba embargo still in place? http://www.fff.org/2016/08/22/cuban-embargo-still-place/

Two years ago, President Obama announced that the United States would normalize relations with Cuba. As part of the process of fulfilling that commitment, Obama visited the island and met with Cuban President Raul Castro. Since then, he has reduced federal travel restrictions for Americans wishing to travel to Cuba and has eased federal regulations regarding the transfer of money to Cubans. But one glaring fact remains: The brutal U.S. economic embargo that the U.S. government has enforced against the Cuban people for more than 50 years. It remains intact, continuing to bring untold economic suffering to the Cuban people

Lift.  Using the word “lift” keeps the resolution simple, though a more accurate wording would have been, “Repeal that legislation that is considered constitutive of the Cuba embargo.” “Lift” literally means to “hoist up” to a “higher level” (Google definitions). Taken literally, this would mean that the embargo should be strengthened, but in the context of the Cuba embargo “lift” means to repeal, as you can see from all of these articles.

The only potential ambiguity is whether or not “lift” would include a negotiated removal of the embargo, rather than an all-out repeal.  This piece of evidence suggests “lift” means all-out repeal.

Mark Sullivan, Specialist in Latin American Affairs, November 9, 2016, Cuba: Issues for the 114th Congress, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43926.pdf

Over the years, although U.S. policymakers have agreed on the overall objectives of U.S. policy toward Cuba—to help bring democracy and respect for human rights to the island—there have been several schools of thought about how to achieve those objectives. Some have advocated a policy of keeping maximum pressure on the Cuban government until reforms are enacted, while continuing efforts to support the Cuban people. Others argue for an approach, sometimes referred to as constructive engagement, that would lift some U.S. sanctions that they believe are hurting the Cuban people and move toward engaging Cuba in dialogue. Still others call for a swift normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations by lifting the U.S. embargo.

This is an important distinction and not a mere semantic one.  Why? Because it is very hard to win that the embargo is a good thing.  Even based on its stated goals (improving human right, fostering political reform), it has been a failure. Those who support the argument usually do so on principle (the Castros are bad people), but such a principled argument is hard to win in a debate when the Pro will be able to isolate many negative consequences of the embargo. So, what is the Con to do? I think that good Con teams will argue that in the status quo the Trump administration will move to reduce the embargo as part of a negotiation process that gains concessions from Cuba rather than outright lifting it (after all, Trump says he is a great negotiator, right?). Con teams will want to argue that this negotiation process is better than an outright lift because it will be better for the US. In order to retain this ground, they need to win that a “lift” is an outright repeal, which is what this evidence suggests.  Of course, this isn’t to say that Pro teams can’t defend an outright repeal, but this is ground the Con will want to protect.

The Pro

In this section, I will discuss the many different potential Pro arguments.

Initial Considerations

Before I do that, I think there are three important things to note:

One, Pro teams need to argue that Obama’s current efforts to lesson regulations are inadequate and too slow.  It will be easy for the Pro to win that these actions are not sufficient to encourage substantial investments by US companies because the companies are fearful they will be penalized by other parts of the laws that are still on the books.

William Leo Grande, December 21, 2016, Huffington Post, Let’s Make a Deal: Doing Business in Cuba, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-m-leogrande/lets-make-a-deal-doing-bu_b_8853206.html

To be sure, there are difficulties in doing business with Havana. Cuba’s infrastructure— its roads, energy grid, and digital network— lags behind neighboring countries. Foreign companies must still hire labor through the state’s hiring agency. Cuba’s bureaucracy is notoriously slow to make decisions and opaque, making dispute resolution problematic. But, as David Pathe, CEO of Canada’s Sherritt Corp., one of the island’s largest foreign investors, put it, “There is nothing unique about Cuba”— these are the kinds of problems companies face in any new foreign market. The larger issue making U.S. companies reluctant to enter the Cuban market is uncertainty on the U.S. side. Although the Obama administration wants to see U.S. businesses engage with Cuba to demonstrate the benefits of the president’s new policy, the regulatory changes made thus far still leave too many obstacles in the way. If companies are not absolutely certain that their business plan is legal, they will not take the risk. Financial regulations are a particular problem. Finance is the life blood of commerce; if funds cannot be easily transferred between Cuba and the United States, business will remain negligible. Although U.S. regulations allow for fund transfers involving licensed activities, companies are terrified of inadvertently violating the rules and being hit with enormous fines. For example, it took months for the State Department to find a bank willing to handle accounts for Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington because the costs of regulatory compliance far outweighed the profit. Stonegate Bank in Florida finally agreed to do it because, as CEO David Seleski put it, they regarded it as a “moral obligation” to help re-establish diplomatic relations. Earlier this month, the Treasury Department had to reassure U.S. banks that they could process fund transfers to Cuba involving authorized travel without themselves having to certify that the travel was, indeed, legal. The ultimate solution to these problems is to lift the U.S. embargo in its entirety, but that is not likely to happen in an election year when Republicans control Congress. In the meantime, President Obama should issue another round of regulatory changes that clarify what can and cannot be done. In the financial area, Obama could license U.S. businesses to provide credit to Cuban customers to stimulate nonagricultural trade (agricultural credits are prohibited by law). He could authorize Cuban banks to establish correspondence accounts with U.S. banks to facilitate payments to Cuban customers. Finally, he could issue a general license to U.S. banks to process dollar-denominated transactions conducted by foreign banks (so-called “U-turn” transactions) that must be processed through a U.S. financial institution. President Obama’s opening to Cuba was historic, but to make it irreversible, the policy needs to produce results—especially in the field of commerce. The interest is clearly there on both sides, but the barriers are still formidable. The exceptions to the embargo that the president has authorized thus far are impressive and lay the groundwork, but they have not yet gone far enough to reassure U.S. businesses that they can safely enter the Cuban market without running afoul of U.S. law.

Two, Pro teams need to win that the embargo should be lifted in its entirety now.

Scott Lincicome is an international trade attorney, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and Visiting Lecturer at Duke University, December 23, 2014, Yes, of course we should lift the Cuba embargo, https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/yes-course-we-should-lift-cuban-embargo?gclid=Cj0KEQiA4o3DBRCJsZqh8vWqt_8BEiQA2Fw0eYuRYGqe7W2a4LP1X4rF0KILVHa2sH6xFtTAPYV0ti8aAr5g8P8HAQ

Moreover, the argument that the United States should only lift the embargo in response to Cuban economic and foreign policy changes imposes a nonsensical reciprocal element on what is clearly a unilateral issue. The United States government need not wait for another country to act before it expands the liberty and well-being of its own citizens. In this way, policy changes that enhance individual liberty (like free trade) differ entirely from the reciprocal, zero-sum world of prisoner swaps or territorial shifts. The removal of trade and travel restrictions is valuable regardless of what any other country says or does, especially a tiny, tinpot dictatorship. To argue otherwise is essentially to advocate “Blazing Saddles” policy — i.e., “if you don’t stop hurting your citizens, I won’t stop hurting mine.” No, thanks. Leaving all other issues — such as the foreign policy and human rights benefits of free trade and international engagement, or whether the embargo has provided the Cuban regime with a ready excuse for its failed socialist experiment — aside, the state’s failure to rebut the basic presumption of liberty demands a change to current policy. The United States government, through Helms-Burton, has had 18 years to prove that its codified ban on Americans’ rights to freely trade and travel have achieved the law’s stated economic and foreign policy objectives. The government has had 18 years to demonstrate that Cuba is a manifest national security threat or that its human rights violations are different from, and somehow worse than, those of countries with whom we have normalized relations. The government has made no such demonstrations, and has thus failed to justify the embargo on any legitimate grounds. As such, it’s clearly time for a (legislatively enacted, constitutionally-proper) change.

Three, Pro teams need to consider which of the many possible advantages they will read.  In making that choice, I suggest a few considerations —

(a) Which advantages are best tied to lifting the embargo rather than using a negotiated process to end it.  For example, negotiated process may best protect US financial interests in Cuba or promote human rights, but an outright repeal might be best for respecting international law, removing a policy that is arguably genocidal, or boosting US-Latin American relations. Pro teams want to be able to argue that a negotiated removal won’t solve any of their advantages (or at least one of them :)).

(b) Which advantages turn the most common Con arguments? There really aren’t that many Con arguments against lifting the embargo, but protecting human rights and political liberalization will be two of the more popular ones. There is good evidence that says the best way to do that is to lift the embargo.  Pro teams may want to get a head-start on that debate. Strategically, the best teams in Public Forum debate always seem to have advantages or disadvantages that turn the other side’s most common arguments (and that is true in all formats of debate).

(c) Which advantages are most persuasive to judges. While I think (a) and (b) are your most important considerations, you should think about the issue of persuasion as well.

Advantages/Scenarios

In this section I will discuss the various Pro advantages. In the release I put them in alphabetical order to make it easier for you to find them, but here I listed them by them to make the explanation simpler.

Cuba economy. It is easy to find evidence that the Cuban economy is in trouble and that lifting the embargo will improve the economy.  Lifting the embargo would provide essential goods the Cuban people need, allow them to export products, and to collaborate with US companies to improve their own operations. US companies would likely substantially invest in Cuba and banks would be more willing to provide capital. This economic growth would likely reduce poverty and could prevent instability.

In particular, investments could occur in agriculture, biotechnology, education, and health care, leading to general economic growth but also saving lives directly.

Moral criticisms of the embargo.  Although they are somewhat tied to the last advantage, teams can independently argue that the embargo is immoral because it deprives the Cuban people of essential medicines and foods, it is genocidal because it condemns them to poverty, that it is a violation of human rights because of this denial, and that it is grounded in racism and imperialism.  I think these are strong advantage areas, at least if tied into the practical side of the first advantage, because they provide a strong refutation to the negotiation Con strategy. We certainly should not use human rights violations and genocide as negotiating tactics.

US economy. Lifting the embargo means that US companies can export more products to Cuba and develop more business there. It is easy to find evidence that this will produce more jobs for Americans in all sectors, including agriculture, biotechnology, and tourism. While this advantage will be persuasive to some judges, the strategic weakness is that US market access to Cuba may be best accomplished through negotiations.

US benefits. Beyond the economic benefits of engagement to US businesses, there is good evidence that the US health care sector will benefit because Cuba has valuable drugs and other medical technologies that have not been developed in the United States. Although it is not a strong, there is similar evidence about educational applications and environmental technologies.

US foreign relations.  The embargo on Cuba is opposed by (I think) every country in the world.  There is good evidence that the embargo undermines US soft power and that it generally undermines relations with Latin America. At has also hurt our relations with Canada. These advantage areas are strategic because increases in things like soft power can solve other impacts that Con teams may read, but I’m not sure how strategic they are vis-a-vis a negotiated removal of the embargo.

International law/sovereignty. The Helms-Burton law/Libertard Act arguably violates international law because it sanctions companies from other countries that do business in Cuba.  It arguably violates the sovereignty of Cuba because it attempts to manipulate the affairs of another country.

Terrorism. There are a few reasons the embargo increases the risk of terrorism.  One, economic decline in Cuba could increase terrorism risks. Two, a lot of time and resources are spent enforcing the embargo that could be better directed to fight the war on terror.

Oil spills/environmental cooperation.  There is good evidence that in the status quo there is an increased risk of oil spills in the Carribbean because Cuba and its oil drilling partners (Russia and Spain) lack modern drilling technology and safety regulations. An argument can be made that cooperative drilling with the US would make such drilling safer, reducing the risk of spills.  There is also general evidence that cooperating with Cuba will lead to improvements in environmental protection.

Ethanol.  There is good evidence that ethanol that is produced with sugarcane instead of corn is better because corn ethanol competes with a food source, driving up food prices. Corn ethanol also takes more land to produce, threatening the environment. Since Cuba produces ethanol with sugarcane, this could result in less demand for corn ethanol, lowering food prices and protecting the environment.

China/Russia influence. Both China and Russia are strengthening their ties with Cuba. Lifting the embargo could therefore reduce their influence in Cuba and the region generally. I think it will be difficult to establish a significant, persuasive impact to this, but it is nonetheless an area for Pro advantages.

As you can see, there are many problems with the embargo, giving you a choice of many advantages to choose from. We have included all of these with our initial release and we will be updating them throughout the month.  When choosing your advantages, please keep in mind the considerations I discussed above.

The Con

There are far fewer offensive arguments that the Con can make, but I will discuss them all and highlight some strategic options.

Political liberalization/Democracy.  The purpose of the embargo is to push Cuba toward political liberalization and democracy. You can argue that simply lifting it will undermine that goal and read both general and Cuba specific democracy impacts.

Human rights/political prisoners.   Another purpose of the embargo is to push Cuba to protect human rights, especially not to take political prisoners. If the US simply lifts the embargo, Cuba may take more political prisoners and/or not release the ones they have taken.

While human rights and democracy are the primary rationales for continuing the embargo, I have never seen a piece of evidence that says the embargo actually works to accomplish either of these ends, and we’ve obviously had a long time to see any evidence of this.

As it is, the embargo has become more of a symbolic commitment against Cuba because it is not democratic and doesn’t respect human rights.  There is certainly some evidence that defends this approach (“Shunning”), but from a practical perspective it is hard to win in debates.

Negotiations. I previously discussed the negotiations argument, but the basic idea is to more slowly negotiate a draw-down of the embargo through a tit for tat negotiation that would include items such as the protection of human rights, political liberalization, and potentially market/export access to Cuba.  Since this is what will likely transpire in the status quo, the Con doesn’t have to defend this as a counterplan and the argument dovetails well with the human rights and democracy arguments just discussed.

The focus of these previous arguments was on using the embargo to gain leverage over Cuba to achieve some end the US desires. There are also a couple categories of arguments as to why it is bad to lift the embargo.

Capitalism. The capitalism/neoliberalism bad critique is common in Policy and Lincoln-Douglas debate and lifting the embargo would likely promote such an economy in Cuba.  Con teams can argue that is bad.

Environmental harms. There are many reasons that lifting the embargo could hurt the environment –

(a) Tourist disruption of sensitive environmental areas
(b) Increased oil drilling
(c) Industry development without accompanying environmental regulations
(d) A shift away from sustainable agriculture
(e) Greater sugarcane production
(f) Generally increased consumption

Solvency arguments. Pro advantages that depend on Cuba reacting to the US lift by supporting US business investment can be refuted with arguments that even if the US lifts the embargo that Cuba won’t reform its economy in a way that permits investment.  For example, companies won’t invest in Cuba if Cuba doesn’t respect private property. Cuba also is currently using two currencies, which makes it difficult to trade. And Cuba requires that all business investment is in the form of joint ventures.  These are just a few examples of barriers to investment by foreign companies.

These solvency arguments can also complement the negotiations alternative that argues that the US will need to do things like get Cuba to at least agree to these economic reforms in exchange for lifting the embargo.  Con teams can argue it will be otherwise difficult for the Pro to solve their advantages.

Conclusion

This is a good topic area with a lot of potential for many different arguments.

Like the military spending topic, it takes on more significance because the Trump administration is an unknown in terms of how it will deal with Cuba, though we know Trump likes to claim that he is a great negotiator and he has been publicly skeptical of Obama’s pro-liberalization efforts. At the very least, this proves that Cuba may be in for some difficult negotiations and that there will be more and more literature published about the topic.

As noted, the literature is also heavily biased in favor of the Pro. While some people feel strongly that the embargo should be retained because they are very anti-Castro brothers, the arguments are more symbolic than real. The embargo has simply impoverished Cuba without having any real effect to push Cuba toward democracy or human rights.  But while this is true, when each side in PF debate gets to speak for so little time, it doesn’t really matter that the literature is lopsided, because each side will only be able to make 2-3 offensive arguments and there are at least that many for the Con.  So I wouldn’t let this concern you too much.

Moving forward, I look forward to continuing preparations on this topic. We will be updating the master file regularly over the next 2-3 weeks and we will publish our corse Answers To (A2) blocks around the 21st of February.

US-Cuba Relations Timeline (Until 2013)

From USA Today, January 14, 2013 “A sea change today? ; Communist state’s easing of travel restrictions could be a political ploy — or the beacon of a new era” p. A1

April 16, 1961: Fidel Castro declares Cuba a socialist state. The next day, 1,297 Cuban exiles supported by the CIA invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs to try to inspire an overthrow of Castro’s regime. The effort collapses two days later.

October 1962: After initiating an economic blockade on Cuba, President Kennedy orders a naval blockade to force the removal of Soviet nuclear missiles from the island. Soviets agree to remove missiles; Kennedy agrees not to invade Cuba.

March 18, 1977: President Carter ends ban on U.S. travel to Cuba.

April 1980: Cuba announces that anyone who wants to leave the country may do so from the port of Mariel. By September, about 125,000 Cubans flee in the ensuing boatlift.

April 19, 1982: President Reagan reinstates ban on U.S. travel to Cuba.

December 1991: The fall of the Soviet Union ends extensive aid and trade for Cuba, leading to what Cubans call the “Special Period” of severe food shortages and plummeting economic output.

August 1994: With the economy collapsing, Castro says he will not stop Cubans trying to leave. Tens of thousands of Cubans flee to Miami on rafts, boats and other improvised vessels. The United States and Cuba sign migratory accords in September to end the rafter crisis, allowing more Cubans to legally enter the U.S. and requiring the U.S. to return Cubans captured at sea.

Feb. 24, 1996: A Cuban plane shoots down two Miami-based airplanes operated by Brothers to the Rescue that were patrolling the Florida Straits to locate and assist Cuban rafters trying to float their way to the U.S.

March 12, 1996: President Clinton signs into law the Helms- Burton Act, which extends the economic embargo. The act forbids foreign companies doing business in the U.S. from trading with Cuba.

Dec. 16, 2001: Shipments of corn and chicken arrive in Havana harbor, the first direct U.S. food sales to Cuba in nearly 40 years.

March 18, 2003: Cuba cracks down on 75 dissidents it accuses of working with the U.S. government. All are sentenced to prison. In later years, all are released, with many going to Spain.

July 31, 2006: After falling ill, Fidel Castro steps down as leader of Cuba, temporarily ceding power to his brother, Ral. The move is made permanent in 2008.

April 13, 2009: President Obama eases travel restrictions for Americans visiting the island and lifts limits on how much money they can send to relatives in Cuba.

Oct. 16, 2012: The Cuban government announces most Cubans will no longer need an exit visa to leave. The move follows a series of economic reforms initiated by Ral Castro that let Cubans buy and sell property, open more private businesses and have better access to cellphones and computers. The new travel policy takes effect today.

__

This is a previous bibliography that is under review

Current bibliography

*Websites

Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy www.ascecuba.org

Cuba Study Group http://www.cubastudygroup.org/index.cfm/csg-position-papers

Council of the Americas — http://www.as-coa.org/region/cuba

CIP Cuba Report
http://cipcubareport.wordpress.com/

Cuban Triangle
http://cubantriangle.blogspot.com/

The Havana Note

http://thehavananote.com/

Capitol Hill Cubans
http://www.capitolhillcubans.com/

*Bibliography

Robert Bach, 2009, Missteps and Next Steps in US-Cuba Migration Policies, “ 9 Ways for the US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to the US, http://www.scribd.com/doc/10323598/9-Ways-for-US-to-Talk-to-Cuba-and-for-Cuba-to-Talk-to-US#download

Randy Beardsworth, 2009, “US-Cuba Functional Relationships: A Security Imperative,” A Time to Normalize Relations Between The US and Cuban Militaries,” Ways for the US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to the US, http://www.scribd.com/doc/10323598/9-Ways-for-US-to-Talk-to-Cuba-and-for-Cuba-to-Talk-to-US#download

Benjaman-Alvarado, Jonathan. Belt, Juan. Meyers Jaffe, Amy. (2010,). Evaluating the Prospects for US-Cuban Energy Cooperation.

Borque, Shari-Ellen. (1995). The Illegality of the Cuban Embargo in the Current International System. Boston University Journal of International Law. V13, p. 191-ff.

Peter Bourne, M.D., M.A., 2009, “US-Cuba Heath Care Relations”, “ 9 Ways for the US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to the US, http://www.scribd.com/doc/10323598/9-Ways-for-US-to-Talk-to-Cuba-and-for-Cuba-to-Talk-to-US#download

Brooklyn Journal of International Law, 1999, LIFTING THE EMBARGO AGAINST CUBA USING VIETNAM AS A MODEL: A POLICY PAPER FOR MODERNITY

Lopez-Levy, Arturo (2011). Change in Post-Fidel Cuba: Political Liberalization, Economic Reform, and Lessons for U.S. Policy. http://newamerica.net/publications/policy/change_in_post_fidel_cuba

Cuba: Bringing Cuba in from the Cold,” Latin American Regional Report, Caribbean & Central America, December 2008.

Jake Colvin, 2009, “The Case for Business,” “ 9 Ways for the US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to the US, http://www.scribd.com/doc/10323598/9-Ways-for-US-to-Talk-to-Cuba-and-for-Cuba-to-Talk-to-US#download

Alberto Coll, 2009, “The Cuban-American Community: Policy Recommendations for President Obama,” “ 9 Ways for the US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to the US, http://www.scribd.com/doc/10323598/9-Ways-for-US-to-Talk-to-Cuba-and-for-Cuba-to-Talk-to-US#download

Council of the Americas. (2013). Seven Steps the US President Can Take by Adapting the Embargo. http://www.as-coa.org/articles/seven-steps-us-president-can-take-promote-change-cuba-adapting-embargo

Cuba Study Group. (2013). Restoring Executive Authority Over US Policy Toward Cuba. http://www.cubastudygroup.org/index.cfm/restoring-executive-authority-over-u-s-policy-toward-cuba

Fisk, Daniel and Perez, Courtney (2010). University of Miami Inter-American Law Review, Fall, Managed Engagement: The Case of Castro’s Cuba, p. 47-ff

General James T. Hill, 2009. “A Time to Normalize Relations Between The US and Cuban Militaries,” Ways for the US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to the US, http://www.scribd.com/doc/10323598/9-Ways-for-US-to-Talk-to-Cuba-and-for-Cuba-to-Talk-to-US#download

Perez, Dale. (2010). Harvard Latino Law Review, Spring, 13 Harv. Latino L. Rev. 187, America’s Cuba Policy: The Way Forward: A Policy Recommendation for the U.S. State Department

Peters, Philip, (2012). Migration Policy Reform: Cuba Gets Started, the US Should Follow. http://www.lexingtoninstitute.org/library/resources/documents/Cuba/ResearchProducts/CubanMigration.pdf

Piccone, (Ted). Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Foreign Policy, March 18, 2013, “Time to Bet on Cuba,” ww.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2013/03/18-cuba-piccone

Report of the Brookings Project on US Policy Toward a Cuba in Transition, 2009, Cuba: A New Policy of Constructive and Critical Engagement, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/2009/4/cuba/0413_cuba.pdf

Staff, Subcommittee  on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, 2012 (January 23). Offshore Drilling in Cuba and the Bahamas: The US Coast Guard’s Oil Spill Readiness and Response Planning, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-112hhrg72582/pdf/CHRG-112hhrg72582.pdf,

Whittle, Dan. (2012). Bridging the Gulf Report: Preparing for Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration in Cuba

http://blogs.edf.org/edfish/2012/09/11/bridging-the-gulf-report-preparing-for-offshore-oil-and-gas-exploration-in-cuba/

*General

Clancy, Gene. (2013). US General predicts “problems” for Cuba, Venezuela. http://www.workers.org/2013/03/26/u-s-general-predicts-problems-for-cuba-venezuela/

Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on Latin America Relations, 2008, US-Latin American Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality, www.cfr.org/content/publications/…/LatinAmerica_TF.pdf

Report of the Partnership for the Americas Commission, 2008, Brookings Institution, Rethinking US-Latin American Relations, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/2008/11/24%20latin%20america%20partnership/1124_latin_america_partnership

Ivor van Heerden, 2009, “The US-Cuba Trade-Sanctions, and the Potential for Energy Trade” “ 9 Ways for the US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to the US, http://www.scribd.com/doc/10323598/9-Ways-for-US-to-Talk-to-Cuba-and-for-Cuba-to-Talk-to-US#download

Amy Meyers Jaffe & Rinaldo Soligo, 2009, “The US-Cuba Trade-Sanctions, and the Potential for Energy Trade” “ 9 Ways for the US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to the US, http://www.scribd.com/doc/10323598/9-Ways-for-US-to-Talk-to-Cuba-and-for-Cuba-to-Talk-to-US#download

Franklin Knight, 2009, “ 9 Ways for the US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to the US, http://www.scribd.com/doc/10323598/9-Ways-for-US-to-Talk-to-Cuba-and-for-Cuba-to-Talk-to-US#download

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