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Burma sanctions should be model for Cuba embargo

The byzantine Cuba embargo in many ways ties the US's hands, says guest blogger Anya Landau French, so maybe it’s time to apply the Burma sanctions model – defend it or lose it – to Cuba.

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A case in point: two years ago, President Obama sent a message to Cuba’s leaders via our Spanish allies:

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“ . . . [W]e understand that change can't happen overnight, but down the road, when we look back at this time, it should be clear that now is when those changes began.”

Few would argue over whether Raul Castro has since embarked on a campaign over the past two years not just of economic reform, but, as Cuban political scientist Rafael Hernandez argues, key political reforms – de-centralization, de-statization, de-bureaucratization, and enhancing the rule of law – that go hand in hand.  It’s not been speedy or perfect, and much remains to be done.

But when Raul Castro’s government released more than 50 political prisoners last year imprisoned in 2003 for their alleged cooperation with the United States (in fact, it released more than 100, all of its political prisoners according to Amnesty International, except those convicted of violent crimes), the Obama administration hardly acknowledged its significance.  Some may consider eased US restrictions on people-to-people and academic travel implemented this spring to have been some sort of response to Havana, but they certainly weren’t messaged as such.  Instead, they were sold as a more effective way to get around the Cuban government, reinforcing Cuban officials’ perception that all the US government is interested in in Cuba is regime change – hardly an incentive to serious negotiation.

And as the Cuban government has begun implementing numerous economic reforms – some more consequential than others – including, importantly, steps to legitimize the private sector in Cuba; after increasing space for diverse opinions in the nation’s official media; and after Raul Castro’s public endorsement for term limits, all developments one could reasonable qualify as “flickers of progress,” President Obama has remained unmoved.

Considering how politically charged US (regime change) policy is in Cuba’s domestic politics, it may be for the best that we just sit on the sidelines at this critical juncture.  But when the time comes for the United States to meaningfully engage Cuba after more than half a century, our byzantine embargo will in many ways tie the president’s, and lawmakers’ hands.  Maybe it’s time to apply the Burma sanctions model – defend it or lose it – to the Cuba embargo, where it’s sorely needed.

--- Anya Landau French blogs for The Havana Note, a project of the "US-Cuba Policy Initiative,” directed by Ms. Landau French, at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program. This post originally appeared at The Washington Note.

IN PICTURES: Cuba's economy

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The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.


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