WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
1 Sep 2016 | Commentary

20 Ways President Obama Can Further Advance U.S.-Cuba Relations

Read the full Document Here

With just four months left, the administration of President Barack Obama can still make changes that would benefit both the United States and Cuba in the long run, no matter who takes the White House next.

Since the United States and Cuba first announced they would restore diplomatic relations in December 2014, the level of engagement between the two countries has been astounding.

This new chapter has set a new tone for the United States, Cuba, and the hemisphere. The progress should be applauded — future opportunities look different for people in both countries than they did just five years ago. But the Obama administration can do more to make sure this progress is consolidated and momentum towards a truly “normal” relationship continues.

WOLA and partners have compiled a list of 20 recommendations for steps the administration could take to improve U.S.-Cuban relations, despite the embargo that Congress continues to hold.

The recommendations range from actions that could be taken to improve health cooperation, financial engagement and business deals, to regulations to broaden agricultural exports and access to information on the island. They also offer suggestions on how to begin to normalize migration, which has become even more urgent as U.S. preferential treatment for undocumented Cuban migrants has caused significant crisis in Ecuador, Colombia, and parts of Central America.

Taking these actions would help consolidate progress already made, improve U.S. business in the realms of agriculture, telecommunications, travel and other industries, while also providing new opportunities for Cuban entities and soothing diplomatic tensions.

Below is a summary of the recommendations. They are nuanced and varied as to increase engagement as much as possible across the board with still abiding to the embargo.

For the rationale behind any of these steps and greater detail, please see the letter to President Obama and the full document.

Summary of Recommendations

Recommendations to Facilitate Greater Financial Engagement and Expand Commercial Transactions

1. Increase outreach to the U.S. banking system to explain how regulations now encourage greater commercial and financial engagement with Cuba. Assure financial institutions that they will not face penalties if they take advantage of newly authorized opportunities vis-à-vis Cuba, including clearing third-country transactions, processing credit card transactions related to legal travel, and making and receiving payments for legal sales to and from Cuba.

2. Encourage the international financial institutions to re-engage with Cuba.

3. Authorize, by general license, or a general policy of approval, participation by U.S. investors in business arrangements in Cuba, including with state-owned firms, cooperatives, or private sector firms, when the goods or services produced benefit the Cuban people.

4. Authorize by a general policy of approval, the import and sale in the United States of Cuban agricultural products made by the private and cooperative sectors, including transactions that pass through Cuban state export agencies.

5. Establish a permanent presence for USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba.

6. In the case of agricultural sales to Cuba authorized by the TSRA, explore how U.S. companies licensed to make sales to Cuba could export the product to Cuba through a third country subsidiary, given the limitations imposed by the Cuban Democracy Act.

7. Authorize by a general policy of approval, investments in the renewable energy sector.

8. Authorize by a general policy of approval, U.S. participation in offshore oil exploration in Cuban waters. This should include approval for U.S. companies to lease or sell U.S.-owned or built oil exploration equipment to Cuban enterprises, recognizing that U.S.-manufactured equipment meets the highest standards of safety. It should also authorize case-by-case approval of U.S. companies’ participation in joint oil explorations, again recognizing the quality of U.S. safety protocols and practices.

9. Expand the range of consumer telecommunications software and hardware that U.S. companies are authorized to sell to Cuba by a Commerce Department license exception, in order to expand access to information on the island.

Recommendations to Expand Health-Related Engagement

10. Eliminate barriers which deny U.S. citizens access to clinically proven Cuban-developed drugs. Ensure, through general licensing, that medical and pharmaceutical companies that receive FDA authorization to proceed with clinical trials of Cuban-developed drugs will also receive authorizations to market the product in the United States if it is approved by the FDA after successful clinical trials.

11. Conduct outreach to U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers to make sure they and their legal departments are aware that there is a general policy of approval for export licenses for medical sales, and to address concerns they may have. Arrange a meeting between U.S. manufacturers and Cuban health care sector representatives and importers.

12. Authorize U.S. entities (universities, research centers, and private firms) by general license to collaborate in medical and health-related research and development projects in Cuba, including commercial projects.

13. Authorize U.S. pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies to include Cuban hospitals and health centers in their clinical trials, potentially speeding up the approval process of new U.S. drugs by expanding the pool of qualified participants required for testing. Cuba’s Public Clinical Trials Registry, accredited by the World Health Organization, has experience with testing similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements.

14. Strengthen bilateral cooperation, jointly addressing health emergencies in the U.S., Cuba and globally, including natural disasters and epidemics such as Ebola, dengue and Zika.

Recommendations to Strengthen Security Cooperation where there are U.S. Interests at Stake.

15. Deepen and extend counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics cooperation. Based on the recently signed counter-narcotics agreement, improve information sharing processes and exchange of best practices. Invite Cuban counterparts to Coast Guard, DEA, and JIATF-South facilities to understand how the U.S. system works. Request parallel visits to Cuban state institutions.

16. Assign a Legal Attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and pursue a protocol that allows his or her direct contact with counterparts in the Cuban government, for information exchange and requests for assistance in specific cases.

17. Build gradually on military–to-military contacts, perhaps with invitations to Cuban military officers to observe or participate in subregional and regional dialogues on issues of mutual interest, including counter-narcotics, terrorism, cyber security, and maritime security.

Recommendations to Eliminate or Suspend Programs that Fail to Advance People’s Wellbeing Improve Human Rights, or Promote Democratic Opening.

18. Suspend or redirect the “democracy promotion” programs now funded through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), and USAID, while conducting a review of existing programs to ensure they are consistent with the President’s policies of normalization of relations with Cuba.

Any program or policy that is carried out under this rubric should be conducted openly, transparently, and with the goal of expanding contacts between the people of the US and Cuba without interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs.

Recommendations on Measures toward Normalizing Migration.

19. The United States should increase the number of visas it issues for Cubans to obtain legal residence, while the Attorney General should exercise her authority to end preferential treatment for Cuban migrants arriving at U.S. borders, a policy that is currently causing serious irregular migration problems for governments in Colombia, Ecuador, and Central America.

20. End the Cuban Medical Professionals Parole Program, which offers incentives to Cuban doctors working abroad to leave their country and immigrate to the United States.