The Cuban Democracy Act and US policy toward Cuba – statement by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Robert S. Gelbard

The Cuban Democracy Act and US policy toward Cuba – statement by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Robert S. Gelbard – Transcript

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this opportunity to review with you US policy toward Cuba and our views on the Cuban Democracy Act (HR 5323). I commend the thorough review Congress has given this legislation. As you are aware, last week, I testified before the Subcommittee for Western Hemisphere and Peace Corps Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, in April, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This has been a truly bipartisan effort. On behalf of the Administration, I would like to thank you and the bill’s sponsors for considering our views on how best to bring democracy to Cuba.

I understand that your interests are in the trade provisions of the Cuban Democracy Act, and I welcome a full discussion of these issues. However, I would like to begin by putting the legislation into the context of US policy toward Cuba.

A Successful Policy

In the last few years, our policy has succeeded in helping to significantly diminish Cuban support for insurgency abroad and terminate Cuba’s special relationship with the former Soviet Union. Today, Cuba stands alone. No government has stretched out a hand to stop the inevitable decay and disappearance of the Cuban dictatorship. No government has attempted to replace the former Soviet Union’s military and political ties with Cuba – quite the contrary. Russia’s relationship with Cuba has withered to the point that it now has little inclination to support Cuban intransigence.

Cuba’s position in the world community and at home is far different from what it was only a few years ago. Today, leaders around the world are pressing the Castro regime to adopt representative democracy and end its repression of human rights. In Madrid – as in Guadalajara – Castro’s vision was rejected by his Latin American colleagues. A few weeks ago, at the Ibero-American summit, the leaders of Latin America, Spain, and Portugal made it clear to Castro they wanted change in Cuba when they called for “representative” democracy in the final communique. Not Cuban-style “democracy” but a true democracy in which the people of Cuba freely elect their leaders and democratic institutions give legitimacy to a successor government.

The UN Human Rights Commission has called on Cuba to stop abuses of human rights. The Russian ambassador to Geneva hosted Cuban human rights activists during last year’s Commission meeting in Geneva, and Russia voted in that Commission to send a Special UN Rapporteur to Cuba to investigate the human rights situation there. Sadly, the Castro regime has refused to allow a UN review of its human rights record. Rather, it has continued to subject those who disagree with the regime to mob attack and arbitrary arrest.

Today, Cuba’s attempts to establish productive relations with the successor states of the former Soviet Union are little more than cosmetic posturing and do little to conceal the final and irreversible removal of the residue of Soviet power in Cuba. Soviet – now Russian – troops are leaving Cuba. Soviet – now Russian – technical advisers, once estimated at 8,000, now can be counted in the hundreds. All economic aid and subsidized trade, which peaked at an estimated $5 billion a year, have ended. Total two-way trade between Russia and Cuba in 1992 may amount to an estimated $500 million compared to $8.7 billion in 1989.

The withdrawal of support from the former Soviet Union and, now, Russia means that Cuba can no longer support insurgency abroad. Just a few short years ago, Cuba had 50,000 troops in Africa. They now number in the hundreds. Namibia is independent and democratic. Cuban troops are out of Angola, and it is not controlled by a Marxist-Leninist regime. Cuban troops have left Ethiopia and Somalia. Cuba has little influence in Africa. The same is true for Latin America. There is peace in Central America. Castro lost the election to [Nicaraguan President] Violeta Chamorro just as surely as did Daniel Ortega. The peace settlement in El Salvador was the death knell for Cuban-style communism in Latin America.

The significantly diminished Cuban support for insurgency and the demise of Cuba’s symbiotic relationship with the Soviet Union did not just happen. It happened because of a strong and active Bush Administration policy to discourage Soviet – and later Russian – support for Cuba. President Bush and Secretary Baker wasted no words in letting [Soviet] President Gorbachev and, subsequently, [Russian] President Yeltsin know that we expected Soviet military and economic support to Cuba to end. President Gorbachev took the unprecedented measure of announcing to the world – without first advising the Cubans – that Soviet troops would be withdrawn from Cuba. President Yeltsin followed this initiative by terminating subsidized oil shipments to Cuba, by slashing military aid, and by placing aid projects on a commercial basis.

Cuba Today

In 1989, could anyone have predicted that Castro, who once deplored tourism, would, in 1992, be frantically struggling to keep Cuba’s fragile economy afloat by begging for Western investment in tourism? Could anyone have told us that the Cuban economy would shrink by 50%, that Cubans would be reduced to bicycles and oxen as their principal modes of transportation, or that Cuba’s military machine would be degraded? Cuba can no longer project its power abroad. Perhaps up to half its MiGs are mothballed, many tanks and artillery are in storage and, to save fuel, anti-aircraft guns are being towed by troops pedaling oversized tricycles. Cuba’s self-proclaimed victories abroad must be ashes in the mouths of those who must till the field and harvest potatoes rather than sow the seeds of revolution.

Cuba’s economic collapse – for in truth that is what we are witnessing – is happening for four reasons:

* The termination of Cuba’s economic relationship with the former Soviet empire;

* The refusal of Fidel Castro to adapt to the wave of democracy that has swept the world. The Cuban economy – like its political system – cannot survive in isolation;

* Our long-standing American policy of economic and political isolation of Cuba; [and]

* Our firm and clear policy on the administration and enforcement of the embargo of Cuba.

The future is in the hands of the Cuban people. Will Cuba choose to join the democratic countries of this hemisphere? Will Cuba regain its economic health and political freedom? These choices must be made by the Cuban people. No matter how much we might want to see a peaceful democratic transition in Cuba, the decision is not ours to make. We can help promote change, but we cannot make the changes. We can suggest what measures might result in a better future for Cuba’s children, but we cannot carry out these changes.

The Cuban Democracy Act

The Cuban Democracy Act is not a change of policy. It embodies many of the measures the Administration has taken to bring about a peaceful democratic transition in Cuba. It calls for political and economic isolation of Cuba. This is what we are doing and have been doing for over 30 years. It calls for a dynamic program of convincing other governments not to help Cuba. The continued exclusion of Cuba from the OAS [Organization of American States], the refusal of any country to replace Cuba’s lost trade and aid, and the collapse of the Cuban economy are all testimonies to the success of our effort. It calls for progressively scaling back our isolation of Cuba if the government undertakes free and fair elections. And, finally, it calls for reintegration of Cuba into this hemisphere once it is truly democratic. This, too, is our policy.

In his April 18 statement on the bill, President Bush stated that he endorsed “the objectives of this legislation to isolate Cuba until democratic change comes to that embattled island.” He also made clear his commitment

to working with the Congress to pan a

stronger, more effective Cuban Democracy

Act which tightens the embargo and

closes any unintentional loopholes that

could benefit the Castro regime, while

preserving the proper constitutional

prerogatives of the Congress and the


In my testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 8, 1992, I said that we share the vision of peaceful democratic change in Cuba with the sponsors of the Cuban Democracy Act. On that occasion, I also pointed out that the Administration differed not with the overall goal but with certain aspects of the strategy. I asked Congress to work with us to resolve these differences in approach. Today, I am pleased to be able to tell you that the Bush Administration supports the new House and Senate versions of the Cuban Democracy Act.

In my April 8 testimony, I cited the two provisions of the original House version of the Cuban Democracy Act which needed to be revised in order to reflect properly the prerogatives of the Congress and the President. We also suggested language that would close unintentional loopholes that could benefit Cuba in the areas of telecommunications and humanitarian shipments. In both cases, congressional leaders, the sponsors, and the State Department were able to work together to successfully resolve their differences. These changes are reflected in the legislation which you are considering today. We understand that there are discussions with [the] Treasury [Department] to resolve differences over the tax provision (Section 6 (b) (1) ).

As with any project – especially with a legislative initiative of this magnitude – there are bound to be differences. However, with the expected resolution of the tax issue, none of the remaining issues should delay enactment of this legislation.

We are pleased that this legislation provides Treasury with civil penalty authority so that it may impose administrative fines for less serious violations of the embargo. We believe that the enforcement procedures are somewhat cumbersome and that the categories of travel exempted from civil penalties under the proposed legislation could permit a greater flow of travel funds to Cuba. Also, we would prefer that the provision on vessels (Section 6 (c) ) reflect the President’s April 18 statement which prohibits entry into US ports of vessels that are engaged in trade with Cuba.

There has been a good deal of debate on the provision to ban trade with Cuba by US subsidiaries located in foreign countries. It is Treasury’s practice to license subsidiaries of US firms located abroad to trade with Cuba if no US funds are involved and if the final product is of less than 20% US content. The proposed legislation would revoke Treasury’s licensing authority in this area. Our allies object to this provision and have told us that they will impose blocking legislation, which could hurt US companies.

Although modifications to the bill would make it even stronger, we support it as it stands. We believe this bill is important because it will make a statement to the Castro regime. Now, when the regime faces its most serious crisis, the Cuban leadership must understand that this is a bipartisan policy which enjoys the full support of the people of the United States, the Congress, and the Administration.

What’s in the Future?

I commend the sponsors of the Cuban Democracy Act for their vision of a free and democratic Cuba. The legislation is clearly designed to promote change by providing incentives which will help the Cuban people undertake the huge job of regenerating a crippled economy and formulating a strategy to develop the basic documents that will govern their lives. For example, Section 7 permits the US Government to provide food and medicines to Cuba if the Cuban Government commits to elections in 6 months, respects human rights, and is not supporting insurgency abroad. This provision will help democracy get a start in Cuba, because it allows us to help once it is clear that the Cuban Government is committed to universal standards of human rights and democracy. Section 8 goes much further. It lists the actions we are prepared to take if the Cuban Government has held free and fair elections with opposition parties and free press, undertaken constitutional reform to establish a representative democracy, and is moving toward a free market economy. These measures include steps toward ending the embargo and opening negotiations for a trade and investment framework agreement, as we have done with other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. In short, we are ready to help Cuba become a full and prosperous member of the world community. In my view, these provisions are really the heart of the Cuban Democracy Act, because they provide enormous encouragement to the Cuban people to strive toward a democratic system.

Neither this bill nor US policy is designed to hurt the Cuban people. Our mutual objective is freedom: freedom for the Cuban people to choose their leaders, to speak out freely, [and] to join the rest of Latin America in a truly democratic hemisphere. We know this will happen. But we are impatient; we want it to happen now. There has been too much suffering and loss. Families have been split apart – sons and daughters lost at sea – and those who remain behind are left without a future. It is time for a change. Cubans do not want “Socialism or Death,” Castro’s slogan. They want a voice in running their government so that they can meet together without fear of jail or beatings. It is time that the Cuban people were given back their voice, their vote, and the future of their country. When this time comes, we stand ready to stretch out a hand to help rebuild Cuba. Our help and that of the world community will be given to foster democracy and human rights, not [to] succor a failing dictatorship. We hope that our policy, and this bill, will contribute to the long-sought goal of a free and democratic Cuba.

COPYRIGHT 1992 U.S. Government Printing Office

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group