US Can Contribute By Acknowledging Cuba’s Reforms

US Can Contribute By Acknowledging Cuba’s Reforms

FINANCIAL TIMES 11/23/11
By Michael Shank

Sir, With reference to “Come on – Cuba needs help, not hindrance to progress” (November 18): as illuminated in a 98-page report this month from the Center for Democracy in the Americas, Cuba’s recent economic reforms are indicative of a new resolve.

President Raúl Castro is spurring new private sector enterprise, enabling Cubans to open small businesses, hire workers and create farming and manufacturing co-operatives that will function as small businesses. He is cutting 1m workers on the state payroll, reducing ration card allocations and ending some state subsidies entirely. He is also decentralising government by handing over state responsibilities to provincial and municipal leaderships with the aim to build capacity and implement decisions locally.

Yet while US President Barack Obama is on board the US-Cuba relationship transformation train, doing more to improve US-Cuba relations than predecessors, there are ample roadblocks in Congress keeping our two countries from increased economic co-operation. Don’t forget that Cuba, until recently, was the US’s largest rice export market and fifth largest export market in Latin America for US farm exports. Furthermore, Cuba holds the potential for $20bn in trade with the US over a three-year term. Our economy could clearly benefit from better relations.

The potential is not merely on the natural resources front, but on the human one too. The US and Cuba are already cautiously co-ordinating on areas of mutual interest, such as migration, counter-narcotics and disaster preparedness. Other low hanging fruit? Expand co-operation on education, medicine, science and sports through non-political, people-to-people exchanges. This is how we rebuild relations.

The US can make some important contributions to Cuba’s economic reform process by acknowledging that the country’s reforms are real and ensuring that Cubans are getting the cash and credit they need to make use of the new found freedom to start small businesses. Easing the flow of financing, travel and remittances wouldn’t hurt either; so too the removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba is clearly on the rise. It is time for the US to rise with it.

Michael Shank, US Vice President, Institute for Economics and Peace, Washington, DC, US