McCain Institute, February 2015



701 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC. February 26, 2015.


THE DEBATE: On Thursday, February 26, 2015, the McCain Institute for International Leadership hosted “A New U.S.-Cuba Policy: Did Cuba Win?” at the Navy Heritage Center in Washington, DC. Following President Obama’s December announcement of his intention to re-establish formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, debaters argued over the merits of renewed U.S. engagement with Cuba.

Key points made in favor of the new U.S.-Cuba Policy:

  • Fifty years of sanctions and embargo has failed to bring about any meaningful change in Cuba – it is time to try new approaches.
  • By expanding U.S. engagement with Cuba, we can have empower society and strengthen prospects for change from within.
  • Strengthening entrepreneurship and the private sector can have a major effect on opening of political space in Cuba. And the proximity of the United States to Cuba can contribute to faster economic growth and political impact.
  • It is not an “either-or” proposition: it is possible both to engage with Cuba and support human rights and democracy at the same time.
  • The new policy can create a platform for constructive discussion on pressing issues, and allow for cooperation on matters where Cuba and the United States share common interests, such as on drug smuggling and human trafficking.
  • Opening up to Cuba will strengthen the U.S. position in the Western Hemisphere more broadly, where the policy of isolating Cuba was extremely unpopular.
  • The new policy can create a platform for constructive discussion on pressing issues, and allow for enhanced cooperation on matters where Cuba and the United States share common interests, such as on drug smuggling, human trafficking, environmental remediation in the Gulf, search and rescue activities, and Center for Disease Control collaboration.

Key points made against the policy shift:

  • Re-establishing relations legitimizes the Castro regime. Thus the United States essentially gave the Castros what they wanted, while getting nothing in return on human rights or democracy.
  • Having already played our hand, the risk now is that Cuba actually goes backward on human rights. It also sends a signal to others in the region, such as Venezuela, that they can get away without reform.
  • Because all property is owned and controlled by the State, all economic engagement from the United States benefits only the regime.
  • The United States should support those in Cuba who support democracy and change, rather than embracing the regime.
  • Since the announcement of the policy shift, the number of people trying to leave the island has increased, indicating fears of a strengthened Castro regime.
  • The negotiations on opening relations were conducted in secret by elites – left out were the Cuban people.
  • A country with a history of violating international accords, sponsoring terrorism, and engagement in narcotics trade cannot be a reliable partner for the United States.


Julia Sweig emphasized that approaching the Cuban government needs to continue in regards of foreign policy, national interest, and the Cuban-people, recognizing that it will be a slow process. Increased bilateral cooperation is necessary to address issues that impact both countries.

Jodi Bond argued that a change of policy is needed, when the old policies don’t work. Support for free enterprise and opening up of the Cuban economy to American businesses has the opportunity to transform the society.

Mauricio Claver-Carone argued that the United States is becoming a business partner of the Castro regime. To bring about change, the United States needs to support the reformers and the game-changers, not the regime.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo stressed that free markets require free people and that spread of the freedom of thought and moral values should be on the top of the agenda. Political change should be parallel to economic change, not secondary.



Julia Sweig, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Texas-Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

Jodi Bond, Vice President of the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce


Mauricio Claver Carone, Executive Director of the Cuba Democracy Advocates.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Columnist for Diario de Cuba, Sampsonia Way Magazine, and El Nacional.


Jon Decker, White House correspondent for Fox News Radio.

Yankees, come home

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Fifty-plus years of US diplomatic stalemate and economic sanctions have failed to bring freedom to the Cuban people because they were not designed to bring freedom to the Cuban people, but to penalize a regime that started by sequestering Cuban sovereignty by violent and anti-democratic procedures (reestablishment of death penalty, radical hatred speech, citizen apartheid), by the illegalization of civil society and all forms of property (both private and public, including the press), and by tyrannizing every institutional power into a despotic State, plus the militarization of the nation to the point of demanding a nuclear attack against the United States from Cuban territory.

The 50-plus years to come of US diplomatic relations and capitalist engagement with Cuba can neither guarantee the advance of fundamental freedoms in my country, nor our liberation from the successive Castro generations, because a market economy is not a redemptive formula and it has already been implemented by authoritarian systems as a tool for tyrannical control of all basic rights. And this is a wicked word that President Obama, Pope Francis and General Castro have secretly agreed to postpone: the rights of the Cuban people.

As the pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Payá stated many times until he was extrajudicially executed in Cuba on July 22nd 2012: Why not the recognition of all our rights now? What is good for Americans since the 18th century is still not good enough for Cubans in the 21st century?

Is this about US interference, as in the hegemonic past times when the capitol of DC was the capital of the continent? Or this is only about insulting the intellectual capacity of my people, wise enough to escape in a pedestrian’s plebiscite in search for a real “normalization” of their lives far from an abnormal socialism?

Democracies seem guilty of their duty to foster democracy worldwide, but Castroism has been more than proud to Castrify democratic countries (Venezuela is the most tragic example today), as the recently liberated 5 Cuban spies in US have declared when ordered as National Heroes back on the Island: we are ready to commit our crimes again if we are ordered to do so. Sic semper tyrannis.

Why not the effective solidarity and the pressure of the international community, so that the legal claims that have already mobilized tens of thousands of Cubans be respected by our non-elected authorities? Why not take advantage of these US-Cuba negotiations to seat in the same table the historical gerontocracy with the alternative civil leaders, after we have risked so much to conquer freedom of speech and to raise awareness on human rights violations and the anthropological damage in Cuba?

In moral terms, the unpopularity of US policies given the popularity of the Cuban Revolution worldwide should be less important than the unpopularity of the retrograde regime within the Island, if a true transition is to take place in Cuba today. Unless, of course, advancing American interests in the Western Hemisphere now means advancing American interests in Western Union.

Did Cuba win?

Cuba cannot win because perpetuation in power is always a failure and the best approach to endure a fossil past, despite the faith in the future expressed by Nancy Pelosi, as the US executive branch enforces resolution after resolution, involving exclusively those congressmen and NGOs and think-tanks and press magnates and corporations’ tycoons that hurry to shake Raul Castro’s hand without asking him a single uncomfortable question, thus legitimizing he who abolished the Cuban Congress and Cuban Chamber of Commerce and Cuban think-tanks and Cuban NGOs, as well as the exercise of free press. By the way, convenient Cuban dissidents are also called into play, not for the rule of law, but for the rule of loyalty.

The rationale seems to be that, as it is impossible to hold the Cuban government accountable, the appeasement of the dictatorship into a dictatorcracy is now the lesser evil, mentioning “Cuban civil society” only for political correctness in presidential speeches, while in fact excluding us from the new status quo.

I am not sure about “what everybody needs to know about Cuba” (as in Julia Sweig’s book) but I am certain of what nobody dares to know about Cuba. Milan Kundera, maybe the best of Cuban novelists who is a Czech who writes in French and lives in Switzerland (a perfect mixture for freedom), knew that “the old dead make way for the young dead” for “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”.

Therefore, even if this is a small step for democracy, it’s also a giant leap against independency. And decency. The Cuban policy of the US is the ironic victory of The End of History: from our War against Spain to the anti-Imperialist Revolution, the growing “Common Marketization” of international relations is what really counts.

That’s why for the first time in the history of our hemiplegic hemisphere it’s paradoxically in a Communist country where the cry of “Yankees, come home” echoes. In fact, you are more than welcome to try to fool our terminal tyrant with US dollars. But having dwelt in the entrails of said terminal tyranny during never-ending decades, my only remaining resistance is a sour skepticism to soothe our soul.

ASU Insight: (RECAP) A New U.S.-Cuba Policy. Did Cuba Win?

ASU Now. Published on Mar 2, 2015.

Following President Obama’s December 2014 announcement of his intention to re-establish formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, debaters argued over the merits of renewed U.S. engagement with Cuba.

Featuring Jodi Bond, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Mauricio Claver Carone, Cuba Democracy Advocates; Jon Decker, Fox News Radio; Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Sampsonia Way Magazine and El Nacional; Julia Sweig, University of Texas-Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

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