Cuba: U.S. Policy in the 115th Congress Page: 2 of 74
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Cuba: U.S. Policy in the 115th Congress
Cuba remains a one-party authoritarian state with a poor record on human rights. Current
President Ranl Castro succeeded his long-ruling brother Fidel Castro in 2006, and he is expected
to step down in February 2018. Most observers see First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel as the
"heir apparent" as president, although Ranl likely will continue in his position as first secretary of
Cuba's Communist Party. Under Ranl, Cuba has implemented gradual market-oriented economic
policy changes over the past decade, but critics maintain that the government has not taken
enough action to foster sustainable economic growth. Few observers expect the government to
ease its tight control over the political system, especially as the country approaches its political
succession in 2018.
Congress has played an active role in shaping policy toward Cuba, including the enactment of
legislation strengthening and at times easing various U.S. economic sanctions. Since the early
1960s, the centerpiece of U.S. policy has consisted of economic sanctions aimed at isolating the
Cuban government. In December 2014, however, the Obama Administration initiated a major
Cuba policy shift, moving away from sanctions toward a policy of engagement and a
normalization of relations. The policy change included the restoration of diplomatic relations
(July 2015); the rescission of Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of international terrorism
(May 2015); and an increase in travel, commerce, and the flow of information to Cuba. To
implement this third step, the Treasury and Commerce Departments eased the embargo
regulations five times (most recently in October 2016) in such areas as travel, remittances, trade,
telecommunications, and financial services. The overall embargo, however, remains in place and
can be lifted only with congressional action or if the President determines and certifies to
Congress that certain conditions in Cuba are met, including that a democratically elected
government is in place.
President Trump unveiled a new policy toward Cuba in June 2017 that partially rolls back some
of the Obama Administration's efforts to normalize relations. The most significant regulatory
changes (effective November 9, 2017) include restrictions on transactions with companies
controlled by the Cuban military and the elimination of individual people-to-people travel. In
response to unexplained injuries of U.S. personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, the State
Department ordered the departure of nonemergency personnel from Cuba in September 2017 and
subsequently ordered the departure of 15 Cuban diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in
Washington, DC, in October.
There are contrasting congressional views on the appropriate U.S. policy approach toward Cuba.
In the 115* Congress, debate over Cuba policy is continuing, especially with regard to U.S.
economic sanctions. To date, several bills have been introduced to ease or lift economic sanctions
altogether: H.R. 351 and S. 1287 (travel); H.R. 442/S. 472 and S. 1286 (some economic
sanctions); H.R. 498 (telecommunications); H.R. 525 (agricultural exports and investment); H.R.
572 (agricultural and medical exports and travel); H.R. 574, H.R. 2966, and S. 1699 (overall
embargo); and S. 275 (private financing for U.S. agricultural exports). Among its provisions, the
Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (H.R. 244, P.L. 115-31), provided $20 million in
democracy assistance for Cuba and $28.1 million for Cuba broadcasting for FY2017.
For FY2018, the Trump Administration did not request any democracy assistance for Cuba, but it
requested $23.7 million for Cuba broadcasting. The House Appropriations Committee's FY2018
State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations bill, H.R. 3362, incorporated into the
Congressional Research Service
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Sullivan, Mark P. Cuba: U.S. Policy in the 115th Congress, report, November 22, 2017; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1043227/m1/2/: accessed January 19, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.