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US-Cuba Talks? Give Cuban Civil Society a Voice

“You must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds ….What you cannot turn to good, you must at least make as little bad as you can,” Sir Thomas More

Borrowing from a page of the Carter Administration’s failed Cuba policy, the President wants closer relations with Cuba and he has tasked his team with that goal. Part of this effort includes re-establishing diplomatic relations as well as high-level talks on issues of mutual interest. This is wrong, however, the President has decided that it is in the U.S. national interest to do so.

As Members of the 114th Congress start to explore in a few weeks how to respond to this policy shift, something needs to be done to make sure that Cuban civil society has a voice.

To make sure that U.S. law and policy – that includes helping the Cuban people – remain the guiding principles of this, some would say, quixotic effort, there must be someone involved throughout this process who will serve as the alter ego of the American people, the Congress, and Cuban civil society. This person would, among other things, travel as part of all official U.S. travel to Cuba.

Rather than meet with Cuban regime officials, this person, preferably someone from outside the government, would meet with dissidents, opposition leaders, independent media, bloggers, as well as others groups and people who make up Cuban civil society. It would be a special advocate reporting to the head of the U.S. delegation, as well as the Congress. If the Obama Administration refuses to do this, or put forth a watered down alternative, the incoming leadership of the 114th Congress should appoint someone to serve in that capacity.

Section 3 of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 states, inter alia, that the aim of U.S. policy toward Cuba, as it will be until Congress amends the law, if at all, is to “assist the Cuban people in regaining their freedom and prosperity“. At this juncture, since the President insists on proceeding with a new approach, we can think of no better way to advance U.S. policy goals and values, than to give Cuban civil society a real voice in crafting the future of their country.

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