Damien Cave | Miami Herald
A 14-page proposal from the Cuban American National Foundation lays out what the document calls “a break from the past” that would “chart a new direction for U.S.-Cuba policy.”
It is the basis of an ongoing discussion with the Obama administration, White House and foundation officials said, and it amounts to the group’s most significant rejection of a national approach to Cuba that it helped shape and that has been defined by hostility and limited contact with the island.
Foundation officials described it as an effort to direct attention away from Fidel and Raúl Castro and toward the Cuban people.
“For 50 years we have been trying to change the Cuban government, the Cuban regime,” said the foundation’s president, Francisco J. Hernandez, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. “At the present time, what we have to do is change the emphasis to the Cuban people — because they are going to be the ones who change things in Cuba.”
The proposal stops short of calling for an end to the 47-year-old trade embargo the United States has imposed on Cuba. Mr. Hernandez said the embargo should remain until the Cuban government gives “more freedom and human rights to people.” But he also described it as only “a symbol” and “not something that is that important anymore.”
In a reversal from the group’s founding principles, he said American policy should focus not on sanctions but on proactive policies that direct resources to the island.
In addition to recommending an increase in how much money Cuban-Americans can send to their relatives in Cuba — which the Obama administration has said it plans to enact — it says the 1997 ban on cash aid from the American government should also be rescinded. It advocates an increase in private aid for pro-democracy groups and a plan for “permitting Cuban-Americans and others, under license, to send cash, building materials, agricultural implements and provide services to independent, private entrepreneurs.”
The proposal also urges the United States to encourage travel to Cuba for cultural, academic or humanitarian purposes, returning to the standards of 1999, before the Bush administration tightened limits.
And it identifies several ways to engage diplomatically. For instance, it says that semi-annual meetings between Cuban and American officials to discuss migration from the island, suspended in 2004, should be re-established; and that the White House should remove restrictions limiting the travel of Cuban Interests Section employees in Washington to within 25 miles from their offices, if the Cuban government agrees to remove a similar boundary for American diplomats in Havana.
Robert Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University, said the document was striking for both its new ideas and its repudiation of policies that the group once favored.
“It basically says previous efforts have failed — the embargo didn’t work,” said Mr. Pastor, who was President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser for Latin America. “That, from the Cuban American National Foundation, is a very significant statement.”
Mr. Pastor said the shift in tone could help the Obama administration achieve its stated goal of more open relations with Cuba.
Momentum for such a change has been building. In the presidential campaign, aides to Barack Obama called President George W. Bush’s policy toward Cuba a “humanitarian and strategic blunder,” and as president, Mr. Obama recently ordered a comprehensive review of United States-Cuba policy.
Several members of Congress have also drafted legislation to lift a ban on all travel to Cuba, and this week, a Congressional delegation that met separately with Raúl and Fidel Castro said the government signaled a desire for warmer relations.
Mr. Pastor said the foundation seemed willing to become a partner in greater engagement between the United States and Cuba, but he was skeptical of the group’s plan to channel money to the island nation from the federal government or from organizations tied to Cuban exiles.
“The proposal to support civil society in Cuba is theoretically desirable from the U.S. perspective but it’s impractical because the Cuban government sees it as a new form of regime change,” said Mr. Pastor, who visited the island in March. “It’s counterproductive because it makes the dissidents seem like tools of Miami rather than independent patriots.”
At Café Versailles, a restaurant in the Little Havana section of Miami that has long been a gathering spot for anti-Castro protesters, the proposal was greeted with familiar, emotional criticism. As he offered paintings of the Cuban countryside for sale from his van in the parking lot, Rodolfo Frometa, 64, could not hide his anger.
“I would open the doors to Cuba,” Mr. Frometa shouted, “but it would be with the use of force to remove the system completely and create a democracy.”
Mr. Frometa said his son, brother and father were all killed by the Castro government. In 1994, he was convicted in Miami on charges that he and an accomplice tried to buy a Stinger missile to attack Cuba , and he served41 months in prison.
The foundation will also probably face opposition from Florida’s four Cuban-American Republican members of Congress — Senator Mel Martinez and Representatives Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. All have historically opposed engagement with Cuba unless the government meets strict conditions. None returned telephone calls or responded to e-mail seeking comment.
Mr. Hernandez, however, said the foundation would not be intimidated by the old guard to which it once belonged.
“We have to adapt,” he said. “And that is what we have done.”
Yolanne Almanzar contributed reporting.
Read the pdf report A New Course for U.S.-Cuba policy: ADVANCING PEOPLE-DRIVEN CHANGE