More Cracks in the EU’s “Common Position” on Cuba

By William M. LeoGrande*

eu cubaThe visit of Dutch Foreign Minister Timmermans to Cuba earlier this month marks yet another crack in the European Union’s 1996 Common Position on Cuba, which conditions normal relations with the island on democratic reforms. Days later, EU Commission President Barroso acknowledged that a number of member states were pressing for a reevaluation of the Common Position, and Spanish Foreign Minister García Margallo announced that the issue would be taken up at the EU foreign ministers meeting on 10 February – adding, however, that any new policy “would have, as a determining factor, respect for human rights.” Amending the Common Position will require unanimity among the EU’s member states, something conservative governments – especially in the former socialist countries – have thus far blocked.

The Common Position has severely constrained the ability of Brussels to respond creatively to rapidly changing conditions in Cuba today, but various European governments have expanded their bilateral economic and political ties with Cuba despite its strictures. Trade between Cuba and Europe, at 2.5 billion euros annually, has roughly tripled since 1996, and official development assistance to Cuba has quadrupled to nearly 60 million euros annually. Policies of engagement have proven more successful than policies of hostility and confrontation.  In 2010, quiet diplomacy by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s government enabled Spain to play a crucial mediating role between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church, leading to the release of more than a hundred political prisoners – the largest such release since the 1970s.

Cuba today is moving in directions that the EU has long favored.  The “updating” of the Cuban economic model, begun in 2011, entails greater economic openness, reduced government regulation of private markets, and a larger role for private sector businesses. At the same time, although challenging Cuba’s one-party system or its socialist society is still out of bounds, there has been a very gradual opening of political space to debate the shape of Cuba’s future.  Replacing the Common Position does not mean that European states, individually or collectively, would abandon their commitment to encouraging greater human rights and democracy in Cuba.  But a warmer political climate would enable them to express their concerns more effectively through quiet diplomacy. What offends Cuba’s leaders is not that other states have different views on these issues; it is that the Common Position makes normal relations contingent on Cuba conforming to European norms, a litmus test that no other Latin American country is required to pass.

*Dr. LeoGrande is Professor of Government in the School of Public Affairs at American University.  This article is excerpted from an essay (click here) he wrote for the London School of Economics and Political Science blog.

Prospects for U.S.-Latin American Educational Exchange

By Aaron Bell

Picture3Regional educational exchange has become an important talking point for U.S. administrations in recent years, but data is still lacking to judge it a success or failure.  In 2011, the Obama administration announced the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative, intended to promote a north-south multilateral exchange of 100,000 students by 2020.  The State Department casts it as a means for students in the hemisphere to develop the relationships and skills necessary to meet four contemporary challenges: citizen security, economic opportunity, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability.  The organizations tasked with fulfilling the program’s goals include the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs, whose 60-plus years of advocacy on behalf of international education is based on the belief that “international education leads to a more peaceful world.” Whether such lofty aspirations are possible is subject to some debate, but the more-easily measured effect of 100,000 Strong will become clearer when the Institute of International Education releases its report later this year on international study to and from the United States during the past academic year.

Latin American countries as diverse as Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and El Salvador have student exchange programs of their own, with the U.S. a leading destination.  Mexico sent the most students to the U.S. of any Latin American nation in 2011-12, but its 13,000 students were only the ninth largest source of international students in the U.S.  The most commonly touted example of U.S.-Latin American exchange is cooperation with the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program, part of the Brazilian government’s plan to send 100,000 students abroad by 2015 to study in key science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.  Responding to the weakness of these fields in many Brazilian universities and to the growing demand for highly qualified graduates in high-tech industries, so far over 7,000 Brazilian students have studied at over 200 U.S. universities and interned at 300 companies, with another estimated 3,900 now in such programs.  Cooperation in education exchange is not limited to high-tech fields.  In Washington, for example, Georgetown University administers leadership training to “disadvantaged communities” and “historically underserved populations” from Latin America through the State Department’s Central America Youth Ambassadors Program and the USAID’s Scholarships for Economic Education and Development (SEED) Program.

While governments like Brazil’s have financed their international study programs, the U.S. has asked the private sector to take the lead in expanding pre-existing programs like Fulbright.  Two years ago, 64,000 Latin American students studied in the U.S., compared to 40,000 U.S. students in Latin America, of which one third stayed only for a summer.  If part of the purpose of 100,000 Strong is to improve regional relations through personal contact and exposure to the region’s sociocultural diversity, educational exchanges will need to flow north-south on a more equal footing.  It remains to be seen if the U.S. private sector is willing to meet such a commitment.  There is also the perennial question of whether educational exchange programs enhance economic development and mobility in Latin America or instead contribute to “brain drain.”  The development of high tech industries in places like Brazil offers a more promising future for returning students, but their absence in poorer regions like Central America is a source of concern.  Finally, 100,000 Strong and similar programs should be judged on how they respond to the largest challenges facing universities throughout the Americas: affordability, providing quality education for students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, and in Latin America specifically, making local universities appealing settings for internationally-trained intellectuals and experts.

Cuban National Assembly Takes Modest Steps on Reforms

Photo by Nathan Laurell via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/nglklm/7146331353

Speaking to the two-day semi-annual session, President Raúl Castro reiterated the leadership’s commitment to undertaking the reforms outlined in the Sixth Party Congress last year.  He didn’t explicitly address concerns reported in international media that implementation of the reforms has been halting, but he announced several concrete steps to be undertaken this year.  Among them is the creation of non-agricultural cooperatives – allowing a new form of private enterprise in 222 business areas and announcing government loans for them – and greater decision-making autonomy for state enterprises.  The Assembly passed a new tax law, details of which have not yet been published.

Castro was a little defensive about the lack of an “updating of migration policy” – widely understood to include lifting the requirement for exit visas – while “ratifying the will of the Party and State leadership to carry out the reformulation.”

From the beginning of the current round of reforms, Raúl Castro and the Communist Party have cautioned that the changes will be introduced gradually and adjusted during implementation.  The credible reports of frustration with the pace of change notwithstanding, the National Assembly appears to have validated that getting the reforms “right” is more important than doing them fast.  The government probably calculates that the new cooperatives and tax law are important elements of an infrastructure for change, but slow or partial implementation will undermine them.  The perennial question remains whether the government’s concern with control discourages important energy among the individuals it is counting on building the new limited private sector.

Nicaragua: Government-Private Sector Tactical Cooperation

Leaders of Nicaragua’s private sector and political opposition have teamed up with the government to press Washington not to go overboard with sanctions in response to flawed elections last November.  Their traditional allies in Congress, including the Cuban-Americans who dominate the Obama Administration policy toward Latin America, are pressing for suspension of two waivers to U.S. laws that suspend bilateral and multilateral aid to Nicaragua.  One waiver depends on progress on fiscal “transparency,” and the other on the resolution of property disputes from the 1980s.  The former, which would affect several million US dollars in bilateral aid (apparently for an AIDS program), is doomed, according to insiders.  But a decision on the property waiver – suspension of which would require the United States to oppose Nicaraguan loans from the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank and IMF worth more than $200 million in 2011 – has not yet been made.

In public and private appearances, leaders of the Nicaraguan business community and political opposition, including Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance standard-bearer and Presidential Candidate Eduardo Montealegre, have forcefully stated their differences with the government of President Daniel Ortega, particularly regarding the conduct of elections and the lack of “institutionality” – i.e., the politicization of government institutions.  But the business community has pleaded for U.S. flexibility.  They estimate that suspension of the property waiver would threaten $1.4 billion in development assistance, deal a serious blow to their own prospects, and thrust Nicaragua into deep crisis.  Montealagre said he would lobby “neither for nor against” the waiver, but his participation in the delegation signaled a clear preference for Washington to be cautious.  Ortega’s personal emissary for foreign investment, Alvaro Baltodano, has emphasized the growing commercial links between the two countries and the benefit it provides directly to the Nicaraguan people.

The private sector and opposition are in the odd position of trying to persuade their own friends in Washington to be practical – not to be more anti-Sandinista than they.  Suspension of the property waiver would not only hurt them in the pocketbook; it would give a propaganda boost to President Daniel Ortega and make the population even more dependent on his social programs, heavily subsidized by Venezuela.  All of the U.S. aid and most of the multilateral aid provides direct benefit to the Nicaraguan people.  Ortega’s opponents do not want U.S. sanctions to close the business and political operating space they have enjoyed in recent years, despite Ortega’s excesses.