US-Cuba Policy: Moving Forward

In the early '90s when Russia pulled its aid from Cuba, the Cuban economy collapsed. This is what is called in Cuba as the "Special Period." Times were extremely tough during this time for the Cuban people. Today, Cuba is vulnerable to the volatility of the Venezuelan government and if history repeats itself, the effects will be detrimental to people of Cuba. With Obama re-elected, I strongly urge the U.S.A. to consider lifting the embargo so that it can maintain a bilateral interest in the country, allow Cuba another life-line so that the country no longer relies mainly on Venezuela, Russia or China and allow the free-market to be created naturally by trade, investments and establishing global business presence is Cuba.

By lifting the economic embargo, the U.S. can begin to direct the change that needs to take place in Cuba. The U.S. can benefit from the economic growth that Cuba could bring to both the U.S. and Latin America and send a message of political goodwill to the entire world by restoring diplomatic ties between the two countries. The elimination of the embargo would have an immediate impact in the U.S. economy, create a new opportunity for direct investments, encourage entrepreneurship, and is significant to the national security interests of the U.S.A.. I realize there are many factors and risks than need to be considered, but the U.S. has impacted such change in other communist countries and we can work to apply those same skills and tactics to Cuba.

The Cuban literacy rate is near 99 percent. Education is an important value for the Cuban people. This gives me confidence that the ingenuity and education level of the Cuban people will be a key factor in the transition of Cuba into a free-market economy. Only 90 miles from our shoreline are some of the most literate and educated people who work for considerably less money. In my visit to Cuba in 2008, I learned the average monthly wage of a Cuban worker is equivalent to $20 in U.S. currency. I also learned there is a dual currency system of Cuban pesos and Cuban dollars, making it very difficult for Cubans to acquire any type of goods. To elaborate further, there are two types of stores for goods and services in Cuba for each currency type. The "Cuban dollar stores," which are populated with the latest goods we have here in the U.S., even with a unilateral embargo, and the "Cuban peso stores," which literally have no goods available. The Cuban government pays the Cuban people in Cuban pesos, making it nearly impossible for the average Cuban to get Cuban dollars unless they "exchange" their own currency from the Cuban peso to Cuban dollar. The Cuban peso is worth 24 times less than the Cuban dollar. This system makes it nearly impossible to live in Cuba unless you receive funding from outside of Cuba. The relevance of all this is that if you ask the Cuban government why the situation is what it is in Cuba, they blame the embargo. By lifting the embargo the Cuban government runs out of excuses and can no longer blame the "imperialists."

Once we can normalize relations, one consideration to explore with Cuba is developing an alternative energy industry in Cuba and use Brazil as an example. Cuba used to be one of the top producers of sugar cane. Many of the fields sit empty today. If Cuba could rebuild its sugar cane industry and begin to produce ethanol-from-sugar, given its close proximity to the U.S.A., shipping costs from Cuba would be lower than shipping costs from Brazil, and the U.S. could create a sustainable alternative energy model.

I realize that my vision for Cuba will not happen overnight. In fact, I am well aware that these changes might not happen in my lifetime but I am writing this the day after the election so that the Obama Administration can think about how it will use the next four years when it comes to Cuba-U.S. policy. The Cuban people have been struggling for over 50 years. Enough is enough. It's time for a change. Let's continue moving forward.