04 December 2008
Goals of U.S. Embargo on Cuba Unchanged, Commerce Official Says
U.S. policies toward Cuba discussed at regional conference in Miami
Walter Bastian (Commerce Dept.)
U.S. Commerce Department official Walter Bastian says the U.S. economic
embargo on Cuba remains in place.
By Eric Green
Miami — The goals of the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba remain exactly
the same as when the embargo was first imposed almost 50 years ago, U.S.
Commerce Department official Walter Bastian tells America.gov.
Interviewed at the December 1-3 Miami Conference on the Caribbean and
Central America, Bastian said that even though the embargo's major goal
— to encourage Cuba's peaceful transition from communism to democracy —
has not yet occurred, the message remains that the Cuban regime's
illegal expropriation of U.S. property has serious consequences.
"That message is as strong today as it was back" in October 1960 when
the United States initiated the embargo, said Bastian, who is Commerce's
deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere.
Bastian's comments came after a forum on Cuba at the 32nd annual Miami
conference in which the event's organizers, the Washington-based
Caribbean-Central American Action, said Cuba is at a crossroads, where
the country's leaders can choose to reintegrate Cuba into the region or
continue old policies.
Current U.S. policy allows some licensed trade with Cuba in agriculture,
Bastian said, with America the largest foreign supplier of agricultural
products to the communist nation. The United States, he added, also
provides medical humanitarian aid to Cuba, most recently in September
2008 following a hurricane that struck the Caribbean country. (See
"United States Aids Caribbean Victims of Natural Disasters.")
INVOLVING THE PRIVATE SECTOR IN THE SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
Bastian said events such as the Miami conference and the Commerce
Department-sponsored Americas competitiveness forums should encourage
the private sector and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to play an
important role in the Summit of the Americas process.
Organizers hope the fifth Summit of the Americas, to be held in Trinidad
and Tobago in April 2009, will demonstrate the summit process involves a
partnership among government, the private sector and NGOs, Bastian said.
The government's role, he said, is to build a "framework" around a
picture of summit goals, with the picture itself filled in by
Bastian said the U.S.-backed competitiveness forums proved so successful
that other countries in the hemisphere want to host similar events.
Chile will hold the third Americas Competitiveness Forum in the second
half of 2009, while Uruguay and Nicaragua hosted conferences on
innovation in 2008. Costa Rica plans to hold its own regional
competitiveness event in 2009, Bastian said. (See "Public-Private
Partnerships Maximize Development Assistance.")
PRAISE FOR COMMERCE SECRETARY-DESIGNATE BILL RICHARDSON
As a "Latin Americanist," Bastian said that he is excited by
President-elect Barack Obama's December 3 choice of Bill Richardson, New
Mexico's Hispanic governor, to be the next U.S. Commerce Department
secretary. (See "Bill Richardson Selected as Obama's Commerce Secretary.")
Richardson, whose family roots trace to Mexico, will come into the top
Commerce job with a deep interest in Latin American issues, Bastian
said, including immigration and violence related to drug trafficking
along the U.S.-Mexico border.
With the Spanish-speaking Richardson leading the Commerce Department,
Bastian predicted that the "level of intensity" of the U.S. commitment
to the Latin American region will remain strong.
Citing the already deep U.S. engagement with the region, Bastian joked
that Commerce Deputy Secretary John Sullivan has traveled to several
Latin American countries so often that "he ought to take up citizenship
in those nations."
CUBA'S CITIZENS STILL REPRESSED
Marc Wachtenheim of the Pan American Development Foundation, an
independent Washington-based organization, told America.gov that Cuba's
biggest challenge is the inability of its citizens to be "agents of
their own destiny."
Cuba's people are the country's best asset, Wachtenheim said, and
"should be able to live in a dignified way and make decisions that will
allow them to realize their full potential and freely shape the destiny
of their nation. That is Cuba's biggest challenge, but it also
represents its greatest opportunity."
Wachtenheim, director of the foundation's Cuban Development Initiative
and moderator of the Miami conference's panel discussion on Cuba, said
hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma, which devastated the island nation in
2008, resulted in more than $10 billion in property damage, leaving
crops decimated and buildings damaged or destroyed.
"Receiving a direct hit of one or more hurricanes in a short period of
time creates significant challenges for any nation," said Wachtenheim,
whose foundation helped mobilize U.S. private-sector and global support
for Cuba through a media campaign. "In the case of Cuba, the situation
is worse given its deteriorated infrastructure and limited food reserves."
Wachtenheim said the PADF works with civil society groups in Cuba to
improve the country's living conditions.
"This is part of a hemispheric strategy of supporting civil society in
the context of the Inter-American Democratic Charter," Wachtenheim said.
Civil society, he said, provides Cuba with needed humanitarian
assistance and helps meet other basic community needs. (See "Leaders
State Importance of Inter-American Democratic Charter.")
Wachtenheim said the United States has shown "tremendous leadership" in
targeting support directly to the Cuban people. But he added that more
support is needed to help the average Cuban citizen.