Cuba faces “worst economic crisis in its history,” U.S. says

On May 10, the State Department published an updated strategy toward Cuba. Below are excerpts of the document.

Integrated Country Strategy

Chief of Mission Priorities

The Mission is focused on five key priorities: the protection of American citizens in and visiting Cuba, supporting Cubans who seek to exercise their universal human rights, promoting economic freedom and an empowered private sector, protecting the national security of the United States and its citizens, and ensuring the safety and well-being of staff assigned in Havana.

Ensuring Consistent American Citizen Services

Immigration from Cuba to the United States continues to increase the number of Cuban Americans who, more than ever, are returning to the island to maintain their connections and support family with remittances and necessary supplies. The Mission regularly engages with the Cuban government concerning their rights and to ensure consular access to imprisoned American citizens, many of whom the Cuban government considers to be “residents” of Cuba, and thus citizens of Cuba regardless of their U.S. citizenship.

The Mission will continue robust communication and outreach efforts to educate travelers on the difficulties of traveling to Cuba and the assistance the U.S. Embassy can provide when required. Much of this communication centers around disaster preparedness, access to funds while traveling, hospital care, death assistance, and welfare visits while an individual is in prison. Continued relationship building with partners to assist U.S. citizens will remain a crucial priority for supporting U.S. citizens abroad.

Supporting Human Rights

A generational transition to a post-Cuban Revolution leadership has failed to create significant changes: the Cuban government continues to use repressive measures, including incarceration, coercive economic policies, and misinformation to suppress the Cuban peoples’ freedoms.
Approximately 1,000 political prisoners remain unjustly imprisoned in Cuba. Cuban authorities regularly harass, imprison, or force into exile those who express dissenting opinions.
In an environment where the state has criminalized dissent, the embassy continuously seeks to advance the cause of human rights in Cuba and hold the Cuban government accountable for its dismal human rights record. The Mission engages regularly with human rights activists, dissidents, and members of civil society, and we will continue to support independent media, access to information, and capacity building for independent civil society organizations. Additionally. the Embassy regularly presses the Cuban government for the release of political prisoners and works with the press and nongovernmental organizations to shed light on the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba.

Encouraging an Empowered, Innovative, and Inclusive Cuban Society

Cuba is experiencing the worst economic crisis in its history. Food scarcity, electricity and water shortages, and inflation make life difficult for Cubans. Incremental reforms of Cuba’s centrally planned economy – including the legal recognition of micro, small, and medium enterprises – have been insufficient to align Cuba’s economic needs with the realities of doing business in a global economy. The Embassy will continue to seek new ways to engage Cuba’s independent economic actors, foster Cuba’s entrepreneurial eco-system, while expanding outreach to improve the economic outlook for Afro- Cubans, women, and other historically disadvantaged groups.

Protecting the Security of the United States and its Citizens

Over 500,000 Cubans have migrated to the United States in the last three years. It is in the interest of the United States and Cuba to ensure that migration from Cuba is safe, orderly, and legal. The Embassy has resumed migration-related services in Havana after a several-year hiatus, to include the issuance of all categories of immigrant visas and the processing of cases under the Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) Program. The mission will also seek to maintain and expand the existing cooperation between the United States and Cuba on matters related to maritime migration, law enforcement, health and environmental cooperation, and disaster response.

Building a Management Platform to Best Support U.S. goals and Future Mission Growth

Embassy Havana’s chancery is a culturally significant but obsolete building that has suffered from decades of delayed maintenance and significant damage from its seaside location. The Cuban government routinely denies the secure shipments to perform necessary maintenance. Given these challenges, Embassy Havana is building a management platform prepared to support U.S. priorities now and into the future, especially ensuring a safe working and living environment. We are still in the process of returning to “normal operations” following a reduction of Embassy staffing to emergency levels in 2017, and restarting full immigrant visa and limited NIV operations in 2023.

Mission Goals and Objectives

Mission Goal 1: Ensuring American Citizen Services

Description: Advancing human rights has been at the forefront of U.S. policy toward Cuba for nearly half a century. The Cuban Communist Party and the authoritarian government it controls consider legitimate dissent both a threat and a criminal act. The individuals and organizations that speak up on behalf of Cubans’ aspirations for universal human rights do so at considerable risk, as dissidents and peaceful protestors face harassment, arrest, and lengthy prison sentences. The United States, through its engagement with human rights activists and denunciations of Cuban abuses, upholds our universal values and promotes human dignity in the face of a regime that denies its citizens the basic freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which it is a signatory.

Objective 1.1: Provide routine and emergency services to ensure the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens residing in and visiting Cuba.

• Justification: The well-being of American citizens resident in or visiting Cuba is a mission priority. It is hard to overstate the importance of providing emergency consular services given the hardships and extreme restrictions associated with life in Cuba.
• Risks: The Cuban government does not recognize the dual citizenship of Cuban- American citizens who have maintained their Cuban residency in the eyes of the Cuban government, making consular notification and access to those it detains a challenge.

Mission Goal 2: Advance Human Rights in Cuba

Description: Improving human rights for the Cuban people has been at the forefront of U.S. policy toward Cuba for nearly half a century. The Cuban Communist Party and the authoritarian government it controls consider any dissent both a threat and a criminal act. The individuals and organizations that speak up on behalf of Cubans’ aspirations for universal human rights do so at considerable risk, as dissidents and peaceful protestors face harassment, arrest, and lengthy prison sentences. The United States, through its work to educate Cubans about internationally accepted human rights, its engagement with human rights activists, and its denunciations of abuses by the Cuban government, upholds our universal values and promotes human dignity in the face of a regime that denies its citizens the basic freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which it is a signatory.

Objective 2.1: Promote respect for human rights and support human rights activists.

• Justification: With hundreds of Cubans facing decades-long prison sentences for peaceful protests in 2021, the cause of promoting respect for human rights and raising global awareness about those arbitrarily imprisoned by the regime is as desperately needed as ever. Creating space, through our support and advocacy, for them to do their work is vital. This includes Cuba’s independent media, which is under constant threat.
• Risks: The Cuban government actively represses human rights activists with threats, fines, and arbitrary detentions. It uses every authoritarian tactic at its disposal to block both U.S. and international efforts to foster basic respect for universal human rights. Persistent engagement and support for these individuals is essential and helps mitigate the great personal peril they face for their activism.

Objective 2.2: Identify and engage the next generation of Cuban civil society trailblazers and support of their democratic aspirations.

• Justification: Cuba’s future will be determined by its youth. To build a future with greater economic and political freedoms, they need to remain connected with each other and the outside world. The regime actively attempts to frustrate those efforts and to condemn its youth to de-facto exile or imprisonment simply for publicly expressing dissent.
• Risks: Cuba does not permit a civil society to exist independent of Communist Party control. Members of civil society organizations, the independent press, and similar interests live under constant threat.

Objective 2.3: Hold the Cuban government accountable for human rights abuses.

• Justification: Accountability for human rights violations is critical for prevention of violations, conflict, and violence. Sanctions designations underscore U.S. support for human rights and commitment to promoting accountability for human rights abusers.
• Risks: Cuban government institutions are opaque. It is a challenge to discern who is responsible for repressive actions and to collect reliable, comprehensive information on Cuban officials that meets strict evidentiary standards for targeted sanctions. Cuban government in- stitutions and officials are adept at evading sanctions and responsibility.

Mission Goal 3: Protect the national security and safety of the United States through periodic engagements with Cuban counterparts to increase effectiveness of border security, environmental response, law enforcement, missing migrant programs, search and rescue, smuggling detection and deterrence, and wildlife trafficking.

Description: The United States and Cuba have a shared interest in deterring irregular migration, disrupting transnational criminal organizations, ensuring safe transportation networks, and in protecting their citizens. That shared interest has ensured that cooperation in these areas has remained relatively productive despite other strains in the bilateral relationship. Our persistent engagement advances our national security and protects U.S. citizens at home and in Cuba. The gradual restoration of visa-related consular services and immigration parole programs in Havana further reinforces our commitment to safe, legal, and orderly migration. A regular cadence of repatriation flights has resumed, and cooperation in the repatriation of Cuban migrants interdicted at sea continued unabated. Advance coordination and planning in areas of disaster and emergency response could potentially help protect the welfare of permanent and temporary U.S. visitors in Cuba after a hurricane or other emergency.

Objective 3.1: Foster regular agency-to-agency coordination to increase day-to-day cooperation between U.S. and Cuban agencies responsible for border security, environmental response, law enforcement, missing migrant programs, search and rescue, smuggling detection and deterrence, and wildlife trafficking.

• Justification: Cuban mass migration events have figured prominently in the 65 years of bilateral relations since the 1959 Revolution. Both countries have a shared interest in ensuring that migration is safe, legal, and orderly. Similarly, both countries have a shared interest in denying transnational criminal organizations the ability to operate and pose a threat to our national security.
• Risks: Cuba’s economic mismanagement and political repression are a significant push factor for irregular migration. Following the July 11, 2021, protests and lifting of some visas requirements and pandemic travel restrictions, Cuban migration to the United States reached record levels. While the Cuban regime publicly asserts its interest in deterring irregular migration, the government has historically used migration as a ‘release valve’ to help reduce internal pressures connected to its repression and the lack of economic opportunities on the island.

Objective 3.2: Facilitate Safe and Efficient Legitimate Travel of Cuban Citizens to the United States

• Justification: The efficient provision of immigrant visa services and parole programs will help reduce some pressure to pursue irregular routes of migration and will allow families in the United States to reunite with relatives with long-pending immigrant visa petitions. Non-immigrant visa services will support the U.S. interest in facilitating short- term travel for business, education, cultural exchange, and tourism.
• Risks: The restoration of a fully functional consular operation will be gradual. Managing expectations for Cuban travelers and will be required as demand will exceed the embassy’s capacity in the short and medium term.

Mission Goal 4: Encourage the growth of an empowered, innovative, and inclusive Cuban society

Description: Cuba’s mismanaged, state-dominated economy is in crisis. The Cuban military’s corporate conglomerate (Grupo de Administracion Empresarial or GAESA) controls major sectors of the economy. Cuba’s economy is dominated by large, unproductive state enterprises and an agricultural sector that suffers from too little government investment and too much government interference. Despite an extraordinarily difficult economic environment and the constraints imposed by the Cuban government, Cuba’s innovative and determined private entrepreneurs continue to try to carve out space in which to operate and, in some instances, are filling gaps in the provision of basic goods and serves left open by the state.
Cuba’s largest sources of income – tourism, service exports in the form of medical and other workers, and remittances – fall short of sufficiently funding the multitude of imports the island needs to sustain its people, including food, fertilizers, medicine, and fuel. Direct foreign investment is minimal. Recent economic reforms have done little to stimulate new, sustainable economic development. In some cases, they worsened the ongoing economic crisis, which rivals the years known as the Special Period, which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and its generous subsidies.

Objective 4.1: Support the growth and independence of Cuba’s private sector and encourage a more open economy through engagement with independent entrepreneurs and private businesses

• Justification: Cuba’s route to a more prosperous and free future lies in the innovation and enterprise of the Cuban people. U.S. economic outreach is designed to support and empower Cuba’s private sector innovators, as they seek new pathways to prosperity, through programs that build their capacity and link them with the broader global economy. Increased U.S. engagement with Cuba’s private sector would also limit Russian influence, which seeks to model the growth of Cuba’s economy after its own.
• Risks: For many years, Cuban reforms to permit and foster private economic activity have followed a pattern of slow implementation, insufficient measures, followed by periods of retrenchment. One of the many factors that constrains Cuba’s economic growth is the risk that any private sector reforms could (and have been) easily be rescinded.

Objective 4.2: Leverage information, programming and other diplomatic and economic tools to support underserved communities and to engage with civil society on racial and gender equity and social inclusion

• Justification: Cuba’s future prosperity will rest – in part – on developing an open economy that serves all members of society. Historically, Cubans have not
benefitted equally in Cuba’s development since the 1959 Revolution. Afro-Cubans, for example, have unequal access to higher education and professional opportunities.
Despite the ideals espoused publicly by Cuban officials, Cuba has much work ahead if it is to achieve a society that is inclusive, accepting, and that provides equal opportunities to all.
• Risks: Cuban who attempt to raise awareness or advocate about issues in society run serious risks, particularly if they are perceived as engaging directly with the United States or the embassy.

Management Objectives

Management Objective 1: Upgrade the Embassy’s infrastructure to properly support the functions and demands of the bilateral relationship and to support increased staffing of U.S. personnel, as required.

• Justification: Embassy facilities and infrastructure have suffered from decades of insufficient support and maintenance due to the strict shipping requirements imposed by the Cuban government. To better support 21st century diplomacy and have the flexibility to allow for increased staffing Post needs to address the following issues: a significant backlog of maintenance and renovation projects in the chancery building, an increase in the post housing pool to provide residences for newly arrived staff, and the requirement to address deficiencies the information technology platform t.
• Risks: Post’s ability to address these projects is hampered by restrictions from the Government of Cuba in regard to shipment additionally, the approval of new residences is also solely dependent on the GoC.

Management Objective 2: Strengthen the resilience of U.S. staff and local staff to improve their quality of life in Havana.

• Justification: Food and gasoline shortages, isolation, and lack of mobility are problems all Direct Hire staffing Havana face. Additionally, local staff and USDH are subjected to power outages and inconsistent availability of basic items such as over the counter medications and hygiene products. The Management and CLO office will work to ensure newly arriving USDH staff, and their families are briefed on the realities of serving in Havana. Additionally, CLO will work to provide outlets for community events for both all staff at embassy Havana.
• Risks: Maintaining active and robust volunteer organizations like an employee association or diversity committee requires a significant time commitment, particularly for a post with reduced staffing. Service in Cuba poses a perennial logistical challenge given the unique factors, like constant state surveillance, that come with life in a police state.

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