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Authors: Patil, Neelay
Advisors: Katz, Stanley
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2014
Abstract: “The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled to overcome decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day.” President Barack Obama made that bold declaration to a congregation of Latin American leaders during his first year in office. Although Obama has made moderate reforms, U.S. – Cuba relations have stayed largely stagnant throughout his presidency. The embargo remains deeply entrenched in American foreign policy, over fifty years since it was first enacted. In this thesis, I seek to explain why, despite Obama’s platform of change and the American public’s record-high support for reform, so little has been done. A brief historical overview reveals how the embargo against Cuba has become the centerpiece of American policy through a variety of executive actions and legislation. In particular, the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which gives control over the embargo to Congress, continues to be an obstacle to change. Although President Raúl Castro has recently made a pivot toward modest market reforms, Cubans continue to suffer through an economic decline as well as oppressive government control. Overall, the Obama administration has maintained the status quo on U.S. – Cuba relations. I then analyze an array of perspectives on the bilateral relationship, drawing upon interviews with experts from the public, business, and nonprofit sectors. Both governments have called for reform, but each faces distinct political obstacles preventing real change. The American “hardline” lobby, which favors strict sanctions on Cuba, has succeeded in perpetuating the status quo and enjoys a surprisingly friendly relationship with Obama. Conversely, the broad coalition that believes normalization can lead to meaningful change in Cuba has been underwhelmed by the Obama administration. Despite widespread agreement that the United States should reform its Cuba policy, there are three major obstacles to change. First, policy reform provides no immediate political benefits for public officials, and voters have generally prioritized other issues that affect them directly. Second, the hardline lobby has been incredibly effective in obstructing change due to well-funded advocacy groups and influential politicians. In particular, Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Robert Menendez have used their powerful positions within the party to deter the Obama administration from taking action. Finally, the Cuban imprisonment of American Alan Gross is part of a thorny dispute over Cuba’s national sovereignty and will likely hamper reform in the future. There are, however, several possible catalysts of change in the current environment. Specific developments across the American political landscape, including government as well as the public arena, might pave the way for change. Building multilateral pressure, including the rising influence of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), could spur the United States to act on Cuba. Lastly, growing areas of bilateral collaboration, including business, security, and biotechnology, could lead to reform. After weighing these factors and analyzing the processes of implementing Cuba policy reform, I conclude that major change is highly unlikely by the end of Barack Obama’s term. A perpetuation of the status quo would have critical implications, including the marginalization of international affairs in American politics, isolation from Latin America, and a missed chance for the United States to demonstrate global leadership.
Extent: 136 pages
Access Restrictions: Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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