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    U.S. Engagement With Cuba Is Worth the Risk

    U.S. Engagement With Cuba Is Worth the Risk

    Ted Henken, an associate professor of sociology and Latin American
    studies at Baruch College, is a co-editor of “Cuba in Focus” and a
    co-author of “Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape.” He
    is on Twitter.

    OCTOBER 12, 2014

    In March 2013, the Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez told me she was impressed
    with President Obama’s support for the rights of Cubans to determine
    their future and his expansion of family visits and “people-to-people”
    travel to the island. Then, she half jokingly compared Obama’s hints at
    “changing” U.S.-Cuba policy to Raúl Castro’s recent efforts at
    “reforming” the economic workings of Cuban socialism. Like Raúl’s
    reforms, she said, Obama’s measures are so far not deep or audacious
    enough to get us where we need to go.

    Indeed, given Cuba’s dismal human rights record and the difficulty of
    changing a foreign policy entrenched and intermingled with U.S. domestic
    politics, Obama’s bold intentions on U.S.-Cuba policy have proved easier
    said than done. However, a simple decision-making lesson I learned
    recently in prenatal class could help U.S. policymakers confront the
    Cuban policy conundrum: When contemplating a major decision, use your
    B.R.A.I.N. and consider the Benefits, Risks and Alternatives, while
    trusting our Intuition and what would happen if we did Nothing.

    One key benefit of greater engagement with Cuba is that it would allow
    the U.S. to increase the economic prosperity and autonomy of the
    emerging class of Cuban entrepreneurs.
    One key benefit of greater engagement with Cuba during a time of
    expanding economic opportunity on the island is that it would allow us
    to increase the economic prosperity and autonomy of the emerging class
    of Cuban entrepreneurs. Admittedly, there is an inherent risk that
    engaging with Cuba could strengthen the Castro regime at the expense of
    the people. But my intuition says it’s better to empower the people and
    accept some collateral benefit for the government than to continue our
    current do-nothing policy that seeks to undermine the government while
    accepting the collateral damage it inflicts on the people.

    Policy change is not an all-or-nothing game. Given Obama’s comment last
    year that the U.S. should be “creative” in its approach to Cuba, he is
    certainly well aware that there are multiple alternatives to either
    repealing the embargo or doubling down. These alternatives include a
    host of potential bilateral confidence-building measures, such as
    environmental, migratory and medical cooperation; a further expansion of
    family travel and educational and cultural exchange; and new
    opportunities in telecom, financing and support of Cuba’s fledgling

    Exploring these alternatives would make it easier to address more
    contentious issues like the continued imprisonment of Alan Gross in Cuba
    and three Cuban agents in U.S., Cuban human rights abuses and the U.S.

    Recent developments on the island, as well as surveys of
    Cuban-Americans, indicate that a growing majority believes that their
    deeply held principles are better represented by political pragmatism
    and engagement. Neither passionate rhetoric nor outdated ideology serve
    Washington’s interests or help empower the Cuban people.

    Thus, with the approaching summit in Panama, the U.S. has an opportunity
    use its B.R.A.I.N. and begin to deploy a policy of pragmatism and
    principled engagement with Cuba’s changing reality that would both serve
    American interests and empower the Cuban people to more easily be the
    authors of their destiny.

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