Page last updated at 12:17 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

US 'must rethink Cuban embargo'

Cuban President Raul Castro
Leadership changes in Cuba could bring opportunities, the report suggests

The US economic embargo on Cuba "has failed" and should be re-evaluated, senior Republican Senator Richard Lugar argues in a report.

"We must recognise the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuba regime in a way that enhances US interests," Senator Lugar says.

President Barack Obama has promised a new look at US policy towards Cuba, including easing travel restrictions.

But he has said he believes the embargo is an "inducement" for change in Cuba.

Senator Lugar, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a hugely influential figure in US politics, says Washington's policies towards Havana have been ineffective.

"After 47 years... the unilateral embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its stated purpose of 'bringing democracy to the Cuban people'," he says.

"It may have been used as a foil by the regime to demand further sacrifices from Cuba's impoverished people."

Senator Lugar's views are contained in a report that was drawn up by a member of his staff and was due to be released on Monday.

"By directing policy toward an unlikely scenario of a short-term democratic transition on the island and rejecting most tools of diplomatic engagement, the US is left as a powerless bystander, watching events unfold at a distance," the report says.

It stops short of calling for the trade embargo to be lifted but does urge:

  • an end to restrictions imposed during the Bush administration on travel and remittances to Cuba
  • reinstituting formal co-operation on migration and tackling drug-trafficking
  • allowing Cuba to buy US agricultural products on credit.

The report, which comes a year after Fidel Castro officially handed over power to his brother, Raul, suggests leadership changes provide an opportunity to rethink policy.

Growing consensus

Washington's long-standing economic isolation of Cuba is one of the most ideological and controversial elements of US foreign policy, says BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

But this report points to growing cross-party consensus that this policy has to change, he says.

Farming with oxen in Cuba
Sales of US farming goods have been allowed since 2000 but on a cash basis

President Obama has indicated that he would be open to dialogue with Cuba's leaders. He also supports easing restrictions on the number of visits Cuban-Americans can make to the island and the amount of money they can send.

During last year's presidential election campaign, Mr Obama said the embargo had not helped bring democracy to Cuba but he added that it did provide an "inducement" to change.

The Obama administration has so far not devoted much attention to Cuba and Latin America, given more pressing issues at home and abroad.

But an administration official told the Washington Post newspaper that it was "not unreasonable" to expect that Mr Obama would ease the limits on family travel and remittances to Cuba before he attends the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in April.

In a separate development, a bipartisan bill to restore the right of US citizens to travel to Cuba was presented in the US House of Representatives earlier this month.

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