From April 18-21, 2008, The Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) sponsored a trip to Cuba. The delegation included Robert Kerrigan, an international human rights lawyer with expertise in human rights in Latin America, and M. Ahadi Bugg-Levine, also a lawyer with international experience, as well as CDA staff.
The CDA’s mission is changing U.S. policy toward the countries of the Americas by basing our relations on respect and fostering dialogue particularly with those governments and movements with which U.S. policy is at odds. The CDA runs the Freedom to Travel to Cuba campaign which has brought more than two dozen delegations to Cuba since 2001. The CDA has a Treasury Department license and complies with applicable ethics laws and rules as required by Congress.
This was the third research delegation sponsored by the CDA in 2008 that has coincided with the transfer of power from Fidel Castro to Raúl Castro. CDA has increased its tempo of trips to the island to get unfiltered observations about reforms initiated by Raúl Castro and U.S. policy toward Cuba from the people most affected – ordinary Cubans. To that end, we have conducted 79 interviews this year including interviews with twenty-two Cubans who agreed to appear on videotape to answer our questions.
On this trip, we held discussions with over twenty Cubans. We talked to people throughout Havana and also met with residents of a largely Afro-Cuban community called Ojo de Agua where the new construction of homes was taking place. Over the four days, a few of our conversations were conducted on a “not for attribution” basis at the request of the interviewees.
We learned from our research and interviews on the following key topics relating to the process of reform:
- The government’s decision to decentralize control over agriculture.
- The impact of removing restrictions on cell phones, consumer items, and tourist hotels.
- Whether the national debate in Cuba is really contributing to the reform process.
- The implication of these developments for U.S. policy toward Cuba.